United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Huntington Division
ONETA M. SIMMONS, Administratrix of the Estate of Jerrell L. Simmons, deceased, Plaintiff,
ELIZABETH A. LEWIS, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND FINDINGS
C. CHAMBERS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
February 14, 2019, this Court entered an Order finding
Plaintiff Oneta M. Simmons, as Administratrix of the Estate
of Jerrell L. Simmons, deceased, was entitled to default
judgment against Defendant Elizabeth A. Lewis. ECF No. 66.
Thereafter, on April 1, 2019, the Court held a hearing to
determine liability and the amount of damages to be awarded
Plaintiff. Upon consideration of the evidence presented, the
Court makes the following findings.
evidence adduced at the hearing by Plaintiff compels the
Court to find in her favor on all issues. On April 6, 2017, a
tragic automobile and tractor trailer collision, involving
several vehicles, resulted in severe injuries to, and
ultimately the death of, Plaintiff's husband, Jerrell
Simmons. As the collision took place on I-64 in the City of
Huntington, the Huntington Police Department investigated the
accident and prepared an extensive report and analysis of the
cause of the collision. Ex. 1, ECF No. 72-1.
Huntington Police Department forensic investigator, David
Castle, testified at the hearing as to the contents of the
report and explained the conclusions reached as a result of
evidence demonstrates that the collision was caused by
Defendant Lewis when her vehicle struck the side of a tractor
trailer in an adjacent lane. Mr. Simmons was traveling
immediately behind the tractor trailer that was struck by
Defendant Lewis. When Mr. Simmons applied his brakes in
reaction to Ms. Lewis' swerving, another tractor trailer
struck his vehicle from behind. Tragically, this chain
reaction occurred on a bridge, and Mr. Simmons' vehicle
was pushed over the bridge wall, falling over 70 feet to the
ground below. Mr. Simmons was severely injured, but he
survived the collision.
result of further investigation, Defendant Lewis was found to
be driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and she
was determined to be solely responsible for the collision.
The Court concurs with this determination. Additionally, the
Court FINDS Defendant Lewis was grossly
negligent in the operation of her vehicle and, therefore, is
responsible for the resulting injuries to and death of Mr.
Court now turns to the issue of damages. At the hearing,
Plaintiff presented two witnesses relevant to damages: Dr.
Rebecca Wolfer, by deposition (ECF No. 72-5), and Plaintiff.
Dr. Wolfer testified that Mr. Simmons sustained severe brain
trauma, multiple orthopedic fractures, and other significant
injuries. His injuries required extensive medical treatment
and complex surgeries. Despite a valiant effort by the
medical staff, Mr. Simmons did not survive. He remained
hospitalized until he died three weeks later. His cause of
death was listed as respiratory failure secondary to
traumatic brain injury.
Simmons testified concerning the ordeal Mr. Simmons and she
faced as a result of the collision. Married nearly fifty
years, she and Mr. Simmons had a strong marriage and together
reared a son, Lane Austin Simmons, and have two
grandchildren. It was obvious to the Court that Mr. and Mrs.
Simmons were devoted to each other and shared a deep and
lasting love. His death prevents them from enjoying their
last years together with the benefits of the life they worked
hard to create over many years. The emotional injuries she
must bear are nearly as great as the physical injuries Mr.
testimony along with Dr. Wolfer's statements also portray
the heartbreaking course of Mr. Simmons' devastating
injuries. Mrs. Simmons went to the hospital as quickly as she
could that afternoon only to find that her husband's
injuries required such immediate and extensive treatment that
she was not allowed to see him for hours. When she finally
was allowed a few minutes with him, he was unconscious. By
the next day, he was awake, but he was unable to talk; he
communicated, if at all, by raising an eyebrow. She soon was
informed by his doctors that it was unlikely he would
survive. She and her son decided that he would not want to
live dependent on a ventilator. He died on April 28, 2017.
upon the evidence, the Court FINDS that
Defendant Lewis' gross negligence proximately caused Mr.
Simmons' severe injuries which persisted from April 7,
2017, and resulted in his death three weeks later. West
Virginia law permits the estate to recover not only for his
death, but also for personal injuries up to the point of his
death. W.Va. Code § 55-7-5 (providing, in relevant part,
“[w]henever the death of a person shall be caused by
wrongful act, neglect, or default, and the act, neglect or
default is such as would (if death had not ensued) have
entitled the party injured to maintain an action to recover
damages in respect thereof, then, and in every such case, the
person who . . . would have been liable if death had not
ensued, shall be liable to an action for damages,
notwithstanding the death of the person injured”).
Additionally, as the evidence of damages was presented to the
Court, rather than a jury, it is this Court's
responsibility to award damages as it deems are “fair
and just.” W.Va. Code § 55-7-6(b) (stating, in
part, “[i]n every such action for wrongful death, . . .
in a case tried without a jury, the court, may award such
damages as to it may seem fair and just”). Based on the
testimony and exhibits introduced by Plaintiff, the Court
FINDS the following damages in favor of
Plaintiff are fair and just:
1. medical expenses incurred in the amount of $522, 277.56;
2. pain, suffering, mental anguish and other compensable
damages for Mr. Simmons prior to his death in the amount of
3. wrongful death damages in the amount of $1, 500, 000;
4. funeral expenses in the amount of $4, 355.30; and
5. punitive damages for the gross negligence of Defendant
Lewis in the ...