Car accidents often leave victims with lifelong injuries that never fully heal. When these accidents are the result of negligence, the victim has every right to pursue a personal injury claim in court. But what happens when the negligent party is an employee of the federal government?
Rodriguez-Densley v. United States
This was precisely the scenario confronted by a federal judge in Macon during a recent case, Rodriguez-Densley v. United States. The underlying facts of this case are fairly straightforward. The plaintiff was returning home in her car. She approached a U-shaped residential driveway. At that same time, a United States Postal Service delivery truck was in the driveway.
According to the plaintiff, she observed the postal truck “had been sitting” in the driveway for some time. She assumed that meant the USPS driver was waiting for her to pass. But as the plaintiff proceeded, the postal truck pulled out of the driveway “at the last second.” The plaintiff attempted to avoid a collision by “yanking” her steering wheel to the left and applying her brakes, but to no avail. The vehicles collided, sending the plaintiff’s car “down an embankment off her left-hand side of the road where it came to a rest in a wooded area,” according to court records.
Unfortunately, the plaintiff sustained a life-altering lower leg injury as a result of the crash. More precisely, her “left foot was turned inward at a 90-degree angle from her ankle.” This required multiple surgeries. But even today, approximately four years after the accident, the plaintiff’s ankle has not been successfully repaired. Her leg is effectively useless, as she can not put weight on it without experiencing severe pain, and the plaintiff’s doctors have advised that her only future option may be amputation.
The plaintiff subsequently sued the federal government. She alleged that the government was responsible for the negligence of the postal driver, who she maintained caused the accident. In response, the government tried to shift at least some of the blame and argued that the plaintiff’s “last-minute decision to swerve left in an effort to avoid the collision was negligent and a contributing cause of the accident.”
Under federal law, a person injured due to the negligence of a government employee may sue for damages in federal court. The case is tried before a federal judge, who applies the substantive law of the state where the accident took place, which in this case was Georgia. After conducting a bench trial, U.S. District Judge Tilman E. Self, III, entered judgment for the plaintiff.
Judge Self said the postal worker was 100 percent responsible for the accident. Under Georgia traffic laws, a driver “about to enter or cross a roadway” from some place outside of the roadway–such as a driveway–must “yield the right of way to all vehicles approaching on the roadway to be entered or crossed.” In plain English, the postal driver was required to let the plaintiff pass before trying to enter the road from the driveway. To the extent the plaintiff’s actions might have contributed to her injuries, she was reacting to a “sudden emergency” created by the postal driver’s negligence, the judge said, so she could not be held even partly liable.
Accordingly, Judge Self awarded the plaintiff $1.5 million “for the general and special damages that she has suffered in the past and will likely suffer in the future.”