How much money, if any, should a Columbia electric company have to pay a woman who asserts she was severely injured by a company truck while walking in a crosswalk on a Five Points street?
That is the question before a Columbia jury early next week, when a trial focusing on pedestrian safety is scheduled to start on the 2012 incident in state civil court at the Richland County courthouse.
The woman, Jemme Stewart is a nurse, psychotherapist and yoga instructor at City Yoga. She is seeking actual and punitive damages for injuries from Gregory Electric and its driver, David J. Atkinson.
Gregory Electric admits liability – the key question is the amount of damages to be awarded, said Mark Barrow, attorney for Gregory Electric and Atkinson.
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“It was a very, very unfortunate accident, and Gregory Electric and its driver accept responsibility,” Barrow said. “The lawsuit is over the damages.”
Stewart’s lawsuit alleges that on Sept. 10, 2012, at 7:50 a.m., she was “violently struck” just off Harden Street by a 6,000-pound, four-door, heavy-duty Chevy Silverado operated by a Gregory Electric driver.
“During this time, (Stewart) had been walking with a friend in the crosswalk at the end of Pavilion Street as it intersects with College Street,” the lawsuit said.
“As (Stewart) was proceeding on foot within the margins of the crosswalk, the defendant .... abruptly and without adequate warning turned onto Pavilion Street,” the lawsuit said.
When the truck hit Stewart, she “suffered great physical harm ... including numerous fractures ...,” the lawsuit said.
Gregory Electric is owned by the South Carolina National Guard’s Adjutant General, Robert Livingston, according to his biography on the National Guard internet site. Livingston, who is also Gregory’s CEO, is not a named party to the lawsuit. A National Guard spokeswoman stressed to a reporter that the lawsuit does not involve the National Guard in any way. Nor is Livingston involved in the incident at issue in the trial, said Lt. Col. Cindi King.
In 2014, South Carolina ranked No. 6 in the nation in pedestrian fatality rates, with 2.21 per 100,000 people.
And the number of pedestrians killed in traffic crashes in South Carolina jumped 31 percent for the first six months of 2015 compared to the same months in 2014, according to data released by the Governors Highway Safety Association last week.
Pedestrian safety in Five Points, a popular section of Columbia for locals, tourists and college students, has received much attention in recent years.
In June 2012, just months before Stewart’s incident, a man in a wheel chair was run over and crushed to death by a construction truck on Greene Street near the Starbucks coffee shop one weekday morning.
Since then, city police and public works officials, as well as Five Points Association members, have worked to improve traffic safety in the bustling area.
Signage, lighting, traffic signals, sidewalks and other aspects of keeping people safe have all been upgraded.
“It’s all looked at every year,” said Five Points Association executive director Amy Beth Franks in an interview.
The lawsuit won’t focus on safety features; instead, testimony will focus on any damages to be awarded.
Gregory is a large electrical contracting company that does business in 14 states and the District of Columbia, according to its website.
Columbia attorney Robert Garfield, who represents Stewart, said his client, after more than three years, wants to get the issues in the case resolved.
“To date, we have been given no formal indication that either Gregory or its driver has admitted who is at fault – either way, my client is looking forward to getting this behind her as much as possible,” Garfield said.
Circuit Judge DeAndrea Benjamin is expected to preside.