Nicholas Anderson should be a multimillionaire.
Instead, he is penniless – and in need of medical treatment he can’t afford.
On Dec. 23, 2004, Anderson was driving home when a tire caught on a six-inch lip on the roadside and he lost control of his car. The car crashed into a guardrail, which impaled the vehicle, severing Anderson’s left leg and nearly severing his left arm. He was 18.
He sued Camden County, and last year a jury awarded him $31 million, finding that the county-maintained road was dangerous because of the drop in elevation between the road and shoulder, and because of the guardrail’s design.
“I’m in pain every day,” Anderson said.
As Anderson struggles with health and financial problems, lawyers continue to maneuver in state and federal courts.
Just days after the verdict, the county’s insurance carrier sued the county. State National Insurance Co. says it should not have to pay because the county’s attorney did not properly prepare for trial or adequately update State National, according to the federal lawsuit.
One of the county’s attorneys, William M. Tambussi, said that the county’s trial attorney handled the case properly and that State National decided to speak up only after the jury returned such a large verdict. The county has cross-sued State National.
Superior Court Judge John Fratto adjusted the verdict to $19.3 million this year.
Anderson’s attorney, John M. Dodig, pointed out that while State National and the county try to avoid payment, they are running costs higher with interest compounded daily.
“The insurance company is wrongfully and in bad faith refusing to live up to its obligation to pay the verdict,” Dodig said. “And I fully expect that they will be found to have acted in bad faith.”
The accident happened just before midnight, after Anderson had given his best friend a ride home.
Anderson was about a mile from his home when an oncoming car crossed the center line and he swerved. The tires on his 2004 Subaru Impreza got caught on the asphalt’s edge. The car went into a skid and crashed into the metal guardrail.
The road has since been fixed and a new guardrail installed. At the time, there was a shorter guardrail that could not absorb the impact. Instead, the sharp end of the rail sliced through Anderson’s vehicle.
“I remember yelling for help. I reached down and felt that my leg wasn’t there. I felt blood and dirt,” he said. He remembers paramedics, and waking up in the hospital, where he saw his best friend.
“It wasn’t until I woke up at the hospital that I realized the gravity of the situation,” said Anderson, who enjoyed skiing and other sports. “I just started to cry, and then my friend started to cry, because life was never going to be the same.”
Recovery has included 34 surgeries and intensive physical therapy. His left leg was fitted with a prosthetic device. He had nine fractures in his right leg, which remains in pain.
Anderson, now 23, regained minimal use of his left arm. He has an artificial elbow, and the arm remains prone to infection and might have to be amputated, he said.
Many of Anderson’s expenses were covered through an insurance policy held by his grandparents, who helped raise him. Eventually, changes in insurance ended coverage for specialists he once saw at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota and Johns Hopkins Hospital in Maryland. Therapy to build strength in his arm and legs also ended.
“At this point, my grandparents are running out of money,” he said.
Anderson said he tried to return to his job at an office-supply store, but could not tolerate the pain. He tried taking online classes with Camden County College, with hope of becoming a medical business administrator, but had to withdraw from three of four because of his surgeries.
“Essentially,” he said, “I’m broke.”
His lawyer, he said, had told him the suit would take time, including appeals. But Dodig, of Feldman, Shepherd, Wohlgelernter, Tanner, Weinstock, & Dodig in Philadelphia, said he has been surprised by the insurance company’s response.
State National provides excessive-liability insurance for Camden County. The county is responsible for $300,000 before the insurance plan must pay.
According to State National’s lawsuit, Camden County failed to promptly notify it about Anderson’s lawsuit and did not provide adequate updates until after the deadline for defense expert reports, after discovery was complete and a trial had been scheduled.
“As State National began to receive information about the case, it was clear that serious errors plagued Camden’s defense of the case,” the suit says.
Camden County also did not provide enough information for the insurance company to assess a settlement offer, the suit says. The lawsuit quotes a county attorney who it says advised the insurance firm, “Frankly, any jury will most likely see this case for what it is – a young man who was either speeding or simply lost control of the car on a turn and was severely injured.”
The trial of Anderson’s lawsuit began Oct. 8, 2008. Four days later, the county’s attorney advised that “evaluation of this case has changed substantially,” according to the lawsuit.
“The jury returned an unprecedented verdict of $31 million against Camden,” the suit said. “If county counsel and/or Camden had properly investigated the Anderson claim and adequately defended the Anderson lawsuit, all parties’ potential liability exposure could have been minimized.”
Tambussi said the insurance company was simply trying to get out of paying the verdict. The insurance company had lawyers involved before trial and who monitored the trial. At no time did the company ask for a postponement or offer settlement, he said.
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