$10.6 million: Record verdict in Rt. 53 death case

news-jessica-lesterMarried just two years, Jessica Lester, 25, was training for a nursing career at the time of her death.
PHOTO COURTESY ALLEN, ALLEN, ALLEN & ALLEN

A Charlottesville jury has awarded what's believed to be Virginia's largest wrongful death award–- more than $10 million–- and seemed to send a message to the family of a woman who died when a cement-laden truck from Allied Concrete rolled and crushed her car three years and a half ago.

"It speaks to the level of tragedy the family experienced," says Bryan Slaughter, a trial lawyer who watched part of the December 7-9 proceedings. "It also says Allied's conduct is not going to be tolerated in this community."

Jessica Lester, 25, was driving to work with her husband, Isaiah Lester, on June 21, 2007, when they crossed paths with a mixer driven by Allied employee William Donald Sprouse, who chose curvy, two-lane Route 53 over Monticello Mountain to haul 36,000 pounds of cement to a bridge rebuild in Palmyra, rather than taking Interstate 64 and U.S. 15.

Trial testimony showed that Sprouse had a history of driving infractions. On the fateful day, the plaintiffs allege he was driving too fast around a curve when he lost control of the truck, which overturned on top of the Lesters' Honda.

Jessica Lester grew up on an organic farm in Nelson County where she was home-schooled. A graduate of Piedmont Virginia Community College, she was training to become a nurse coordinator for UVA neurosurgeon Greg Helm. Instead she became his patient.

The neurosurgeon testified that Lester had the worst skull fracture he'd ever seen. After eight days in intensive care, Helm was given the grim duty of informing her husband and parents that she had no realistic chance of recovery.

"She was rushed next door for organ harvesting," says plaintiff's attorney Matt Murray with Allen, Allen, Allen & Allen.

Isaiah Lester filed suit against Allied Concrete and Sprouse, who was charged with reckless driving and involuntary manslaughter. On April 22, 2008, Sprouse pleaded guilty to the manslaughter charge, and was sentenced to two years, with all but 30 days suspended. He also is forbidden from again holding a commercial driver's license.

news-lester-car-crashThe roof of the car was sheared off. The overturned concrete mixer is in the background.
PHOTO COURTESY ALLEN, ALLEN, ALLEN & ALLEN

"I was surprised [the defense] chose to try to blame someone else rather than accept responsibility," says trial observer Slaughter, noting that Sprouse, even after his involuntary manslaughter conviction, testified at the civil suit that a black car got into his lane, causing him to swerve. However, multiple witnesses, including the driver of a black pickup, testified that some of the mixer's wheels had already left the pavement as it approached the Lesters' black Honda.

Defense attorney Dave Tafuri with D.C. law firm Patton Boggs had not returned phone calls at press time.

The December 9 jury award of $10,577,000 plus interest dating from Sprouse's 2008 criminal plea includes $2.35 million for Isaiah Lester's own personal injuries, including post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as $6.23 million as Jessica's beneficiary. Jessica Lester's parents, Jeanne and Gary Scott, were each awarded $1 million.

Isaiah Lester declines to comment on the case until Charlottesville Circuit Court Judge Edward Hogshire signs the final order. So does attorney Murray, except to say, "This award speaks to the value of life. The award affirms the value of the loss to this community of Jessica Lester. She would have made a wonderful nurse."

56 comments

If you don't like the show, change the channel.

The young man being shot by the Albemarle cop shoppe and this young lady being killed by a reckless driver are the only two local wrongful deaths I recall around here for a long time. And whether you or anybody else likes it or not, they are related.

Why would I dig up a wrongful death case from 2,000 miles away and compare it to the award in a local case? Simply because you don't want the loocal cop shoppe's misadventures discussed?

The Lester family deserves every penny of this award. And the Gray family probably deserved at least the same.

She's beautiful

Because I can.

It's not about who I am or what I might be.

It's about the Lester family deserving every penny of the award. And it's about the award should have been larger in the case where 4 cops had to shoot and kill a young man.

It's also about a truck driver being charged and convicted in the wrongul death of a beautiful young lady. And a cop not being charged in the wrongful death of a young man.

Deleted by moderator.

Deleted by moderator.

