Lethal pays: injured man's $20 million suit settled

Nearly a year after he was critically injured in an accident with a Lethal Wrecker truck, and two months before trial in his $20 million suit against Lethal in Albemarle Circuit Court, local teacher and little league coach Peter Weatherly has settled with the towing company.

"I really wasn't going to gain much by going through with it," says Weatherly, who explains that the prospect of his own mounting legal fees combined with his belief that Lethal had neither enough insurance nor assets to pay the amount he was requesting led to his decision.

While Lethal owner George Morris has consistently declined to answer questions about Lethal or its insurance policies, the Department of Motor Vehicles says the minimum required liability insurance for towing companies is $750,000. Weatherly declines to reveal the amount of the settlement, citing a confidentiality clause, saying only, "It was far less than what we had originally sued for."

Weatherly was injured about 7:30am on January 27, 2006 on Route 250 East as he headed for work at the Little Keswick School. Stopped in the left turn lane at the intersection of routes 250 and 22, he never saw the tow truck driven by Lethal employee Floyd Thomas Dean until it collided with him head on, demolishing his compact Honda and forcing it onto the shoulder of the road.

Weatherly's leg was crushed and his pelvis broken, but not immediately apparent was his most serious injury: a ruptured aorta.

Rescue crews rushed him to UVA Hospital where the trauma team raced to repair the tear in the artery. It's an injury that few survive.

"They told me only one in a hundred lives," says Weatherly, who adds that he remains indebted to the rescue and medical personnel who saved his life. 

Weatherly endured multiple surgeries on his wounded leg and spent the next nine months in a wheelchair undergoing physical therapy and hoping he would walk again. His medical bills surpassed $500,000, although he says insurance has covered the majority of that cost. And he has recently regained the ability to walk.

While Weatherly focused on healing, Lethal– along with co-defendants Morris and Dean– focused on mounting a defense. In September, Dean was found guilty in Albemarle District Court of reckless driving and fined $100. Lethal's attorney, Richmond-based William Tiller helped Dean appeal the conviction.

"I feel the Commonwealth gave me very unfair justice," said Dean in November, soon after he filed his appeal. Following the early January settlement with Weatherly, Dean withdrew his reckless driving appeal on Monday, January 22, two days before it was to be heard. He declined comment on the settlement. 

In Dean's September trial, Tillman argued that a dump truck had initially hit Dean's wrecker, spraying his face with glass and causing the accident that injured Weatherly. But according to assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Cynthia Murray, the dump truck driver denied the first collision ever happened. Several eyewitnesses concurred, saying that it was Dean who was driving erratically and who caused the accident.

The impact with Weatherly was not the only legal trouble Dean faced last year. In July, 2006, he was found guilty in Albemarle District Court of construction fraud for accepting an advance payment of $725 for a painting job. And that same month Dean was found guilty of stealing prescription drugs percocet and methadone from a Shamrock Road resident.

Morris has declined comment about the accident, and this week a Lethal receptionist referred calls to Tiller, whose receptionist says the attorney has "absolutely no comment" on either Dean's appeal or Weatherly's suit. 

Weatherly admits to mixed feelings about the out-of-court settlement and about Dean's withdrawal of his appeal.

"They needed to be held accountable as far as hiring practice and admitting guilt," says Weatherly. "But it still would have been very troubling in many ways to have to relive it."

However, Weatherly says that Dean's trial "might have been an opportunity for me to speak to the judge before sentencing to make them accountable. I'll have to find closure in other ways."

Peter Weatherly, pictured in August, has since regained the ability to walk and hopes to coach Little League baseball again this spring.


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