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Jury awards Columbia man $350K for car accident injuries

A Baltimore County jury has awarded $350,000 to a Columbia man from his insurance company for injuries he sustained in a car accident more than five years ago.

The jury award for Justin G. Winchester was subsequently reduced to $280,000 to fit under the maximum amount allowed under his underinsured motorist coverage with Erie Insurance Exchange.

Winchester was stopped in his Pontiac Sunfire at the intersection of Routes 175 and 108 in Howard County in November 2009 when a Mitsubishi Galant driven by Paul Brian Grym Jr. hit an Infiniti sedan that then slammed into the back of Winchester’s car, according to the complaint, filed in August 2013.

Winchester, who was 24 at the time of the accident, had preexisting back pain but was having additional back and neck pain in the days following the accident, according to Clay M. Barnes, his lawyer. When physical therapy did not work, he saw a neurosurgeon; an MRI showed disk injuries to his back and neck, according to Barnes.

Lawyers for Erie argued Winchester’s injuries were the result of his preexisting condition, Barnes said. But Barnes, using MRIs from before and after the crash, countered Winchester’s condition was “aggravated and worsened” by the accident.

“He had degenerative changes and damage that was more than in 2008,” said Barnes, a Towson solo practitioner.

An MRI in 2013 showed Winchester’s condition had worsened, Barnes said. Winchester first filed a claim against Grym, who caused the accident, and settled for $20,000, the maximum allowed under Grym’s policy, Barnes said. Then Winchester filed a claim under his underinsured motorist coverage against Erie. The insurance company offered $15,000, according to Barnes.

“I talked to my colleagues and most said they would’ve taken the fifteen,” Barnes said.

During the three-day trial last month before Baltimore County Circuit Court Judge H. Patrick Stringer Jr., plaintiffs’ witnesses testified Winchester was active and played sports up until the accident, Barnes said.

“He’s got two disk injuries that are going to last the rest of his life,” said Barnes.

Surgery to treat the injury “wouldn’t guarantee” a cure, Barnes added.

The jury of four men and two women deliberated for more than two hours before returning with its verdict March 25.

In addition to awarding $300,000 to Winchester, jurors gave Winchester and his wife, Aimee, $50,000 for loss of consortium. The couple had been married for only 10 days when the accident happened, Barnes said.

Sean Werner, a lawyer for Erie, declined to comment on the case. Werner is an associate with Rollins, Smalkin, Richards & Mackie LLC in Baltimore.

JUSTIN WINCHESTER V. ERIE INSURANCE EXCHANGE

Court: Baltimore County Circuit Court

Case No.: 03C13009153

Judge: H. Patrick Stringer Jr.

Outcome: Verdict for plaintiff of $350,000, reduced to $280,000 based on plaintiff’s uninsured motorist coverage

Dates: Incident: Nov. 24, 2009

Suit filed: Aug. 13, 2013

Verdict: March 25, 2015

Plaintiffs’ Attorney: Clay M. Barnes of The Law Offices of Clay M. Barnes LLC in Towson

Defendant’s Attorney: Sean Werner and Tara A. Barnes of Rollins, Smalkin, Richards & Mackie LLC in Baltimore

Counts: Breach of contract, loss of consortium