A wrongful death claim brought by a Forsyth County, North Carolina widow on behalf of her deceased husband recently resulted in a $6,000,000 jury verdict. The case is Roadway Express and Constance Sue Horn, Individually and as Administratrix of the Estate of Mark Joseph Horn v. Mickey Joe Hayes and The Inzone, Inc.
In the early morning hours of March 7, 2004, Mark Horn drove his Roadway Express tractor trailer northbound on US Highway 52. At the same time, defendant Mickey Hayes, who had been drinking at The Inzone sports bar for several hours prior to entering the highway, was racing another vehicle headed northbound on US Highway 52. Witnesses reported observing the racing cars travelling at speeds over 100 miles per hour. As defendant Hayes came up behind Mr. Horn’s tractor trailer, he attempted to pass him in the emergency lane on the right hand side of the highway.
As defendant Hayes got along side of the tractor trailer, both vehicles were approaching a bridge, and defendant Hayes veered in front and cut the tractor trailer off at the last minute. Mr. Horn swerved and crashed through the bridge, and his tractor trailer exploded and burst into flames as it impacted the roadway below the bridge. Mr. Horn died in the crash.
Mr. Horn’s wife sued the drunk driver and The Inzone, Inc. for the wrongful death of her husband. I have discussed the North Carolina Wrongful Death Act in the past. The claims against The Inzone were based on what is called Dram Shop liability. Under the North Carolina Dram Shop statute, a bar can be held liable for the harm caused by a drunk driver if the bar served alcohol to a patron it either knew or should have known was already impaired. In North Carolina, there is a one year statute of limitations for Dram Shop actions. This means that if you are going to sue a bar for serving alcohol to an already impaired patron, then that lawsuit must be filed within one year of the wreck.
During the trial, the defendants did not put on a defense, and The Inzone, Inc. did not even make an appearance as they claimed to have no insurance to cover the claim. Before the verdict, defendant Hayes’ insurance company paid the limits of its coverage and did not seek a release for their insured’s excess liability. Unfortunately, defendant Hayes does not appear to have any assets. Therefore, Ms. Horn will probably have a tough time collecting any of the judgment from him.
After the jury’s verdict, The Inzone, Inc. filed for bankruptcy protection and closed its business. This means that Ms. Horn will probably not be able to collect anything directly from The Inzone, Inc.; however, she is in the process of trying to collect the judgment from other potential insurance carriers that were not involved in the wrongful death litigation.
This is an unfortunate event that is sometimes encountered in personal injury litigation. Obtaining a large verdict against an uninsured defendant, or a large excess verdict against an insured defendant, is one thing, but collecting on that excess judgment can be challenging. But, in this situation, perseverance is the key. Knowing as much as possible about the defendant’s assets before going to trial is critically important. This is where your trial attorney’s knowledge of the law of collections can make a huge difference in the outcome of your case.
At Davis Law Group, we help those who are seriously injured or killed, and those who are left behind, as the result of another person’s drunk and reckless driving . If you would like to speak to an experienced personal injury attorney who knows the law as it relates to all aspects of your personal injury or wrongful death claim, and how to protect your rights, call.