Jury Verdict: $1,560,000.00
The Estate of Wayne Frebert, et al. v. The Estate of Meir Gross, M.D. Civil Case No. N-92-3071 (Consolidated).
Court and Presiding Judge
United States District Court for the District of Maryland (Federal Court)
The Honorable Edward Northrop.
Facts and Injuries
This case involved a tragic, fiery collision that claimed the life of three people and seriously injured two others. The collision occurred on October 19, 1992 at approximately 4:00 a.m. on the I495/270 spur. Mr. Frebert was driving an 18 wheel gasoline tanker truck owned by Hahn Transportation. He had picked up 6,000 gallons of gasoline in Fairfax,Virginia and was proceeding into the northbound lanes of I270, from I495, on his way to make a delivery to a High’s Store in Thurmont,Maryland.
Dr. Meir had just visited his daughter in Northern Virginia who had just given birth to his grandchild, and was headed to his home in Ohio. The evidence presented at trial showed Dr. Meir apparently became confused at the spur and mistakenly got into the eastbound lanes of 495 toward Baltimore. Realizing he needed to be in the northbound lanes of 270, Dr. Meir traveled across the double white lanes separating 495 from 270, directly into the path of Mr. Frebert’s truck. Mr. Frebert’s truck then struck Dr. Meir’s vehicle in the rear sending it spinning up 270. The Hahn tanker then slammed into the concrete overpass, killing Mr. Frebert instantly and tipping the tanker on its side and onto Dr. Meir’s vehicle, thereby causing a river of gasoline to splash down 270.
Several vehicles drove through the gasoline uneventfully, but one gentleman stopped his vehicle just before hitting the tanker and was struck by another vehicle, driven by a young lady, which threw a spark and ignited the gasoline. The young lady was killed in the fire. The gentleman was able to exit his vehicle and run through the fire, sustaining serious burns.
In the meantime, a member of the U.S. Navy diving team came upon the scene just before the explosion and had no choice but to guide his vehicle through the fire. He did so successfully and drove to the side of the road, where he exited his vehicle and had to role in the grass to put out the fire on his person, which also caused serious burns. However, hearing Dr. Meir screaming from inside his trapped vehicle, this heroic gentleman ran back to the scene and was able to extricate Dr. Meir from his car. Unfortunately, at just that moment, another pod of gasoline in the tanker exploded, causing Dr. Meir to become disoriented and run back into the fire. Dr. Meir died from his injuries several days later.
Mr. Frebert left a wife, from whom he was estranged, and three young children upon his death.
At trial, the jury heard expert testimony from economist, Dr. Thomas Borzilleri, who opined the Frebert family would sustain $660,000 in future economic losses as the result of Wayne’s death.
Dr. Meir’s estate claimed Mr. Frebert caused the accident when he rear-ended Dr. Meir’s vehicle.
Jury Verdict: $1,560,000
- Future Lost Wages $ 660,000
- Non-Economic Damages $ 900,000
($300,000 to each of Mr. Frebert’s children)
Pretrial Settlement Offers
From Dr. Meir’s insurer, Allstate: Zero ($0.00).
Although the Maryland State Police accident reconstruction experts reached the conclusion Dr. Meir had caused the collision, Mr. Frebert was driving a Hahn gasoline tanker that was insured for several million dollars. Accordingly, everyone sued Mr. Frebert’s estate, claiming he was at fault, and hired their own accident reconstruction experts to buttress their claims. At a mediation session before a United States Magistrate judge, the judge informed everyone that presiding Judge Northrop had a reputation for not allowing accident reconstruction experts to testify at trial. Indeed, at the Pretrial Hearing before Judge Northrop, Judge Northrop ruled that he would not allow reconstruction experts to testify. Thus, the insurer for Hahn actively sought to settle the claims against Frebert and successfully settled each claim before trial.
Thereafter, Mr. Campen’s research showed that another judge sitting on the U. S. District Court with Judge Northrop had recently allowed accident reconstruction experts to testify for all parties involved in an accident case. Accordingly, he filed a motion for reconsideration of Judge Northrop’s earlier ruling, arguing that the “luck of the draw” regarding presiding judges should not dramatically affect the types of experts that can testify and the outcome of a case. To his credit, Judge Northrop ultimately agreed, reversed his ruling and allowed Mr. Campen to present all three Maryland State Police accident reconstruction experts at trial. Said experts clearly carried the day.