Jessica Lester, 25, and her husband, Isaiah, 26, were driving westbound on a curving, two-lane mountain road when an eastbound cement mixer driven by William Sprouse for Allied Concrete Co. tipped onto two wheels while rounding a curve and overturned on top of the Lesters’ car. Jessica suffered a severe skull fracture and died eight days later. She is survived by her husband and parents. Her medical expenses totaled more than $100,000. At the time of her death, she was training to become a nurse assistant to a neurosurgeon and was earning about $45,000 annually.
Isaiah suffered superficial injuries but developed severe posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. Although his condition improved after three years of therapy and medication, the PTSD is chronic. His past medical expenses totaled about $23,000, including $11,000 for therapy, and he will require therapy for the foreseeable future.
Sprouse pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and served a 30-day jail term. His commercial driver’s license has been permanently revoked.
Isaiah Lester, individually and on behalf of Jessica’s estate and parents, sued Allied Concrete and Sprouse, alleging that Sprouse was speeding and lost control of the truck. The plaintiffs also contended that Sprouse failed to follow the directions on his delivery ticket, which specified that he take certain flat, two-lane roads, rather than the winding, narrow mountain road he chose. The plaintiffs presented testimony by four eyewitnesses that the truck entered a blind curve on two wheels before overturning.
Suit against Allied Concrete alleged respondeat superior liability for Sprouse’s negligence.
Sprouse argued that he swerved to avoid a car in his lane.
The defense also asserted spoliation of evidence, claiming that Isaiah had deleted 16 photographs from his Facebook page after receiving a request to produce copies of the page. A defense expert retrieved 15 of the photographs, and the defendants’ medical expert opined that certain pictures undermined Isaiah’s claim of depression. The court granted an adverse inference instruction as to the photo that could not be retrieved.
The jury awarded about $10.63 million, including about $6.28 million to Isaiah and $1 million to each parent on the wrongful death claim, and $2.35 million to Isaiah for his own injuries. Prejudgment interest brings the verdict to more than $12 million.
Citation: Lester v. Allied Concrete Co., Nos. 08-015 and 09-223 (Va., Charlottesville Jud. Cir. Dec. 9, 2010).
Counsel for Isaiah Lester: AAJ members Matthew B. Murray, Charlottesville, Virginia; and Malcolm P. McConnell, Richmond, Virginia.
Counsel for Jessica Lester’s parents: Joseph A. Sanzone, Lynchburg, Virginia.
Plaintiff experts: Marilyn Minrath, psychology, J. Anderson Thomson, psychiatry, and John D. P. Shermo, psychiatry, all of Charlottesville; and Robert W. Cook Jr., economics, Richmond.
Defense experts: Michael A. Sutton, accident reconstruction, Cary, North Carolina; and Liza H. Gold, psychiatry, Washington, D.C.