Benjamin v. Shaw, Civil Action No.: 4:15-cv-05110-RBH

CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtR. Bryan Harwell United States District Judge
Decision Date28 July 2017
PartiesGeorgeanna Benjamin, as Guardian ad Litem for Curtis Dolford, Plaintiff, v. Adrian Shaw, Defendant.
Docket NumberCivil Action No.: 4:15-cv-05110-RBH

Georgeanna Benjamin, as Guardian ad Litem for Curtis Dolford, Plaintiff,
Adrian Shaw, Defendant.

Civil Action No.: 4:15-cv-05110-RBH


July 28, 2017


Plaintiff Georgeanna Benjamin brings this negligence action on behalf of her son, Curtis Dolford, against Defendant Adrian Shaw seeking actual and punitive damages for injuries that Mr. Dolford sustained in a motor vehicle accident. The matter is before the Court following a bench trial held on June 27, 2017.1 The sole evidence presented at trial was the testimony of Ms. Benjamin and nine stipulated exhibits. Defendant2 did not dispute liability,3 but did dispute the amount of actual

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damages and Plaintiff's entitlement to punitive damages. Having considered the evidence and the parties' arguments, the Court issues the following Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law pursuant to Rule 52(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. To the extent that any findings of fact constitute conclusions of law, or vice-versa, they shall be so regarded.

Initially, the Court notes that after Plaintiff rested her case, Defendant moved for nonsuit and directed verdict.4 First, Defendant moved for judgment based on the same grounds argued in his summary judgment motion and also based on the Eighth Defense raised in his answer, which asserted res judicata/estoppel by prior judgment. The Court denies this motion for the same reasons explained in its order denying Defendant's motion for summary judgment. See ECF No. 44. That order thoroughly summarizes the procedural history of this case, Defendant's arguments, and the Court's legal conclusions.5

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Second, Defendant moved for judgment on the issue of punitive damages. The Court took this matter under advisement and now denies the motion, as explained below in the Conclusions of Law section.

Findings of Fact

I. Parties

1. Plaintiff Georgeanna Benjamin ("Ms. Benjamin" or "Plaintiff") is a citizen and resident of Darlington County, South Carolina. [Amended Complaint (ECF No. 23) at ¶ 1; Answer (ECF No. 24) at ¶ 1]

2. Curtis Dolford ("Mr. Dolford") is a citizen and resident of Darlington County, South Carolina, and is legally incompetent, thereby necessitating the appointment of a guardian ad litem. [Am. Compl. at ¶ 2; Answer at ¶ 2; Order on Petition to Appoint Guardian ad Litem (ECF No. 19)]

3. Ms. Benjamin was appointed as the guardian ad litem for Mr. Dolford. [Am. Compl. at ¶ 3; Answer at ¶ 3; Order on Petition to Appoint Guardian ad Litem]6

4. Defendant Adrian Shaw ("Defendant Shaw" or "Defendant") is a citizen and resident of North Carolina. [Am. Compl. at ¶ 4; Answer at ¶ 4]

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II. Underlying Accident

5. The automobile collision that is the subject of this action occurred in Darlington County, South Carolina. [Am. Compl. at ¶ 5; Answer at ¶ 5]

6. On January 31, 2013, Defendant Shaw was driving north on U.S. Highway 17 in a 1999 Mack dump truck with VIN #1M2AD62C3XW007692 and North Carolina License Plate #LR9702. [Am. Compl. at ¶ 7; Answer at ¶ 7].

7. On January 31, 2013, Mr. Dolford was lawfully traveling south on U.S. Highway 17 in a 1989 Lincoln Sedan driven and owned by Brent O'Neal. [Am. Compl. at ¶ 8; Answer at ¶ 8]

8. On January 31, 2013, while traveling on U.S. Highway 17, Defendant Shaw swerved to avoid a vehicle, crossed the centerline, and struck the vehicle carrying Mr. Dolford. [Am. Compl. at ¶ 9; Answer at ¶¶ 9, 11].

9. Mr. Dolford was injured as a direct and proximate result of Defendant Shaw's vehicle striking the vehicle carrying Mr. Dolford. [Am. Compl. at ¶¶ 11-14; Answer at ¶¶ 11-12]

II. Stipulated Exhibits

10. The parties stipulated to the admission of nine exhibits, which consist of (1) a medical bill from Palmetto Health Richland, (2) a medical bill for air ambulance services provided by Air Methods Corporation, (3) Mr. Dolford's state identification card, and (4) six photos of the Lincoln Sedan and Mack truck involved in the accident. [See Exhibits 1-9]

A. The bill from Palmetto Health Richland is for a total amount of $742,327.27. The bill itemizes various medical charges for intensive care, pharmacy/drugs, multiple operating room services, medical imaging (X-rays, CT scans, and an MRI), physical and occupational therapy, speech pathology, and other medical services. The bill indicates

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Mr. Dolford was admitted to Palmetto Health Richland (located in Columbia, South Carolina) on January 31, 2013, and was discharged on June 10, 2013. [Exhibit 1]

B. The bill for the air ambulance is for a total amount of $33,104.60 for services provided on January 31, 2013. [Exhibit 2]

C. Mr. Dolford's state identification card indicates he was born on December 21, 1975. [Exhibit 3]. Thus, he was thirty-seven years old at the time of the accident, and currently is currently forty-one years old.

