Our law firm recently settled a case involving a serious motor vehicle collision caused by the negligence of others for policy limits of $350,000 on behalf of our client. James H. was a helmeted rider headed southbound on the Centennial Trail when near Arlington when he was hit by a young driver as she emerged from a driveway without stopping. James was ejected from his bike into the road. He suffered a traumatic head injury, spinal fractures, a shoulder injury, knee and ankle injuries, hearing loss, loss of memory, concentration deficits, and serious injuries to his shoulder, clavicle, left knee and ankle. He had a 2×2” contusion on the back of his head, contusion to the right frontal skull, tearing and contusion to his right pectoralis major and minor. He was unable to work for several months and continues to require many hours of unpaid leave from his job as an engineer with the limitations caused by the crash. Our client suffered a closed head and traumatic brain injury which caused lasting light sensitivity, episodes of vertigo, asymmetric hearing loss, and tinnitus (constant ringing of the ears). A head CT showed closed fractures of the vertebra, specifically cervical fractures at C7-T-1, called a cervical transverse process fracture.
One helpful technique in settling the case was preparing “A Day in the Life” to document the effect his injuries were having in real world terms that a jury can understand. We ask clients to document their ‘new reality’ with injury, either through a writing or video, showing how they handle daily adversity that the negligent incident caused. An example used in this case is below. It had the impact we were looking for and resulted in a policy limits payment upon receipt.
A DAY IN THE LIFE: THE AFFECT THIS HAS HAD ON JAMES, IN HIS OWN WORDS
How to begin is often the hardest part. There are simple things and complex things that have been affected by this happening to me. Overall, I struggle daily to meet the needs of the day and to function with the deficits I now have. My spelling has declined as well as word association. It takes me three or four times to type something so the letters are not transposed, or the wrong words used. I often use ‘fore’ instead of ‘for’, ‘due’ instead of ‘do’, things like that. There are so many daily situations where it has become hard to function, it is difficult to capture. Hopefully what I share will give people a picture of what it is like to daily live with the injuries and impacts of those injuries. Undeniably our lives have been impacted physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially, and financially.
Perhaps starting with a picture of who I was before the accident will be helpful to understand the impacts of it. First, I loved to ride my bicycle. On the day I was struck by the car, I was on a 60-mile bike ride. Weekly my riding average was a 125 miles. I have been riding most of my life. I have ridden 120 miles in a day. I have ridden the 220 mile Seattle-to-Portland ride. Being physical active was a large part of my life.
I was a person with a great deal of focus, attention to detail, and physical capability. I met all overtime requirements that were often put upon us working at [my job]. My downtime reading was spent reviewing engineering books and detailed repair manuals for greater understanding of how things worked, immersing myself in new technologies deeper than required for my role because I wanted to know how things worked. I had the ability to dive deeply into topics and stay focused on something. I loved to read. I excelled at work in my ability to track complex processes easily.
Socially and emotionally I enjoyed good relationships with family and friends. In addition to doing things as a couple, I spent time with several friends doing various outdoor activities.
Now my life is minimized to the daily aspects of what it takes to get through a day. Each day requires going through the day on high alert. For example, I can’t be interrupted while I’m preparing for work. It takes a lot of focus in the early morning to be certain I can get ready for the day: my lunch items are in my work backpack; I am wearing the correct glasses to see and control light; and have my safety vest on for walking through the plant. Anything that emits light must be managed even with coated glasses and wraparound sunglasses worn together. Some days it is okay to have the blinds up in my house and some days it is intolerable to have the blinds up due to the light intensity. Something as simple as having breakfast in the early morning hours requires making certain the light switch is on low mode so that a blast of light is not emitted. Wearing specialized glasses is a daily requirement to manage my light sensitivity. I have to avoid certain things daily to avoid the ‘pain’ of light that most people don’t think about, such as headlights that come on when a car door is unlocked.
In the work environment. I manage overhead lighting by unscrewing some of the fluorescent light bulbs, wearing both specialized glasses and wraparound glasses to avoid sudden light exposure and manage light sensitivity. If there is unanticipated light exposure, the sudden flashes of light triggers a reaction of feeling like I just got kicked in the head. The best way to describe that feeling is to think about what it is like to hit “your funny bone” in your elbow. The pain that travels down your arm and into your hand is the feeling that happens inside my head. It causes me confusion and forgetfulness, which then causes a rush of energy to my head. When that rush happens I become frustrated and irritable all at once. I worry about people being too close to me for fear of being injured. One doctor titled it proximity anxiety. The feeling exists for me in every environment.
Noises of daily life become painful and difficult for me which is hard to understand. Things such as doors shutting, airplanes overhead, even washing dishes. All sounds travel so deeply into my inner ear it is excruciatingly painful. Moment to moment I manage incessant earplug usage. It is constant. I go to bed with these sounds. I wake up with these sounds or these sounds wake me up.
The specialists have said that these problems are due to my hearing losses and damage to my frontal lobe-processing center. These inner ear issues impact my executive function and frontal lobe. I have had to work hard and operate differently to compensate for functions usually done automatically by the brain and inner ear. That causes extreme fatigue, and in turn causes working memory loss.
Staying focused on a task requires so much energy. If I am interrupted in the midst of a task, all focus and memory of where I am on the task is lost. I become irritable because of struggling hard to keep my thoughts together. At work, I have difficulty attempting to locate documents in a computer file. I have to make a very determined effort either mentally or physically write it down because when the light changes, poof, I forget what I was trying to find. This consumes unnecessary time and concerns me about my productivity, my job performance and employability.
I don’t know how to categorize all of the emotions other than to say this has been challenging to a point that words don’t adequately describe. I am still seeing neurological specialists hoping for something to change my situation. I miss being able to ride my bike, engage in conversations without searching for words, stay focused on a task, and string multiple next steps together without losing them. It becomes irritating, depressing, and exhausting, and sometimes scary. I have left my desk to go to another work area and could not find my way back. This has also been hard on my marriage. My spouse must deal with the daily physical, mental and emotional ups and downs. The psychologist said it was like she was walking on eggshells every day. That, I don’t believe, will change any time soon.
It is my hope to convey a picture how in a moment, my life was altered so quickly by another’s decisions, and what it is like to live daily with those effects daily without an end in sight.
Negligence forever changed our client’s ability to function and live a normal life. We were honored to help him through this difficult time.