A Rutherford County jury awarded damages totaling nearly $3 million in wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits filed in connection with a July 2011 crash that killed one man and seriously injured another on I-24, according to court records.
The late-June decision before Circuit Court Judge Royce Taylor is believed to be the largest financial award ever made in a Rutherford County car-crash case.
Jurors awarded $1.96 million to Scott Summerville, 57, of Nashville, who suffered permanent injuries and underwent multiple surgeries after the crash, and more than $1 million to the executors of John O. Jackson, who was in his early 80s when he was killed in the wreck.
“(Summerville) suffered horrible injuries to his legs and will have the consequences of those injuries for the rest of his life,” said his attorney, Daniel Clayton of Nashville. “The jury was very thoughtful and reached a very solid verdict, I think.”
Summerville was driving Jackson’s 2000 Mercedes Benz eastbound on I-24 near the Sam Ridley Parkway exit in Smyrna when the Toyota Camry driven by Mildred Payne of Owensboro, Ky., ran out of control, slammed into a sign, crossed the grassy median and collided into them. Jackson, a passenger in the Mercedes, died 12 days later.
Both of Summerville’s legs were broken and had the bones sticking out of them, according to Clayton.
The jury placed all of the blame in wreck on Payne, according to the verdict, and zero blame on another driver, Frank Hogan, and the state of Tennessee, which was brought into the lawsuit by three parties for failure to maintain a safe highway.
Payne’s attorney argued that the state was at fault in the design and maintenance of I-24 because it didn’t erect cables, metal barriers or any earthen berm where the wreck took place. The attorneys for Summerville and Jackson took the same stance.
The state denied it was responsible for the crash and the injuries and asserted that Payne’s failure to maintain control of the vehicle and proper lookout caused it.
After hearing evidence, Judge Taylor dismissed the claims against the state, finding that it exercised reasonable care in planning, designing, constructing and maintaining the highway. The area where the wreck took place is a flat stretch with four lanes on both sides, and even thought it didn’t have cables or a guardrail, it complied with the state’s Roadside Design Guide for proper construction, according to testimony.
Payne’s attorney also contended that as she was traveling east on I-24, Hogan’s 1992 GMC van nearly veered in front of her as he tried to change lanes, causing her to lose control. Witnesses testified, however, that he started to move over but never got out of his lane and that she overreacted.
Summerville and the Jacksons contended that Payne and Hogan were both negligent because of poor driving and traveling at high speeds. But the jury found that Payne was the only one at fault.
Payne’s attorney could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.