Bobbie Wakefield was driving her employer’s van along I-35 in Duluth, Minnesota, when she ran into something akin to a brick wall. She had struck a street sweeping vehicle operated by the Minnesota Department of Transportation. The vehicle was traveling 22-23 mph on an interstate where the minimum speed is 40 mph without an “early warning” vehicle traveling behind it.
Wakefield filed a claim earlier against the state of Minnesota, which made a $300,000 settlement – the maximum it could be held legally liable. She also sought $1 million from an underinsured motorist claim against Auto Owners Insurance Co., which provided insurance coverage for her employer’s van. But Auto owners offered just $10,000 to settle, so the case went to trial.
The case was tried in the St. Louis County District Court. The jury, comprised of six women and two men, spent 5 ½ hours deliberating before returning a verdict of nearly $3 million in the plaintiff’s favor. The award was one of the largest monetary awards in the city of Duluth’s history.
The 29-year-old plaintiff was driving a van for Glory Shine Janitorial Cleaning when it struck the street sweeper on September 17, 2002. Jurors found that the street sweeping crew’s negligence directly caused the accident.
According to a report in the Duluth News Tribune, “Wakefield was awarded $1,250,000 for future health-care expenses, $675,000 for future pain, disability and emotional distress, $650,000 for future loss of earning capacity, $200,000 for past pain, disability and emotional distress, $158,000 for past health-care expenses and $28,000 for past wage loss. The total award against Auto Owners Insurance Co., a Michigan corporation, is $2,961,000.”
Wakefield’s attorney said that the jury’s decision reflected the seriousness of her client’s injuries, including a mild traumatic brain injury and then emotional and financial hardship the accident has caused.
A Duluth attorney who represented Auto Owners Insurance Co. complimented the jurors even though they didn’t rule on his client’s side. “We had an attentive group of jurors and they worked hard,” Kelly said. “While I disagree with the result they reached, they were the duly selected members of the jury and that’s what they decided.”