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When 66 year old Herbert Blackmon left his home on May 5, 2011, he never dreamed that a drunk driver would change his life forever. While headed to Wyoming to make a delivery for his employer, Mr. Blackmon was rear-ended on I-25 north of Denver by a 19 year old drunk driver. The drunk driver, Heather Gray, had been drinking most of the day. Earlier that afternoon, after coming home from her community college, she had begun mixing cranberry and vodka drinks—light pink drinks that she admitted were mostly vodka. Just before 2:30 that afternoon, she decided she wanted to go visit her cousin near Cheyenne, Wyoming.
She threw a toothbrush and an overnight bag in her car and headed off on I-25—with a blood alcohol level over 3 times the legal limit. But because she was only 19, she should not have had any alcohol in her system. While traveling 65 MPH drunk and while looking at her iPod, Ms. Gray slammed into the rear of Mr. Blackmon's van.
As a result of Ms. Gray's recklessness, our client underwent a single level neck fusion surgery to relieve spinal cord compression. This type of surgery involves taking a bone graft from another area of the body and fusing a level of the neck together. The surgery also involved the placing of permanent hardware into Mr. Blackmon's neck, greatly limiting his range of motion. He incurred in excess of $91,000 in medical bills.
The drunk driver had American Family Insurance. Prior to trial, American Family refused to acknowledge the true value of the case. American Family had several years and many opportunities to fairly compensate Mr. Blackmon for his life-changing injuries, but they steadfastly refused. American Family gave "lowball" offers at three separate settlement conferences, which further frustrated our client, because he truly wanted to move on with his life. All this time, American Family even went so far as to conceal the actual amount of insurance coverage the drunk driver had. We can only assume this decision was made at the highest levels of the company, because the lawyer representing the drunk driver and the lower level claims adjuster acted ethically and honorably.
On June 4th, when trial began, Chad Hemmat, founding partner of Anderson Hemmat represented Mr. Blackmon. At trial, American Family tried desperately to avoid responsibility. They even attempted to shift liability to an unknown truck several cars ahead of the accident scene that had lost a spare tire, which caused the traffic to stop suddenly. Nevertheless, every other vehicle was able to stop safely that day except the drunk- driving teenager.
Ultimately, the jury awarded our client nearly 1 million (including interest), all of which American Family Insurance will be responsible for due to their refusal to offer fair compensation prior to trial. The verdict was nearly five times the highest amount that American Family offered prior to trial. This jury clearly appreciated its role as the guardian of safety in the community. This jury sent a strong message that drunk driving will not be tolerated in Jefferson County. By allowing our client fair and complete compensation for his life-changing injuries, this jury fulfilled its role as the guardian of community safety standards and sent a message to insurance companies that they, and the drunk driver, should have done what was right long ago. On behalf of our client, we sincerely thank the jury for its attention to the facts of this case and the obvious diligence it showed in reaching a just verdict.
Mr. Blackmon wanted his story told. At Anderson Hemmat, we strive to achieve justice every day, and we congratulate Mr. Blackmon for having the boldness to stand up to American Family.
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