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Wicomico motor tort verdict tops $1M

An Eastern Shore couple has been awarded more than $1 million in damages after a collision involving a semi-tractor hauling farm equipment cost a man an eye.

The verdict in favor of Michael and Amanda Spence is the first million-dollar, non-medical-malpractice personal injury case in Wicomico County Circuit Court, according to the Spences’ lawyer.

The verdict includes $500,000 for pain and suffering for Michael Spence, which is below Maryland’s cap on noneconomic damages.

“It’s been a long road for them,” said David E. Haynes, the Sharptown couple’s lawyer. “The defendants consistently denied they did anything wrong.”

The Spences’ car ran headlong into farm equipment being towed by the Freightliner. The farm equipment, which was wider than the semi, extended into the Spences’ lane.

Margaret Fonshell Ward, a lawyer for defendants Thomas E. Shockley and John P. Thomas, said the verdict will be appealed.

State law permits farming equipment being transferred on public roads to cross the road lines into oncoming traffic. Fonshell said Shockley was not doing anything illegal at the time of the accident.

“Mr. Shockley complied with all traffic laws for farming equipment,” said Ward, of Ward & Herzog LLC in Towson.

According to the complaint, the accident happened on July 4, 2009, when the Spences and the semi-tractor were traveling in opposite directions on Norris Twilley Road in Sharptown at dusk.

Shockley was driving the semi, with a 16-foot-wide seeder/planter owned by Thomas hitched to the back of it, according to the complaint. The road does not have a shoulder at that point, and the seeder/planter extended three to five feet into the Spences’ lane of travel, the complaint said.

Michael Spence, driving a 2006 Honda Accord, did not see the farm equipment and crashed into it, according to the complaint. The couple’s car ended up in an embankment and Michael had to be cut out of the car, the complaint said. An ambulance took the couple to Peninsula Regional Medical Center, and Michael was taken from there by helicopter to the University of Maryland’s R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center. He lost his right eye in the crash, while his wife suffered a fractured hip.

Haynes, managing partner of The Cochran Firm in Washington, D.C., said the defendants should not have driven the semi-tractor at dusk and should have started earlier, when there was more daylight.

But Ward said testimony at trial countered the Spences’ claim that the accident occurred after sunset.

A police officer who lives near the accident site said he heard the crash from inside his home and was the first person on the scene.

“He testified it was daylight at the time of the accident,” Ward said.

Ward also says she plans to file an appeal based on the jury awarding damages against Thomas because he was simply a passenger in Shockley’s truck, and there is no legal basis for holding a passenger liable for the accident.

The jury “based its decision on sympathy, not the law,” she said.

After a three-day trial, the jury of one man and five women deliberated for three hours becoming back with a verdict, according to Haynes.

“I think we got a fair jury,” Haynes said, adding he was told it would be difficult to prevail against farmers in an agricultural community.

Retired Wicomico County Circuit Judge D. William Simpson presided over the case. He denied a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and motion for new trial earlier this month, according to court records.

SPENCE V. SHOCKLEY, ET AL.

Court:

Wicomico County Circuit Court

Case No.:

22-C11001912

Judge:

D. William Simpson

Outcome:

Plaintiffs’ verdict: $1,026,000

$565,000 for pain and suffering ($500,000 for Michael Spence, $65,000 for Amanda Spence)

$211,000 for past medical bills

$200,000 for future medical bills

$50,000 for loss of consortium

Dates:

Incident: July 4, 2009

Suit filed: Dec. 29, 2011

Verdict: Oct. 10, 2013

Plaintiffs’ Attorney:

David E. Haynes, The Cochran Firm in Washington, D.C.

Defendants’ Attorneys:

Margaret Fonshell Ward of Ward & Herzog LLC in Towson; Ernest I. Cornbrooks III of Webb, Burnett, Cornbrooks, Vorhis, Douse & Mason LLP in Salisbury

Count:

Negligence, negligent entrustment, negligent infliction of emotional distress, loss of consortium.