An egg, a bucket and a dash of showmanship helped a Columbia personal injury lawyer achieve a $600,000 jury verdict in a case that easily could have gone the other way.
Robert Goings had two out-of-town clients who alleged that they sustained neck injuries in a 15-mph crash that was so minor it resulted in hardly any property damage. Even worse, Goings’ clients had waited six months before they went in for MRI scans.
“Lots of uphill challenges,” he said.
Goings added that he was “honest with the jury from the beginning that this was a low speed accident, that there were delays in treatment because my clients couldn’t afford the treatment they needed. And we promised the jury that they would hear testimony that these were real, permanent injuries and that real injuries can happen in a minor collision.”
His clients, Carol Bennett and Leonard Carey of Palm Beach, Florida, were driving on an I-77 exit ramp in Columbia in 2010 when a commercial van owned by the Dick Dyer auto dealership crashed into the back of their car.
Goings said the van’s driver was found at fault in the accident. Goings argued that the driver had been using a cellphone and was distracted when he rear-ended Bennett and Carey’s car. Dyer denied that allegation, according to Goings.
After the accident, Bennett, who had been in the passenger seat, went to Providence Hospital’s emergency room in Columbia and was treated and released on the same day.
Bennett and Carey, who had been driving, spent the next six months dealing with neck pain before they had MRIs. The scans revealed that both had damaged cervical discs, according to Goings. He said Carey had a bulging disc and Leonard had a herniated disc.
Both underwent several months of chiropractic care and physical therapy coupled with injections of pain medication. Their orthopedic surgeon testified in a deposition that the crash most likely caused the neck injuries, Goings said. He added that Bennett was identified as a candidate for surgery to repair her cervical disc.
Dyer and its attorney, L. Darby Plexico of Brown & Brehmer in Columbia, offered to settle for about $1,000 before Bennett and Carey filed suit, Goings said. Later, the defense made another offer that was less than the couple’s medical expenses, he added.
The defense contended during a trial at the Richland County Court of Common Pleas that Bennett and Carey were not injured and, even if they were, their injuries were either minor or preexisting, according to Goings.
“The defense pointed to the lack of property damage and the minor nature of this collision to argue that no reasonable person could have been injured,” he said, adding that neither side relied on expert testimony aside from the couple’s physicians.
If the egg broke, it’s no joke
In his closing argument, Goings put an egg inside a clear bucket, which he held up over the railing on the jury box. The egg represented his clients. The bucket was their vehicle.
“I said, ‘What’s going to happen, ladies and gentlemen, if I drop this bucket? You know this egg’s going to break. But this man over here,'” Goings said, pointing to Plexico, “‘he wants you to believe that the egg ain’t gonna break.'”
Then he released his grip on the bucket.
“It made this huge loud banging sound,” Goings said. “I picked it up and the bucket wasn’t damaged, but the egg was splattered all over the place.”
He added that he’d brought two eggs to trial (luckily, neither had been hardboiled) and invited Plexico to conduct his own bucket drop experiment in the courtroom.
“I told the jury, ‘If the egg broke, my case ain’t no joke,'” Goings said. He added that Plexico declined his offer.
Plexico hung up when Lawyers Weekly called to discuss the case.
Goings said he did not ask jurors for a specific dollar amount on damages, but told them to consider his clients’ past medical costs and “every pain that they had suffered for their necks being injured for the past four years.”
The jury awarded $400,000 to Bennett and $200,000 to Carey. According to Goings, Bennett, who works as a certified nursing assistant, had about $18,000 in medical costs. Carey’s medical bills totaled about $27,000. He is a self-employed contractor. Neither claimed lost wages.
“We tried a good case,” Goings said. “We were able to convince the jury to abandon their preconceived notions of what insurance companies want people to believe.”
Follow Phillip Bantz on Twitter @SCLWBantz
VERDICT REPORT – NEGLIGENCE
Injuries alleged: Neck pain and damaged cervical discs
Carol Bennett and Leonard Carey v. Dyer Inc.
Court: Richland County Court of Common Pleas
Judge: L. Casey Manning
Date of verdict: July 23
Amount: $400,000 for Bennett; $200,000 for Carey
Attorney for plaintiffs: Robert Goings, Goings Law Firm, Columbia
Attorney for defendant: L. Darby Plexico, Brown & Brehmer, Columbia