The strange lack of concentration on the subject story in some posts demonstrates the fatigue that constant grudge postings can inflict. Sadly, the failed connection of hugely dissimilar events for some personal vendetta is unfair to the Lester family.

Now I know how Allen and Allen pays for those ridiculous cheesy ads that saturate the airwaves. Forty percent cut of 10 million bucks, buys a lot of airtime. Those ads are like the Fonz jumping the shark, worn out...no doubt next time I slip and fall out of my electric scooter at Wal-Mart I am calling them, but enough is enough with the ads.

@Morris- the ads must be working. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Ihope people dont think a crime is worse because the vitim is pretty. I'm not pretty but would want my killer prosecutted fully.

Let's go over all of this again. How could two local wrongful death lawsuits possibly be related?

1- They both involve wrongful deaths. The jury has spoken in both cases.
2- They both took place within a 10 mile radius.
3- Both families lost a loved one.
4- Both families were awarded damages in the millions.

Now, what would cause a person to compare the two cases?

1- Juries have been awarding millions in damages in local wrongful death cases.
2- The discrepancy in the awards, cop kills man and family is only awarded $4 million, truck overturns and family is awarded $11 million.
3- Did the jury give the cop shoppe, a government agency, a break? Or did they stick it to a private business? Which is it?
4- Why is one wrongful death worth 3 times more than the other?
5- Proves that you can never predict what a city or county jury will do in any case.

Yeah, all I am saying is you shouldn't come on here and imply that there is some unfairness in one civil award versus another until you really understand the system and how those damages are assessed. Your comments indicate that you just don't get it, and that's why I suggested that you read up on it a bit.

My bad! I think I forgot the most important question...

6- Does it disturb anybody that the family of a young black man is only given $4 million in damages? And the family of a young white woman is given a cool $11 million?

And none of this has anything to do with the situation surrounding the Lesters!!!

sad

Ivan,

I see what you mean...

Gasbag do something productive with your life.

Thanks

Dont think this needs to go the racist route. It was 2 different cases defended and heard by different folk. Unless we decide before an incident the value of human life thru a legislative process there will always be different judgements.

By any measure, the award in this case should be considered excessive. In the 1980's, 10,000 hemophiliacs died as a result of the tainted blood supply, and their families received $100,000 each, exclusive of if they had any insurance. Their parents did not receive any compensation. The driver of the truck will not pay for this award, so who is being punished?

Rocky, you can read the entire story here.

Just for grins and giggles if nothing else. Enjoy!

http://www.readthehook.com/stories/2010/07/15/COVER-steve-shifflett-G.aspx

How much should Yeardly Love's Mom receive?

Still doesn't change the fact that a young black man was shot and killed by local police and the family only gets $4 million in a wrongful death lawsuit. But when a young white lady is killed in an automobile accident... her family gets $11 million.

See what ya dun done now! Made me repeat it again! Geesh!

Gasbag, *that story is not related to this one.* There is no reason to bring it up. What part of that are you not getting? A) There are thousands of wrongful death cases all over the country going back years, involving cops and non-cops and who knows who, *but none of them have anything to do with this case,* and B) the fact that you decided to bring up a case that involved some cops out of allllll the cases out there means that YES it DOES have everything to do with your "cop shoppe" obsession and grudgery. If it didn't then you could have easily picked some other non-cop wrongful death case to harp on.

Get over it and give it a rest.

Back to the original story. The Lester family and their situation. Thank you.

"If you don’t like the show, change the channel."

Your same old repeating script. Something you haven't realized is that *you aren't the show.* More narcissism. This article is the show. Not you. So, get back to the article and stop focusing on yourself. Thank you.

Wow! By the time interest is added, this is almost 3 times (or more) the $4 million wrongful death judgement given to the Gray family when the Albemarle County cop shoppe shot and killed their son!

To all working on the plaintiff's team, Good Work!

Bet it never gets paid! Allied Snake Protection will be on the job.

@Gasbag

Why the need to interject yet more "cop shoppe" grudgery into a story that has nothing to do with "cop shoppes"?! For once, give it a rest.

(And I didn't choose my handle out of disrespect to this subject...The computer saves cookies and fills in your name automatically based on what you previously posted as, but I should have changed it in light of the subject matter of this story. "haha!" is not appropriate and it was not directed towards this story, just wanted to clarify that.)

