The representation of commercial transportation companies is part of the core business of Fowler Hirtzel McNulty & Spaulding. Although we are a regional firm, our practice in the investigation of catastrophic accidents is national in scope. We serve as national coordinating counsel for a Fortune 100 company. We conduct post-accident investigations for other national clients. We also serve as counsel to hundreds of companies who are members of captive insurance groups. FHMS represents a large regional bus and transportation company and a number of mid-size companies with significant fleets of vehicles. We handle cases in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland and have coordinated the post-accident response in matters from California to Florida and Texas to Michigan.
FHMS maintains a Rapid Response Team and an 800 number (1-877-999-7678) that is monitored 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. For many clients, we dispatch counsel and accident reconstruction experts to the scene of an accident and direct the collection of evidence. We ensure that spoliation does not occur. We download the vehicle information, meet with witnesses and coordinate the defense. We work closely with our clients on Drive-Cam and vehicle and scene scanning technology.
We believe our commitment to real time investigation of accidents brings great value to our clients. This belief is supported by a quote from a client, Bryan Schwartz, Bryan Schwartz, Risk Manager at Allan A. Myers LP.
“On May 5th 2010 at 3:00 a.m. I was standing along Route 202 in Chester County with Joe Fowler, trying to figure out what caused a fatal accident. On June 12th, 2012, I was in a coffee shop with Joe, celebrating a defense verdict in the case that arose from that accident. I believe the first meeting allowed the second one to occur.”
Joe Fowler, who heads our Commercial Vehicle group, is a member of the Trucking Industry Defense Association (TIDA), the Defense Research Institute (DRI) the Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association and Claims Litigation Management, (CLM). Joe speaks internationally on transportation related topics for a variety of organizations.
We also think it important to discuss our matter handling and client relationship philosophy. We started Fowler, Hirtzel, McNulty & Spaulding because we felt the traditional legal model was broken. We wanted to approach our matters in a different way, and to relate to our clients’ business from their perspective. We don’t think that terms like business partnership and teamwork should be clichés. At FHMS, we focus on moving each matter to resolution at the earliest practical opportunity, whether by risk transfer, trial, dispositive motion, Alternative Dispute resolution or direct negotiation with the opposition. Our approach is dependent on the facts of each case and the goals of our client. We are committed to sharing data with our business partners. We collect data on file cycle time, fees, costs and indemnity. We sort the data by type of case and injury severity. We want to know what worked…..and what didn’t. Our goal is simple…… Better/Faster.
We have implemented a quality program in which one of our senior trial counsel reviews each case with the handling attorney 30 days after the file opens. A discussion is held about resolution strategies that make sense for that case. The strategy is then reviewed again at 90 days and subsequently as the file progress dictates. We recognize that the best pre-trial resolutions are driven by firms with the capacity to try the most difficult cases. Our lawyers have shown that ability in catastrophic cases across Pennsylvania.
- Joseph Fowler: Defense verdict in the case of Hetrick v. American Infrastructure following a two week trial in Chester County, Pennsylvania in favor of a construction company and driver. Demand from plaintiff’s counsel during the pretrial phase of the case was $12,000,000. Plaintiff suffered massive head injuries when defendants truck struck a telephone line which crossed the street. Plaintiffs’ expert opined that defendant saw the line pre-impact and should have stopped after hearing the line come in contact with the truck. Jury returned a verdict in one hour. Defendant presented both construction and accident reconstruction experts.
- Joseph Fowler: Defense verdict following a two week trial. Defendant commercial vehicle driver rear ended plaintiff’s vehicle when defendant yawned and took his eyes away from the roadway. Post-accident, Plaintiff underwent unsuccessful spinal cord surgery which resulted in massive neurologic limitations. Plaintiff’s experts identified significant wage loss future medical expenses .Plaintiff demanded $3,000,000 at trial. The jury returned a verdict for defendant finding that defendant was not negligent. The Superior Court sustained the lower court’s decision to uphold the jury’s verdict.
