NOTE: This case originally went to trial in January, 2015, and ended in a mistrial when McDuffie County Superior Court Judge Harold Hinesley ruled that certain questioning allowed the jury to hear potentially prejudicial evidence that had previously been ruled inadmissible. That evidentiary ruling did not involve anything discussed in this article or the trial highlight clip. The case was subsequently retried in March, 2015, resulting in the verdict discussed below. Courtroom View Network covered the first trial in this case (from which this clip was excerpted) but did not cover the retrial.
Automobile accident trials often turn into “plaintiff said/defendant said” factual disputes. In one recent case, however, a plaintiff’s attorney was able to use an expert witness both to give the jury a comprehensive look at the accident scene and to help resolve the conflicting testimony of the parties. Ulysses Rodney Anderson v. Brian Preston Hensley (14CV0199).
The case resulted from a June 10, 2012, accident involving Ulysses Anderson’s motorcycle and Brian Hensley’s truck. The accident occurred on the Little River Bridge on Highway 47 between McDuffie and Columbia County. Before the accident, Ulysses Anderson and his nephew “Ray Ray” Anderson were traveling on their motorcycles behind Hensley’s truck. While on the causeway leading to the bridge, Ulysses Anderson passed Hensley, whose truck then collided with Anderson’s motorcycle. Anderson’s leg was severely injured as a result of the accident and subsequent events.
The parties gave diametrically opposite versions of the events. According to Hensley, the Andersons came up on his truck at a high rate of speed while on the causeway, and he tapped on his brakes a couple of times to try to get them to back off. Instead, Ulysses Anderson passed his truck, then hit his brakes. Hensley tried to brake but was unable to do so.
Complicating Hensley’s testimony was the fact that he had been drinking alcohol at the time of the accident and fled the scene before police or medical personnel could arrive, not returning until sometime later. He was arrested after he returned to the scene and subsequently pled guilty to DUI.
According to the Andersons, their encounter with Hensley began before the vehicles arrived at the causeway. While driving towards the bridge, Hensley slowed his truck down to impede their progress and swerved from side to side to prevent them from passing. Ulysses Anderson was finally able to pass Hensley on the causeway, at which point he contended Hensley speeded up and struck his motorcycle. According to Ray Ray Anderson, his uncle’s most severe injuries occurred when Hensley ran over Anderson’s leg while trying to leave the scene.
However, the Andersons’ story also had complicating factors. Another witness who was also on the road that day some distance behind the parties’ vehicles partially corroborated Hensley’s version of events and, in addition, indicated that the Andersons passed his car at a high rate of speed a few miles earlier.
To help the jury evaluate the conflicting testimony, Anderson’s attorney Joseph Neal called upon an accident reconstruction specialist, Jeffrey Kidd. Before the trial, Kidd’s associates drove down the same stretch of Highway 47 as did the vehicles involved in the accident, and they made a video recording of the route that was introduced into evidence. Kidd began his testimony by describing the surroundings along the entire stretch of the road on which the vehicles traveled. The video lasted approximately seven minutes.
Then, Neal asked Kidd questions about specific statements Hensley had made in connection with the case. Kidd testified that there was no evidence that Ulysses Anderson had applied his brakes after he passed Hensley’s truck or that he had clipped the bumper of Hensley’s truck in passing, as Hensley had also stated. Kidd then discussed photographs Hensley had taken of his truck that showed markings on the bumper Hensley claimed resulted from Anderson’s motorcycle hitting the bumper as he passed the truck. Kidd stated: “[The markings] clearly did not come from this collision… The damage actually moves forward to rear. If you look close at the damage, the damage is not even coming in from rear to the front. It’s coming from the front, where the truck has made contact with something, and pushed it around the curvature of that bumper. It’s not even associated with this crash.”
Kidd then reviewed other aspects of Hensley’s statements. As far as Hensley’s claim that Anderson had hit his brakes after passing Hensley’s truck, Kidd said that, in such case, the rear of Anderson’s motorcycle would have come off the ground (which Kidd called a “stoppie,” the opposite of a “wheelie”). That would have caused Anderson to be thrown down in the roadway, instead of his being thrown into the windshield of Hensley’s truck as actually occurred. In addition, Kidd’s measurements of the height of the impact marks on Hensley’s bumper off the ground indicated that Hensley did not hit his brakes either.
Kidd explained, “If a driver is hard on the brakes of a motorcycle, the motorcycle’s going to pitch forward, no if’s, and’s, or but’s. If a driver in a pickup truck hits hard on the brakes …, the truck is going to pitch forward; it’s going to change the position when these contacts hit.” When Kidd measured the impact marks, he found that the height of the marks on the motorcycle matched those on the pickup truck, indicating neither vehicle braked significantly prior to the impact. Kidd also went on to place the responsibility for the accident on Hensley for failure to keep a proper lookout and following too closely.
When the case was retried, Kidd testified in substantially the same manner and the jury was apparently impressed. They returned a verdict in favor of Anderson for $786,733.30 in compensatory damages, plus $250,000 in punitive damages, for a total verdict. $1,036,733.30, the largest verdict of record in McDuffie County history. However, they also found Anderson 10% at fault in the accident, reducing the final judgment to approximately $958,060.