Your repeated arguments have made it about me now. Duh.

Sorry Gasbag, no matter how you try to explain or justify it there is no valid reason for you to bring up your personal cop shoppe grudgery in this story. "Because I can"? You sound like a narcissist. It's always about you. The Hook using you as their go-to consultant has really inflated your ego.

It has nothing to do with any personal cop shoppe grudgery.

It’s about the Lester family deserving every penny of the award. And it’s about the award should have been larger in the case where 4 cops had to shoot and kill a young man.

It’s also about a truck driver being charged and convicted in the wrongul death of a beautiful young lady. And a cop not being charged in the wrongful death of a young man.

(I hate it when I have to repeat myself!)

Gasbag - I usually appreciate your posts because you have some specific experiences that you can call on to justify your POV, but in this case, I'm with the other posters, give it a rest.

There are always disparities in sentences and awards in our courts. Unless we saw all the evidence presented in court in both cases, it's tough to determine the reasons. One reason in this case is that $2.35M of the $10.6 M award went to the husband for HIS injuries. I'm sure there are other reasons for the rest of the difference, but we're not going to know unless we drag out all the evidence presented in each case, which I certainly don't have the time to do.

JJ, it's too cold to anything productive today. There's a heat wave coming Friday though. It's suppose to be 40 degrees. :)

lib, while one of my latest questions does involve race, it's a far cry from being racist, IMHO. I watched the discrepancies in sentencing in criminal cases for 25 years between white and black defendents. Is it wrong to assume the same thing possibly takes place in civil matters? Why is it "racist" to ask the question?

Oldhoo72, maybe the young female friend of Gray should have been awarded $2.35 million in damages too. If you recall, she was surrounded by cop shoppe cars on Route 29 South for driving too slow (because of deer), she genuinely feared for her life assuming this cop shoppe assault on her was a direct result of the recent Gray wrongful death.

If my recollection is working correctly this morning, she credits a Nelson County deputy sheriff who knew her coming along as possibly saving her life.

Before we go much further...

disclaimer: Most of the troops at the Albemarle cop shoppe are hard working, honest and decent individuals. And as with all cop shoppes, there's also a few who should be serving time in prison. Ask around, most of the troops within the Albemarle cop shop will agree with me on these points. All of this has nothing to do with any sort of personal agenda or vendetta on my behalf.

Sure it does. If you compare the two verdicts.

Don't look if you are in the Air Force: http://213.251.145.96/

Tom, I believe the case to which you are referring was a class action suit -- and in those cases the plaintiffs typically receive less than if they were to pursue litigation individually. Allied is being punished because the driver was employed by them and was operating their vehicle when the accident occurred. Had Mr. Sprouse been an independent contractor, he would be solely responsible for the damages (or his insurance if he was smart enough to have that type of coverage, which I'm guessing not). I don't think this verdict is excessive at all. Everybody berates the "ambulance chasers"....until one of their own family members is in that ambulance. Nothing will bring this lovely girl back. But maybe Allied will be a little more selective in their future hiring and other companies will heed this as a warning.

What's this other clown's beef with the po-po?

@ Mickey Reaks, Thank god for wikileaks, governments all across the globe are spinning out of control. Hillary has made a mess of the state dept.
The winds of war are blowing

"How much should Yeardly Love’s Mom receive?"

Has nothing to do with the judgement in this case. Life is not fair and never will be.

Money is not a fair exchange for a life. I think the Lester's are the ones that were ripped off.

Our system is set up so money is the only exchange for a wrongful action, slander, libel or wrongful death. Even so, what other form of compensation could there ever possibly be anyway?

Although I was awarded monetary damages in quite a few lawsuits over the last decade, my choice would have been to make up fictitious criminal charges, walk into the Magistrate's Office, and swear out criminal warrants for a few rogue cops. Let them experience what they were dishing out for a change, that's true justice in my opinion.

"What’s this other clown’s beef with the po-po?"

Dude got canned by one of the local "cop shoppes" years ago for sleeping on the job. Guess he thought that was unfair so now he makes it his life's mission to rip local cops at every opportunity.

Wow dude. Thanks for the link. Not much to grin OR giggle about there.

