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Personal Injury – 11.8 Million Verdict – new

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Drunk Driving Accident Victim Awarded Almost $12M By Jury

WESTMINSTER, Md. (WJZ) A record-setting judgment from a Carroll County jury, which awarded nearly $12 million to the crippled victim of a drunk driving accident.

Derek Valcourt reports the decision came as a surprise in the conservative county, where juries aren’t known to dole out big awards in lawsuits.

Part of the reason the $11.8 million verdict was such a surprise is because the accident that crippled the victim was little more than a fender bender.

What happened at a Westminster intersection nearly five years ago forever altered Michael Harris’ life.

“It’s not only changed me but it’s changed my whole family,” Harris said.

While Harris sat at a red light on Route 140, he was rear-ended by repeat drunk driver Stephanie Ann Richardson, who later fled the scene.  Though the minor accident barely damaged his truck, doctors believe it triggered a rare nerve condition called complex regional pain syndrome, leaving the once active landscaper wheelchair-bound with crippling pain and lesions on his arms and legs.“It disrupts your whole life, your daily living, your sleep,” Harris said.  “It’s a really hard condition to live with.”

His family hired Robert Weltchek and his law partners to sue the drunk driver and her insurance company.  A Carroll County jury rejected the defense’s arguments that Harris’ medical problems were not caused by the accident and awarded him $2.6 million for future medical expenses, $800,000 for past and future lost wages, $256,000 to modify his home, $5.6 million for non-economic damages and $2.5 million for the effect on his marriage.

“It was obvious to the jury that this car accident, albeit a relatively minor car accident, caused this cascading of events, a downward spiral that continues to this day,” said Weltchek.

The massive judgment means peace of mind for Harris as he tries to live with the crippling condition.

“I do have RSD but RSD doesn’t have me,” he said.  “I’ll continue fighting to get better.”

The defense has 30 days to file an appeal.  Harris’ attorney says he will strongly contest any attempt to reduce the judgment.

The defendant and her attorney declined to be interviewed.