- Gregory S. Hirtzel: Obtained a defense verdict at an Underinsured Motorist Arbitration where the 24 year old claimant never moved off her demand for the carrier’s stacked Underinsured Motorists policy limits of $600,000. The insured’s UIM claim was against a $100,000 credit received in settlement with the tortfeasor’s carrier, who had clear liability for the accident. Claimant argued she sustained injuries that resulted in chronic pain caused by, among other things, disc herniation at T-12 and L5-S1 and associated symptomology. Claimant’s Vocational Rehabilitation expert opined that claimant was prevented from pursuing her chosen vocational paths for which she had gone to college and invested in excess of $80,000 in tuition. He also opined that claimant suffered an impairment of earnings capacity between $463,000 and $800,000 based claimant’s age, her treating physicians’ diagnosis of chronic pain arising from the accident and statistics showing persons with this “disability” miss anywhere between fifty to several hundred hours annually from the work force and have shortened work life expectancies. The defense was premised on the findings upon physical exam and steady improvement reported by the initial provider claimant saw during the first 7 months after the accident, the rebuttal opinion of Defendant’s Vocational expert, Government resources establishing that “chronic pain” is not a “disability” (but rather a description of a situation where one chronically complains of pain) and other impeachment evidence which directly impugned the veracity of claimant and her experts on damages. The arbitration panel awarded Plaintiff a gross verdict of $67,500, substantially less than the tortfeasor’s policy limits. Summary judgment granted in wrongful death action for owner/possessor of commercial property where it was alleged that overgrown shrubs prevented the Plaintiff’s 42 year old decedent from holding onto the hand railing as she descended the steps. The court ruled that decedent’s description of her unwitnessed fall at the scene that she “could not hold onto the railing because of the overgrown shrubs” did not establish the necessary causal link between decedent’s fall and the defendant’s alleged negligence in allowing the shrubs to be overgrown.
- Gregory S. Hirtzel: Jury trial on damages only in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania where client’s driver operated his tractor trailer in the oncoming lane at 50 mph for at least 1 mile before striking the Plaintiff’s semi-truck head on. At the time, Plaintiff was travelling in his proper lane of travel and at a similar speed and both units sustained major/total physical damage from the collision and resulting fire. Plaintiff was life-flighted from the scene and suffered a comminuted displaced leg fracture and claimed aggravation of previously a symptomatic neck, mid and low back disc bulges and herniations as well as bilateral shoulder impingement and permanent scarring from various abrasions and lacerations requiring sutures. The 51 year old Plaintiff maintained he could no longer drive truck or continue operating his trucking business consisting of 6 power units and as many drivers, due to his injuries and limitations. Plaintiff boarded past and future special damages in excess of $600,000. The jury awarded the husband Plaintiff $450,000 in compensatory damages and the wife Plaintiff $50,000 on her consortium claim. There was no award for punitive damages.
- Gregory S. Hirtzel: Defense verdict after week long jury trial on claims of driver and occupant of pickup truck which attempted to pass client’s large farm tractor on the left just before an intersecting road to the tractor’s left. Client made a left turn without a left turn signal as the Plaintiffs’ vehicle was passing in the left. Plaintiff driver maintained this necessitated his leaving the road which resulted in his vehicle crashing into a ravine, causing serious injuries to the driver and his passenger. Plaintiffs boarded in excess of $250,000 in past expenses alone. A defense verdict was entered on the claims of both the Plaintiff driver and his passenger against Defendant because the jury found that any negligence of defendant was not a cause of the damages which resulted from the crash.
- Gregory S. Hirtzel: Pre-discovery settlement at mediation involving rear end collision by client’s CDL driver where the Plaintiff truck driver had multiple pre existing issues. A defense medical exam and radiologic review prior to mediation played a key role in early resolution. The 42 year old Plaintiff’s liens exceeded $145,000 arising from cervical discetomy and fusion after the incident and the matter was resolved for $225,000.
- Francis J. O’Neill, Jr.: Our fleet vehicle rear-ended the plaintiff at 40 miles per hour. Our employee admitted to the police that he may have been asleep. Plaintiff had significant orthopedic and cognitive injuries, along with a six figure wage loss claim. Faced with a policy limits demand we went to mediation and were able to settle the case for a favorable number with no deposition, IME or other costly defense costs
- Andrew J. Spaulding: Settled a case for a favorable number after a fatal accident involving a commercial motor carrier. Early investigation showed significant problems with the case, including that the driver was over his hours of service and had inconsistencies on his medical card. In light of the unfavorable liability picture, we moved to mediation before discovery and resolved the matter.
- Andrew J. Spaulding: We represented the interests of a motor carrier in a fatal accident on a major highway. We interviewed our driver at the scene, reconstructed the accident, learned about plaintiff’s background and moved the case to a favorable resolution.