D. The six photos depict the 1989 Lincoln Sedan (in which Mr. Dolford was a passenger) and the 1999 Mack truck (that Defendant Shaw drove). [Exhibits 4-9] The Lincoln Sedan is demolished: the hood is crumpled, the engine is exposed, the front wheels are twisted, the roof is crushed-in, the doors are broken, and the interior passenger compartment is exposed. [Exhibits 4-8] The Mack truck appears relatively undamaged. [Exhibit 9]

III. Ms. Benjamin's Testimony

11. Ms. Benjamin was the sole witness at trial. The Court observed her demeanor and finds her testimony wholly credible and believable.

12. Ms. Benjamin testified she is Mr. Dolford's mother and legal guardian, now provides care for him, and now handles all of his financial and legal affairs.

13. Ms. Benjamin testified she first learned about the accident from her cousin while she was keeping her grandchildren. She arrived at the accident scene just as Mr. Dolford was being airlifted via helicopter to the hospital.7 Mr. Dolford was in a coma for five weeks while in the

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hospital in Columbia, South Carolina.

14. Ms. Benjamin testified about her personal knowledge and observations of Mr. Dolford's physical and mental condition before and after the accident, and her testimony can be summarized as follows:

A. Before the accident, Mr. Dolford was active, played basketball and football, and was never still. He would sometimes work and sometimes be out of work; he was not working at the time of the accident, but his most recent job was as a forklift operator at Darlington Mill. He lived with his aunt and would visit Ms. Benjamin almost every day, and he attended (and still attends) Hartsville Bible Baptist Church with Ms. Benjamin. Mr. Dolford has a six-year old son that he would visit before the accident.

B. After the accident, Mr. Dolford had to move in with Ms. Benjamin—who also lives with her son (Brent O'Neal) and her daughter-in-law—because he could not take care of himself. When Mr. Dolford left the hospital, he complained about his back, leg, and hip hurting; currently, he complains about his hip, head, and back hurting. Ms. Benjamin testified Mr. Dolford has been basically the same since leaving the hospital and has improved only slightly since then. Ms. Benjamin cooks his meals and helps him clean; Mr. Dolford can dress himself, but his clothes are not straight when he does. He is mostly confined to a wheelchair, but he can walk short distances holding onto something and sometimes uses his wheelchair as a walker and pushes it with his right hand for short distances. He sometimes gets stuck in the dirt driveway and needs assistance. Mr. Dolford cannot walk without holding onto something, and he cannot make his bed. He can no longer play any sports or travel on his own. When he travels

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in the car with Ms. Benjamin and her family, they have to frequently stop every twenty to twenty-five minutes for him. Sometimes Mr. Dolford stays up all night. Sometimes he gets very upset and will not allow Ms. Benjamin or others touch him. Ms. Benjamin helps Mr. Dolford stretch his arm and leg. He has a visible scar on top of his head and a pin in his left leg. He does not have much use of the left side of his body, and he cannot bear weight on that side. Anything physically is done with the right side of his body. He can remember his childhood but now he has no short-term memory. Ms. Benjamin testified she does not think Mr. Dolford will get any better.

15. Ms. Benjamin testified that since the accident Mr. Dolford has regularly seen Dr. Crickman every three months for checkups, and that her daughter-in-law takes him to these visits. Ms. Benjamin has looked into hiring a home health nurse, but she cannot pay twenty dollars per hour for a nurse. For a period of time, Ms. Benjamin's daughter-in-law was able to take Mr. Dolford to physical therapy appointments, which cost forty dollars each time, but Ms. Benjamin cannot afford this cost. The last time Mr. Dolford went to physical therapy was in 2013.

16. Ms. Benjamin testified that she is seventy-seven years old and that she would like Mr. Dolford to receive regular physical therapy and have someone come to the house to help care for him.

IV. Other Relevant Facts

17. During the trial, the Court had the opportunity to observe Mr. Dolford. He was seated in a wheelchair and was looking down much of the time.

18. Mr. Dolford's statistical life expectancy is 37.39 years based on his current age of 41 according to the South Carolina Life Expectancy Tables. See S.C. Code Ann. § 19-1-150 (2014).

19. The Court finds Plaintiff has met her burden of proof regarding entitlement to a substantial

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award of actual/compensatory damages. The Court finds Mr. Dolford has incurred necessary and substantial past medical expenses exceeding $775,000 as a result of the injuries received during this accident due to Defendant Shaw's negligence. The Court further finds Mr. Dolford suffered both physical and mental injuries and limitations. The Court further finds that some of his injuries are permanent in nature based on his...

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