GRANTSVILLE – A Calhoun County couple was awarded more than $650,000 after a forklift operator dumped a load of trusses on the husband.
David and Debbie Thomas' award of $657,000 was accepted last week by Circuit Judge David W. Nibert after the three-day trial concluded July 20 in Calhoun Circuit Court.
The verdict, believed to be one of the largest in county history, included $300,000 in past pain and suffering, $150,000 in future pain and suffering and $100,000 in future lost wages. The six-person jury deliberated for nearly two hours before reaching the verdict.
"It was a very severe injury," said Charleston attorney James R. Fox of Warner Law Offices, who represented the Thomases. "Almost a half-ton weight hit him. It was a severe break of both bones in his (lower) leg. There was nerve damage and numbness."
The accident occurred May 11, 2004, at Hardman's Supply, a longtime Grantsville hardware store. David Thomas was employed as a truck driver for Babcock Lumber and was delivering an order of 26-foot King pole trusses. While unloading the bundle of trusses, Hardman's forklift operator -- who Fox says was not properly trained or certified as required by law -- lost control and dumped the bundle on the back of Thomas' left leg causing severe fractures of the tibia and fibula.
Fox said a titanium rod had to be inserted from Thomas' knee to his ankle to stabilize the leg, but he lost significant mobility and continues to have problems with daily activities. The trauma also caused permanent nerve damage, making it extremely painful and difficult to continue working as a truck driver.
"The doctor said he has a permanent impairment," Fox said. "And he'll continue to have problems for the rest of his life. (After recovering), he suffered and tried to work, but he just couldn't do it."
Fox said he presented some compelling testimony demonstrating the humiliation and profound effects of this injury.
"When David was finally able to come home from the hospital, he still could not walk and lacked the luxury of a wheelchair or handicap accessible facilities," he said. "His wife, Debbie, put him on a small rug in their kitchen and literally drug him through three rooms to the sofa where he spent the next four months.
"He was determined to return to work and support his family, but despite his commitment and dedication, soon realized that his career as a truck driver had been lost."
Fox said the case reaffirmed his belief that juries carefully and conscientiously consider the evidence presented and render fair and impartial verdicts.
"I think there was an expectation by some that, given the fact you're dealing with a local well-established company in a rural community, it would be hard to get a verdict in this case because everyone knows Hardman's," Fox said. "But the jurors obviously did look objectively at the facts in the case."
He says the fact that the jury found Thomas guilty of contributory negligence a sign of that.
"The defendant argued that he (Thomas) shouldn't have been in the (unloading) danger zone," Fox sad. "He had to enter that zone to leave the area and for them (other workers) to unload the trusses. The jury said he had to be there, but that he was partially at fault.
"That, to me, reaffirms that if you present a compelling case, jurors are going to look at it fairly."
Calhoun Circuit Court case number: 04-C-27