Two lawsuits naming the city of Gulf Shores as a defendant in claims over injuries to band members in the 2017 Mardi Gras parade name monetary amounts. But two by attorney Noel Leonard of Foley do not.
“It’s typically my habit not to; I don’t ask for a sum certain,” Leonard said. “Rather than go through each one and decide, we wait until we get through much of the process before we decide the value.”
Considering the injuries suffered during the crash, Leonard says the amounts sought are likely to be substantial.
“I can tell in this there’s not enough tea in China, is there?” Leonard asked. “If one of my kids were run over and injured as badly, then there is no amount that’s too much. A gazillion. Any parent will still be unhappy.”
A total of five lawsuits have been filed on behalf of six students and they all make essentially the same claims. A total of 12 suffered injuries when an SUV ran into the back of the band formation as the procession turned from 19th Avenue West onto State Route 59.
“I’m not sure if the court will combine these for the purposes of discovery or if there’ll be handled separately,” attorney Tucker Yance said. “That will be the process moving forward. We are in the very early stages.”
Leonard said he feels sure the cases will be merged once a judge sees and reads all the claims.
“I feel confident that we are going to consolidate these and that the judge who heard the first round of this — we’ve already had a partial settlement of this with the driver and the owner of the car — and I believe that the judge who heard all that will think it best, also, that he go ahead and consolidate the ones that weren’t assigned to him,” Leonard said. “I think that’s just judicial economy.”
Yance represents Michael Diehl and Carol Clark, who jointly filed a suit on behalf of their daughters, both minors who are only identified by initials in the filings because they are minors. They are seeking up to $500,000 for her Diehl, but a specific dollar amount was not listed in the Clark case.
Others filing suit are Stacey Roberts and Linda Shay Roberts on behalf of their son; they are represented by Citrin Law Firm attorneys Andrew Citrin and Linda Perry. The Roberts’ lawsuit seeks punitive damages to exceed $100,000 on three counts.
Leonard represents James Tierney, who filed suit on behalf of his minor daughter. The fourth of the lawsuits filed the last week of February was on behalf of Victoria Eginton’s son and is also represented by Leonard.
Another suit was filed Sept. 26 by attorney Michael J. Crow on behalf of Aaron Warner and his son who suffered injuries. Those four suits don’t name specific dollar amounts, but seek, “a reasonable amount of compensatory damages and an amount of punitive damages to punish and deter.”
Defendants named in each of the suits include the city of Gulf Shores, parade director Erica Bassett, American Legion Post 44 in Gulf Shores and the Military Officers Association of America.
Veteran representative Lawrence Rathbun, 73, was driving a Ford Expedition behind the band when it ran into the band members at the start of the parade.
The injuries occurred on Feb. 28, 2017, at the start of the Mardi Gras parade and the 2-year statute of limitations was expiring the week the last four suits were filed.
“Really the statute of limitations was not a true concern procedurally, but the 2-year anniversary was approaching,” Yance said.
Yance specifically asks for $500,000 for Diehl in his filing, but says withheld information about insurance for the defendants in the Clark case didn’t allow for a compensation figure to be listed.
“If you’re asking if we specified the amounts, we didn’t as to all of the defendants,” Yance said. “The only one that’s specified is with regard to an uninsured motorist carrier.”
According to the filing, insurance limits, “are unknown at this time and have been denied to A.C. [Clark] without legal justification and/or in bad faith and/or as a result of an investigation and/or analysis that was conducted in bad faith.”
“Honestly, that’s what insurance is for,” Yance said. “So that’s the reason for going after these entities, is to bring all of that money into one forum to adequately compensate these children.”
All of the lawsuits cite several injuries to the plaintiffs mentioned, including “permanent injuries and scarring” as a result of the accident. According to one filing, Tierney’s daughter “suffered a bilaterally broken pelvis; she suffered a broken left femur; she suffered injuries to her head; she suffered permanent injury and scarring; she suffered pain and will continue to suffer pain in the future.”
At the time of the crash, the police department called the incident a “tragic accident.” The parade was immediately canceled. Rathbun faced no criminal charges and was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol, police said at the time.
“It was catastrophic,” Yance said. “The entire situation was devastating to all that were involved, certainly, all that were run over, even the witnesses that saw it.”
The suits contend the parade organizers didn’t follow procedures established prior to the parade and “negligently and/or wantonly selected Rathbun to represent the organization and to drive the SUV on their behalf,” the suit against American Legion and the Military Officers Association of America claims.
“There were some failures on their part, it is our contention,” Yance said. “There were some issues there that contributed to this happening. We included them for the purpose of bringing whatever liability insurance carriers they have to the table.”
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