Spinal Cord Injury
Record Jefferson County Trial Verdict
Central Oregon attorneys asked Don Corson to represent a man who worked at a local farm who suffered a low back spinal cord injury that ended his ability to work.
The man was driving on Highway 97 in winter. It was cold, and the roads were icy. A young driver approached the highway on a side road. The young driver had a stop sign, but failed to yield, entered the highway, and caused the crash.
The injured man was a hard worker. He supported his family, and lived in a modest home that was filled with love. He worked with a limp, because he already had some impairment to his lower spinal cord. He was living and working here legally on a Green Card. As a Mexican native, he spoke English well enough for his farm work, but not well enough to deal with the nuances of legal language in a court proceeding.
The young man who caused the collision was the handsome son of a successful local rancher. His insurance company retained a lawyer to defend the case who had a reputation that caused local lawyers to want to find someone else to handle the case. (That insurance defense lawyer later lost his license to practice law). The aggressiveness of the defense tactics was illustrated by the defense “offer”: if we would dismiss the case, they would not seek to recover costs from the injured man. The insurance defense legal team never offered a penny to the man who was injured by the crash their client caused.
There is an old saying in the law: “the defendant takes his victim as he finds them.” Some people will be very young, some old; some in robust good health, some in impaired health. It’s no legal excuse that “if I had hit the football lineman instead of his grandmother, he would not have been hurt much.” If the defendant hits the grandmother, it is her injuries that count and that are to be assessed, not the potentially lesser injuries of another hypothetical person.
That is the law, but the forensics can be different. In this case, the defense argued that when the man’s spinal cord injuries no longer let him use his leg enough to work, and caused him excruciating pain, that was simply the result of a progression in the underlying, preexisting spinal cord impairment. The subtext was: don’t hold the nice young rancher’s son responsible; if he had hit another person, it would not have been bad. Never mind that it was this particular man who was hit, that there was a sudden decrease in function after the crash, and never mind that it was the young man’s auto insurance that would pay (the jury is never allowed to hear that fact).
At the trial, the farm worker needed a translator. We were so fortunate to have the services of a gifted translator who could translate in real time, so that the flow of language was not interrupted. We were also fortunate to have as a witness an orthopedic physician who showed the jury images of the worker’s lower spine taken before and after the collision. The change was visible, and was not some gradual progression, but the result of a sudden traumatic event: the car crash.
When the jury finally got to hear the closing arguments and the legal instructions from the judge, it was close to dinner time. The local high school football game was later that night. After the jury retired to deliberate, we went to a nearby Mexican restaurant. Before our food arrived, there was a call from the bailiff. Our hearts sank: a quick decision is almost always a defense verdict. Fortunately, the call was about a question from the jury. After that, we went back and were able to finish our meal. The jury did return a verdict that night, and in time for people to attend the football game. The number does not sound like a lot, but at the time it was reported to be the largest personal injury verdict in that county to date.
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