Take some friendly advice. This is Charlottesville - you can't throw a rock in this town without plunking a therapist/psychiatrist/analyst/shrink. Pick one and schedule an appointment.

Wow, this gasbag guy seems a bit obsessive with an awful lot of time on his hands. Anyway, I've found Allied to be arrogant when I've dealt with them. They didn't return my calls when I had a problem with their product and they just didn't seem to care in some other instances.

GSOE- fill me in, in your own words-

What did Mr. Gray and Mrs. Lester do to contribute to the situations that resulted in their wrongful deaths?

Rocky Brad, welcome to my world. Unlike the majority of the population, I do not roll over and play dead or take any crapola off anybody. I fight back. And I win.

HarryD, The answer you are looking for is not as simple as you may think. I knew things in the Gray case that even the jury could not hear. Had the entire truth come out in court the family would have been given much more in damages most likely.

By the way Rocky, now that you have read the link... you can see that Ivan Drano did not tell you the complete and total truth. He picked out one single event that he thought would embarrass me. He left out all the events that would embarrass the cop shoppes. :)

Gasbag,

You are clearly suffering from a Cluster B disorder of some kind - either NPD, BPD, or a combination of both. I hope you will soon seek the psychological treatment you need. Enjoy your holidays, and please make a commitment to yourself to get some help in the new year instead of acting out your superiority complex on the internet.

I suppose I stand corrected. Two people (one a judge) said they saw him sleeping in court. He was suspended as a result and EVENTUALLY fired.

Happy now, Steve?

Nope. You still don't have it right, Ivan Drago. It was never the reason I second guess and question cop shoppe activities nowadays. The event in 1997 and the event in 2004 are the causes.

And just as I said in the story, if they can do these things to one of their own, what are they capable of doing to a ordinary citizen who doesn't have the means to fight back? How many innocent people have gone to jail in just Charlottesville and Albemarle County at the hands of a few rogue cops?

Caroline, it's not a superiority complex. It's experience. I was taught right from wrong by my parents until I was 18 years old. I received further training from 4 of the 6 sheriffs I worked for.

Actually, GSOE has a provocative point. The Aichs family was awarded $5.25 million for a young white lady killed by a red-light-running truck. http://www.newsplex.com/home/headlines/69898022.html

"Still doesn’t change the fact that a young black man was shot and killed by local police and the family only gets $4 million in a wrongful death lawsuit. But when a young white lady is killed in an automobile accident”Š her family gets $11 million."

i quite enjoy his posts. Let him speak, no need to whine about it. Peace on earth.

That's interesting, Terry. I am ashamed to admit this, I had totally forgotten about the Aichs case. I wonder why they only received 5.25 million? Bot Aichs and Lester were both very violent crashes resulting in a wrongfdul death.

I guess it reinforces the fact you can never predict what a jury is really going to do.

Gasbag,

I hope I didn't insult you with the comments I made previously. But seriously...it seems there is some psychological reason you have this axe to grind.

Meanwhile, rather than asking the same question ad nauseum about why a civil judgment was higher in one case than another, maybe you should spend your time researching and understanding WHY and HOW awards are determined by a jury. I'm glad your parents and some sheriffs taught you a lot, but apparently one of those things was not case law.

Since you keep bringing up the Gray v. Albemarle case though, do you know how much his father originally sued for?

Caroline, I have very thick skin. You did not insult me. I had a sheriff claim I had psychological problems too. After I had filed two grievance complaints against him, and won both I might add. :)

IMHO, there is no studying to be done on how or why a jury does anything nowadays. An award in a wrongful death suit used to depend on a victim's age at the time of their death and their life expectancy. The Sydney Aichs and Jesscia Lester cases prove this is no longer a good or sound basis to go by, the family of a younger girl is awarded 1/2 as much. They were both very violent deaths in senseless vehicle crashes.

Abraham Gray, Jr. was the administrator of his son's estate and filed the wrongful death lawsuit. My brother was good friends of both. I don't know of one person who thought Abraham had a snowball's chance in Hades of winning anything because no criminal charges had ever been placed. But, to answer your question, I do not recall the amount they originally asked for. I do see now in a google search that the jury awarded them $3.5 million in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages. Having not heard otherwise, I would assume Risk Management (a/k/a taxpayers when you trace the funding back to the original source) footed the entire $4.5 million.