Glenwood Canyon accident yields $350,000 settlement for El Jebel woman
A jury awarded an El Jebel woman $350,000 Wednesday for injuries she received in a 1999 accident involving a semi tractor-trailer in Glenwood Canyon.
However, June Sparkman will be paid $500,000, according to an agreement reached between the plaintiffs and defendants prior to the verdict. Under that agreement, she was to receive at least that amount regardless of the jury’s decision, in exchange for not accepting more than $1.15 million even if the jury award was higher.
The trial began July 8 and was held in Ninth Judicial District Court before Judge John Althoff, a visiting judge from Greeley. It arose from an accident Aug. 4, 1999, a mile west of Grizzly Creek in Glenwood Canyon.
A headline in the Glenwood Post following the wreck called it the “Miracle on I-70.” As the eastbound semi was speeding through a turn, its trailer fell on top of Sparkman’s car but also landed on a guardrail, keeping it from crushing to death Sparkman and her daughter, Melissa. The truck dragged the Sparkman car about 400 feet.
The Sparkmans remained bent over in the car seats for more than an hour while emergency crews lifted the trailer so they could be extricated.
Dan Shipp, the Basalt attorney representing Sparkman, said she broke four vertebrae in the wreck, and had to quit her job at City Market in El Jebel as a result.
The eastbound truck was being driven by Jeffrey Hicks, of Memphis, Tenn., who was working for Brown Trucking Inc. He was later convicted of speeding, careless driving, and a lane violation, because trucks in the canyon must remain in the right-hand lane. He spent 45 days in jail in connection with the case.
Sparkman sued Hicks and Brown Trucking for her pain and suffering, cost of medical treatment, emotional distress and loss of earnings. Her husband, Stan, was a coplaintiff, claiming loss of consortium damages to his wife’s injuries.
They claimed Hicks displayed negligence in his driving, and Brown Trucking was negligent and acted “willfully and wantonly” in violation of federal regulations in the manner in which it hired, trained and supervised Hicks and maintained its equipment.
Bud Wittman, who represented the Great West Insurance Co., which insured Brown Trucking, said the jury specifically found no negligence on the part of Brown Trucking in the case. The sole finding, which Wittman said the defense acknowledged during the trial, was that Hicks negligently operated the vehicle. Brown Trucking was found “vicariously responsible” as his employer, Wittman said.
He said there was never any question that Sparkman was injured and entitled to some compensation. The difference of opinion was over the extent of the injuries and amount of compensation due.
Wittman argued that Sparkman had pre-existing health problems, and broke a leg after the accident.
“We’re sorry that the accident occurred, and we feel that the jury did a good job and evaluated things to the best of their ability,” he said. “We felt that the jury was comprised of people who made reasonable decisions in this matter.”
He said the jury decision makes the final settlement appear to be reasonable. After interest and costs were added to the $350,000 jury award, it would have been close to the $500,000 Sparkman will receive, he said.
Shipp said whether Sparkman was adequately compensated is a subjective question. She remains on pain killers for her back to this day, he said.
After costs and attorney contingency fees, she will probably end up receiving less than $250,000, and her lost wages may amount to more than that, Shipp said.
Because she can’t work, the contingency system was her only chance of bringing a lawsuit against a well-financed insurance company whose attorney is being paid by the hour, he said.
Shipp expressed frustration over Colorado law that prevented him from telling the jury that Brown Trucking had insurance.
“Oftentimes the jury thinks that the individual or company will have to pay out of their own pocket,” he said.
Said Wittman, “I guess he wants people to look at whether someone is highly insured and capable of paying a judgment, rather than at the facts of the accident. There’s no other reason for disclosing insurance unless you want to dissuade the jury from looking at the accident facts.”
Shipp said the outcome of the case shows that the jury system works. Prior to the trial, he said, the best settlement offer the insurance company made was $45,000, and he has incurred more than $45,000 in expenses working the case.
Wittman disputed Shipp’s claim, saying that offers of $350,000 and $400,000 were made prior to the trial.
“Perhaps one of the reasons the case did go to trial is that they wanted more,” he said.
Shipp said while there were discussions involving such dollar amounts, formal offers were never put on the table.
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