A financial settlement has been reached after a crash between a motorcycle and an Oak Ridge Electric Department utility truck in August 2016 left an Anderson County man with critical, life-threatening injuries, broken bones and compound fractures, a head injury, permanent impairments—and medical bills of almost $1 million, according to court records.
The settlement agreement between Don and Charlotte Wyrick, conservators for Brandon Wyrick, who was critically injured in the crash, and the City of Oak Ridge was approved by Anderson County Circuit Court Judge Don Elledge in Clinton on January 23.
The agreement said Wyrick would be eligible to receive, under Tennessee law (Tennessee Code Annotated 29-20-403), no more than a damage cap of $300,000, if he were successful at trial. In December, the city agreed to pay that $300,000 maximum.
Also as part of the settlement agreement, the city’s insurance provider will “satisfy medical liens and subrogation interests” of about $663,000. That’s reported to be possible through the Tennessee Municipal League Risk Pool.
“This figure is above and beyond the tort cap and will be paid to the medical providers in previously agreed-upon amounts for expenses incurred to date,” the settlement agreement said.
“As a result of the settlement agreement, Mr. Wyrick will greatly benefit, as his share of the tort cap will not be encumbered by a large financial burden of paying off medical bills for treatment incurred to date,” the agreement said.
As of last summer, Wyrick’s medical bills were almost $1 million, according to a civil complaint filed against the City of Oak Ridge in Anderson County Circuit Court in Clinton on August 10, 2017. Among the most expensive medical bills were:
- $524,101.20 for University of Tennessee Medical Center
- $214,650.35 for Select Specialty Hospital
- $71,530.92 for Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center Patricia Neal Rehab
- $31,325.25 for Med-Trans
- $23,425 for Regional Trauma Services Inc.
- $20,970 for University Anesthesiologists
- $20,806 for OrthoTennessee
- $17,457 for Tennova-North Knoxville Medical Center
- $10,529 for University Radiology
The complaint said Wyrick was driving east on a 1999 Yamaha 80 motorcycle on Highway 62 on Sunday morning, August 14, 2016, when he hit the side of a 2011 Freightliner Oak Ridge Electric Department truck that was driven south on Highway 95 by Stephen C. Hutton. The lawsuit alleged that Wyrick had a green light and Hutton had a red light, but the city denied those claims in its answer to the Wyricks’ complaint.
The lawsuit said Wyrick suffered life-threatening injuries in the crash and was immediately flown to the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville, where he remained in intensive care and was hospitalized for 102 days, or more than three months. Wyrick had many broken bones and compound fractures, including to a vertebra or vertebrae, a compound fracture to the pelvis, and a closed head injury, with severe long-term cognitive effects, the complaint said. He has had surgeries on his pelvis, knee, and elbow; hip replacement; trachea and bolt placement; and two exploratory surgeries. His permanent impairments include the inability to walk without assistance, limitations in the use of his upper extremities, long- and short-term memory loss, and cognitive and emotional deficits, the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit alleged negligence and asserted, among other damages, physical pain and suffering, permanent impairment, disfigurement, lost wages, mental anguish, emotional distress, and medical and hospital expenses.
It had sought damages under a section of Tennessee law (Tennessee Code Annotated 29-20-202) that removes immunity for a local government when a motor vehicle is operated negligently. It had asked for $8 million in damages or the amount allowed under Tennessee Code Annotated 29-20-403, the section that sets the $300,000 limit per person for bodily injury or death.
As part of the settlement, the city did not admit any liability in the crash. In its answer to the Wyrick’s complaint, the city denied that Hutton ran a stoplight, struck the motorcycle, or “breached any duty of care he owed.” Instead, the city said, Wyrick had the red light and the motorcycle struck and collided with the electric truck, which had entered the intersection before the motorcycle.
Tort claims against cities and counties fall within the Governmental Tort Liability Act, and judgements are limited to insurance coverage, which municipalities must have in the amount of $300,000 per person and $700,000 per occurrence, according to a March 31, 2017, presentation to the Tennessee Bar Association by Emily C. Taylor of Watson, Roach, Batson, Rowell & Lauderback. Punitive damages cannot be recovered from a governmental entity or its employees.
On its website, the City of Oak Ridge has information posted that says monetary tort limits are an important feature of Tennessee’s Governmental Tort Liability Act.
“These limits ensure that persons injured by negligent local governments will be compensated, but at the same time protect other citizens from experiencing tax increases or reductions in service caused by overblown judgments that would cause an increase in insurance premiums or the unavailability of coverage,” the city information says.
Don and Charlotte Wyrick, who were appointed conservators for Brandon Wyrick due to the extent of his injuries and cognitive impairment, were represented by Gregory Brown, Christopher Field, and Ruth Eschman of Lowe Yeager & Brown PLLC of Knoxville.
The City of Oak Ridge was represented by Benjamin K. Lauderback and Dan Pilkington of Watson, Roach, Batson, Rowell & Lauderback P.L.C., also of Knoxville.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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