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Federal judge awards couple $18 million

Award is biggest in Missouri this year

A federal judge has awarded $18 million to a man who suffered a significant brain injury in a crash that injured 15 and killed three people. It is the largest reported Missouri award so far this year.

The accident occurred July 16, 2008, during rush hour on eastbound U.S. Highway 40 near Interstate 270 in St. Louis County. According to police reports, Jeffrey Knight was driving a tractor-trailer for his employer, Holmes Transport.

Knight failed to stop with backed-up traffic and barreled through cars. He had looked away from the road to check his cellphone.

Knight was later charged with three counts of involuntary manslaughter, and his criminal case is pending.

Among those injured in the crash was Mark Tiburzi. Tiburzi’s car was the second car hit in the accident. Knight had rammed into the first car, which hit the rear of Tiburzi’s Toyota Camry. The Camry spun and was T-boned by the tractor-trailer. The car was lodged in the front of the tractor-trailer and stayed there as Knight hit all the other cars, said plaintiff attorney James Whaley, of Brown & James.

Tiburzi was taken to St. John’s Mercy Medical Center and was in a coma. He was diagnosed as having a severe traumatic brain injury. At the time of the accident, Tiburzi was 52 and was a district sales manager for Brown Shoe Co.

After being transferred to St. John’s Mercy Rehabilitation Hospital, Tiburzi was moved on Nov. 13 to Garden View Care Center, a rehabilitation center, where he currently lives. He is considered to be in a type of vegetative state, although he has responded to some stimuli. Tiburzi is expected to live in long-term care for the rest of his life.

“He opens his eyes but doesn’t follow you,” Whaley said. “He can’t respond to anything and can’t do anything for himself, including eating on his own. He needs 24-7 care for rest of his life.”

Court documents indicate he will smile and laugh in response to funny faces and comments.

As of the bench trial on Aug. 11 before U.S. Magistrate Judge David D. Noce, Tiburzi’s medical bills were $854,000.

At trial, the plaintiffs argued that Knight failed to keep a careful lookout and drove at excessive speed. The Missouri Highway Patrol’s investigation revealed Knight was driving the tractor-trailer over the allotted on-duty hours.

“The defendants were absolutely liable,” Whaley said. “They basically ignored these people and walked away from them.”

Defense attorney Gary Wiseman, of Noonan & Wiseman, declined to comment, citing other pending litigation.

Noce awarded Mark Tiburzi $13.9 million damages and his wife, Cheryl Tiburzi, $4.25 million for loss of consortium and loss of services claim.

Tiburzi’s lawsuit is one of many filed by those injured in the crash. Earlier this summer, a St. Louis County jury awarded David Jayne and his wife, Ruth, $700,000 for his injuries. In the crash, Jayne’s left arm and left leg both were broken in three places; he broke his nose and had a concussion.


$18 million judgment

Motor vehicle negligence

Court: U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Missouri

Case Number/Date: 4:08-cv-1151/Aug. 20, 2009

Judge: U.S. Magistrate Judge David D. Noce

Plaintiff’s Experts: Leroy Grossman, St. Louis (economist); Dr. Lizette Alvarez, St. Louis (physical medicine and rehabilitation)

Special Damages: Lost earnings from July 15, 2008, to Aug. 10, 2009: $80,466; present value of lost earnings from Aug. 10, 2009 to retirement: $939,153; medical expenses from July 15, 2008, to July 27, 2009: $854,130; present value of medical costs and expenses: $4.5 million; noneconomic damages, $7.5 million; loss of services for Cheryl Tiburzi: $251,369; Cheryl Tiburzi’s loss of consortium: $4 million

Insurer: Occidental Fire and Casualty of North Carolina for Holmes Transport Inc.

Caption: Mark Tiburzi and Cheryl Tiburzi v. Holmes Transport Inc., Holmes Transport and Logistics, LLC, and Jeffrey D. Knight 

Plaintiffs’ Attorney: James Whaley, Brown & James, St. Louis

Defendants’ Attorney: Gary Wiseman, Noonan & Wiseman, St. Louis