The police officer knocked on Pam’s front door at 4:00 am. She received the news her husband Joe had been killed while on his way to work in a car crash on the Newtown Bypass. The police were blaming Joe: the officer explained that two accidents had occurred; a young woman returning from a night out had run a red light and hit a tractor trailer, which had become disabled in the intersection; minutes later, Joe had driven at high speed into the stationary tractor trailer. The police concluded that Joe should have seen the tractor trailer and should have had plenty of time to stop.
Facing the loss of her husband’s support for her two young children, Pam turned to the lawyers of Swartz Culleton. Prosecuting attorney Brandon Swartz filed suit against the young woman whose conduct had caused the tractor trailer to be where it was, and the truck driver for failing to ignite warning flairs after the first accident. As litigation proceeded, two seemingly insurmountable defenses emerged. The truck’s black box recordings revealed the truck driver had insufficient time to have placed flares or cones. More dauntingly, the defendants reconstructed the accident scene and filmed what the tractor trailer would have looked like that morning to oncoming drivers. Video taken from a car as it approached the intersection during the reconstruction raised the serious question of why Joe had not seen the truck in time to stop. Relying on this video, the defendants argued that Pam and her family had no case because Joe had been speeding or driving carelessly, and was most at fault for the second accident.
Undeterred, attorney Brandon Swartz launched an investigation of the intersection lighting and the truck’s reflectivity. The intersection was dark, had no street lights and the lights on the tractor trailer had been disabled by the first accident. He hired an expert on the reflective tape used on the tractor trailer. After reviewing the placement of the vehicles at the accident scene, this expert concluded that given the angle at which the truck was stopped, the reflection of Joe’s headlights would have been deflected to the side and not back at Joe.
Without adequate light, Joe’s reaction time decreased dramatically. By providing a reasonable explanation for why Joe had not seen the truck in time to avoid it, this investigation helped absolve Joe of blame, and compelled the defendants to settle.
Following protracted negotiations, a settlement of $800,000 was reached.