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Drug-addicted plaintiff wins Southwest Mo. trial

Man claimed injuries from collision with bus

A Greene County jury awarded nearly $1 million to a Republic man whose car was hit by a charter tour bus headed to Branson in a 2007 accident.

That Nov. 18, Daniel Lewis, then 37, was driving his 1990 Honda Accord on Route N in southwest Missouri. A charter bus heading the opposite direction on the rural road turned in front of Lewis’ car and struck the driver’s side, according to the plaintiff’s attorneys’ written case description. James P. Mailen of Lawrence, Kan., was driving the bus.

Lewis, a concrete finisher, suffered back and spine injuries that have left him unable to work, said attorney Steve Garner, who took over the case in November, a month before the trial, after Lewis’ first lawyers stepped aside. Neither Mailen nor the bus passengers were injured. The bus driver had made a wrong turn and was trying to get back onto Interstate 44, Garner said.

Lewis sued the bus driver and Busco Inc., which owned the bus, in November 2009. The Norfolk, Neb., company does business as Arrow Stage Lines.

A four-day jury trial began on Dec. 19. In his opening arguments, Garner told the jury of his client’s history of methamphetamine abuse and “petty crimes that go along with people who have substance abuse problems.” Lewis’ rap sheet includes previous convictions for burglary, drug possession and drunken driving, court records show. He was also on probation at the time of the trial.

Lewis’ drug addiction prevented him from being treated with prescription painkillers, Garner said.

“He has chronic pain and can’t take painkillers other than over-the-counter medicine,” he said. “The jury was good to their promises not to consider [his drug abuse]. I think lawyers give it a lot more credence than jurors do.”

Lewis agreed to dismiss Mailen, the bus driver, from the case two weeks before trial.

“I didn’t see any need to drag that guy to court,” Garner said. “Ultimately, insurance is responsible. I didn’t want the jury to feel sorry for this driver.”

On cross-examination, defense attorney Dana Mark Harris elicited testimony from Lewis’ doctor that the accident victim’s injuries could have been “psychologically perpetuated.” The physician also said Lewis was “doctor shopping” in an attempt to obtain prescription narcotics.

“It appeared to me that the complaints went beyond the normal healing course,” Harris said. “His treating doctor agreed with me.”

During jury deliberations, Garner and Harris reached a high-low agreement, calling for a minimum payment to Lewis of $175,000 and a maximum of $1 million. On the trial’s fourth day, the jury returned a plaintiff’s verdict of $941,000.

Harris said he was disappointed in the verdict but didn’t plan to appeal.

■ $941,000 verdict

Motor vehicle collision

Venue: Greene County Circuit Court

Case Number/Date: 0931-CV16807/Dec. 22, 2011

Judge: Michael J. Cordonnier

Plaintiff’s Experts: Dr. Cary Marquis, Springfield (physical medicine/rehabilitation); Larry Cox, Springfield (accounting/economics); Wilbur Swearingin, Springfield (vocational consulting)

Special Damages: $45,000 medical expenses, $500,000 lost wages

Last Pretrial Demand: $1 million

Last Pretrial Offer: $25,000

Insurer: National Interstate Insurance Co.

Caption: Daniel Lewis v. Busco Inc.

Plaintiff’s Attorneys: Steve Garner, Jeff Bauer and Jeff Mitchell, Strong-Garner-Bauer, Springfield; Eric Belk, Eric M. Belk PC, Springfield; Brad Bradshaw, Brad Bradshaw, M.D., J.D., Springfield

Defendant’s Attorneys: Dana M. Harris and Brette Hart, Harris McCausland, Kansas City