A Richland County jury has awarded an Iraq veteran $897,500 in damages stemming from a rear-end crash on I-26 while he was on active duty at Fort Jackson.
According to a civil lawsuit filed by ex-soldier James Smith, now 28, he was driving on I-26 March 10, 2012, when a vehicle driven by Joseph Giordano ran into the back of another vehicle, causing that vehicle “to violently collide” into the rear of Smith’s car.
Smith didn’t “cause or contribute to the collision” and had no ability to avoid the crash, his lawsuit said.
According to court records, Giordano was underinsured, and Smith’s insurer, GEICO, declined to pay Smith damages for injuries he claimed he sustained in the crash. Those injuries severely affected his shoulder, back and neck, causing him permanent disabilities that will incur future medical expenses, Smith’s lawsuit alleged.
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During the trial, Smith – who had wanted to make the military his career – testified he had to get a medical discharge from the Army because he was no longer up to the demands of the job. Smith had been a military police officer whose job in Iraq was guarding troops who disarmed IEDs, the hidden explosive devices designed to blow up U.S. vehicles, according to his lawyer, Robert Goings of Columbia.
Evidence in the case came from two doctors, who gave medical evidence favorable to Smith. Smith also testified.
Under S.C. law, facts about insurance were not presented to the jury at trial. The jury returned its verdict after 30 minutes, Goings said. Of the $897,500 total verdict, $359,000 was for actual damages and $538,500 was for punitive damages.
Smith paid premiums to GEICO to compensate him for damages if an underinsured driver was at fault in causing an accident.
But, according to the answer to Smith’s complaint, GEICO’s lawyer, Anthony Livoti of Columbia, argued that the underinsured driver was not negligent in any way.
Under S.C. law, a motorist can't directly sue his own insurer – he has to sue the person alleged to have caused the accident and, at that point, the motorist’s own insurance company takes over defense of the case. Also under S.C. law, the jury is not permitted to know the insurer will pay any award.
Goings said, “This fine solider paid for insurance. GEICO had no problem accepting his premium each month, but after this collision, it refused to compensate him for his injuries. Although this jury was unable to know about insurance, this jury saw that justice was done.”
Judge DeAndrea Benjamin presided.