Salvatore Jackson, a young man in his mid-40s, died in 2011 when he lost control of his motorcycle while cruising down S.C. Highway 49 near Lake Wylie.
His widow was awarded more than $1.4 million for his wrongful death, even though the only defendants are an insurance company and a phantom John Doe.
While no contributory vehicle has been found and no driver named, Jackson’s attorneys convinced a jury that he didn’t crash his bike while trying to avoid road debris, as was speculated, but that he was run off the road by someone in an SUV making a sudden lane change.
While no one actually saw a collision – or even a near-miss – Jackson’s lawyers said that circumstantial evidence clearly shows that their client was struck by a “phantom vehicle.”
A jury agreed.
“The jury found that there was more than sufficient circumstantial evidence presented at trial to prove that contact had occurred between the vehicle driven by John Doe and Mr. Jackson’s motorcycle,” attorney Andrew McCumber of Slotchiver & Slotchiver in Charleston wrote in an email.
Several witnesses who had been traveling behind Jackson saw his motorcycle suddenly go down in the left lane, according to court reports. Some remembered seeing an SUV traveling in the right lane and some recalled that after the accident, they saw an SUV approach from the opposite direction, circle the accident scene as if to see what happened, and flee.
One witness said he saw an SUV that was traveling in the same direction as Jackson circle back and “return down the highway rather quickly.” The SUV, the man said, had scuff marks on its left-rear quarter panel that would seem to fit in with the plaintiff’s theory.
Investigators found no debris in the roadway or mechanical problems with the bike, reports said.
The defense argued this was a lot of speculation and that the jury should also consider Jackson’s comparative negligence.
The jury did just that, returning a $1,103,000 verdict for compensatory damages but finding Jackson 45 percent negligent, thus reducing the award to $606,550. It also awarded $330,000 in punitive damages which were not subject to reduction.
A $200,000 policy paid by Progressive Insurance was also credited against damages. Jackson maintained two separate liability policies with Progressive and Travelers.
Jackson attorneys said that while Travelers, the uninsured motorist carrier for Jackson’s at-home vehicles, is not legally obligated to pay more than $300,000, the plaintiff has brought a bad-faith claim for the difference based on a properly made Tyger River demand.
Case name: Julie R. Jackson v. John Doe (Travelers Insurance Co.)
Case number: 2012-CP-46-3907
Court: York County Court of Common Pleas
Date: Oct. 8, 2014
Attorneys for plaintiff: Daniel Slotchiver of Charleston and F. Craig Wilerson Jr. of Rock Hill
Attorneys for defendant: William Davis of Columbia