On December 21, 2012, Anderson Hemmat began the first of three successful jury trials that were tried within a month of each other. Each trial ended with our clients receiving a huge verdict. Like each client, every case is unique and we cannot promise that your case would end the same way. The following is the story of Todd Spoelstra.
On September 29, 2011, Mr. Spoelstra, a 53 year old resident of South Dakota, traveled to Denver to visit some friends. Mr. Spoelstra grew up in Colorado and has several friends that live here. Mr. Spoelstra arrived in Denver by airplane late on a Thursday night. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Spoelstra was on the road in a rental car heading to a friend’s house to spend the evening. Mr. Spoelstra’s plans were derailed that night when he was rear-ended by a drunk driver named Heriberto Alamillo.
Mr. Alamillo was a 60-year-old male who had lived in the United States for more than 20 years. After colliding with Mr. Spoelstra’s vehicle, Mr. Alamillo attempted to flee the scene. Fortunately, the police arrived just as Mr. Alamillo began to flee and his vehicle stalled, effectively preventing his escape. Mr. Alamillo had an auto insurance policy with State Farm. Not surprisingly, Mr. Spolestra found that it was very difficult to deal with the folks at State Farm.
Days after the car accident, Mr. Spoelstra returned to South Dakota and was seen promptly by an orthopedic surgeon because Mr. Spoelstra was suffering from severe shoulder pain. Within a month, Plaintiff underwent surgery on his shoulder to repair a left rotator cuff tear that was caused by the motor vehicle collision with Mr. Alamillo.
Mr. Spoelstra hired Anderson Hemmat to represent him and we were soon able to question Mr. Alamillo as to what exactly he was doing on the night of the rear-end collision. We learned that Mr. Alamillo began his drinking binge around 5:00 p.m. when he arrived home from his job as a supervisor on a landscaping crew. Mr. Alamillo admitted that he drank six Corona Beers at his home before leaving for a bar located at I-70 and Smith Road.
On his way to the bar, Mr. Alamillo stopped at a liquor store to pick up a twelve pack of Coronas. We were surprised when Mr. Alamillo admitted that he drank one Corona after another as he drove to the bar. Mr. Alamillo arrived at the bar around 8:00 p.m. and stayed there until just before 1:00 a.m. At the bar, Mr. Alamillo continued to drink Coronas. By all accounts, Mr. Alamillo drank anywhere between 19 to 21 Corona Beers between 5:00 p.m. and 1:00 a.m. Shortly after leaving the bar, Mr. Alamillo caused the collision with Mr. Spoelstra. Nearly two hours after the accident, Mr. Alamillo’s blood alcohol content was a .218.
Prior to trial, we attempted to reach a settlement with State Farm Insurance Company for Mr. Spoelstra. Mr. Alamillo had an insurance policy with State Farm for $100,000 worth of coverage limits. We were surprised when State Farm refused to pay any more than $62,000 to settle Mr. Spoelstra’s claims. Because Mr. Spoelstra’s medical bills from the collision were nearly $40,000, the idea of settling for $62,000 was unacceptable for Mr. Spoelstra and our office. State Farm took such a stingy position in settlement negotiations because there had been a run of cases in Colorado where juries had not awarded significant money to victims of drunk driving. Consequently, State Farm felt that Mr. Spoelstra’s case would be a good test to see if a Denver jury would care about the injuries and losses suffered by an out-of-state resident like Mr. Spoelstra at the hands of their intoxicated insured.
On December 17, 2017, I began the trial of Spoelstra v. Alamillo in the Denver District Court. The trial lasted four days. At the end of the trial, the jury awarded Mr. Spoelstra $39,000 for medical expenses, $130,000 for non-economic damages (pain and suffering), $126,000 for permanent physical impairment, and $150,000 in punitive damages. Factoring in an interest rate of 9%, Mr. Spoelstra’s verdict is in excess of a half million dollars.
Mr. Spoelstra had the courage to stand up to State Farm, a large insurance company, and tell them that drunk driving is unacceptable and should not be tolerated by the citizens of Colorado. At Anderson Hemmat, we applaud Mr. Spoelstra for having the courage to allow us to put everything on the line to tell his story and to ask a jury for justice on his behalf.
This is why the jury system is so important. State Farm was gambling that Denver, Colorado citizens would not give full and fair compensation to Mr. Spoelstra, but they were wrong. As a juror, you hold the power to set community safety standards, because next time, it could be you or your family that is injured by a drunk driver. The jury system is what keeps insurance companies from unilaterally deciding the value of your harms and losses. We hope that Mr. Spoelstra’s story will encourage other victims to stand up for their rights.