|June 20, 2014|
Previously published on June 6, 2014
A jury in Fulton County, Georgia has awarded $7 million to the sons of 46-year-old Theressa Virgil, who was killed in an automobile accident. Franklin Hooker, Rodney Virgil, and Brandon Virgil stand to collect $6.9 million, as part of the liability for the accident was apportioned to the driver of the car in which Ms. Virgil had been riding, Michelle Collins.
On January 24, 2012, Ms. Collins and Ms. Virgil were traveling north on U.S. Highway 19 in Thomasville, Georgia, when the Chevrolet Impala they were driving experienced a flat tire. Collins pulled off the road on the left shoulder, at which point she and Virgil exited the vehicle and walked to its rear in order to retrieve the spare tire. As they were doing so, a Toyota Camry driven by defendant Jonathon Brown collided with them and their car. Collins suffered a broken leg and lacerated liver. Virgil was declared dead at the scene.
In April 2012, Atlanta attorneys S.K. Rod Dixon and Michael A. Mills filed a wrongful death suit on behalf of Virgil’s three adult children in Fulton County State Court. The suit, Hooker v. Brown, named the driver, Brown, and his employer, Guardian Pharmacy of Southeast Georgia, as defendants.
Defendants’ argument centered on its claim that Collins had stopped the car in the left lane of the highway, obstructing traffic, and thus was at fault for the accident. Plaintiff’s counsel presented to the jury as evidence a photograph taken at the scene by the investigating State Trooper. Through digital lightening, the photo was able to clearly exhibit that, contrary to defendant’s claim, Collins had pulled the car nearly completely off the road, with only the right rear tire resting on the yellow line.
A witness, who had been driving behind Brown on the night of the accident, testified that he had seen Collins’ hazard lights and moved safely into the right lane, but that defendant Brown drove straight into the car without slowing down. Plaintiffs’ counsel also presented cellphone records demonstrating that Brown had sent over 250 text messages in the three-and-half hours preceding the accident. Brown admitted in court that he had been having a “lover’s quarrel by text message” with his then-fiancée. Of note, Collins had initially been charged criminally with obstructing the roadway, but the prosecutor had subsequently dropped all charges when she discovered that Brown had taken his eyes off the road for a moment.
The jury deliberated for close to four hours before returning their verdict finding in favor of plaintiffs.