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Suit based on I-74 crash brings $11 million verdict
URBANA — A Champaign County judge has awarded about $11 million to an Iowa woman critically injured in a collision near Mahomet almost seven years ago.
But the lawyer for Carla Link, 56, said it's probably a win on paper only.
"We don't know if he's judgment-proof or not. He is a professional horse breeder, trainer, rodeo rider. There's a lot of money that flows through his hands. With a judgment this size, our understanding is he will probably proceed into bankruptcy," said John Loeschen, the Roanoke, Va., attorney representing Carla and Joseph Link of Burlington, Iowa.
On Labor Day 2004, the Links and their teen-age daughter were in a van on Interstate 74 about 2 miles east of Mahomet that was struck by a pickup truck pulling a trailer with three or four horses inside.
Clovis Crane, now 31, of Lebanon, Pa., was driving the pickup east when he fell asleep about 1:10 p.m. The truck went into the median and the trailer detached from it before it collided with the westbound Link van.
Crane was not injured but one man in his truck and all three Links were. Their van hit a guardrail and rolled three times. Loeschen said Carla Link's seat belt broke and she was thrown out the passenger window.
Her husband and daughter recovered from their injuries.
The judgment ordered Wednesday by Judge Jeff Ford was the result of a personal injury lawsuit filed in 2005 on behalf of the Links. It was filed in Champaign County because the accident happened here.
Loeschen explained that the limit of Link's insurance policy was $100,000 per person per occurrence and Carla Link's medical expenses have come in at just under $700,000.
In a stipulated bench trial conducted before Ford earlier this month, Loeschen and Raymond Fabricius of Ottawa, the attorney for Progressive Insurance, agreed on certain evidence that Ford should consider. There was no dispute that Crane was at fault. He did not appear for the trial.
Carla Link's injuries outlined for Ford included: brain trauma; broken vertebrae, ribs, collarbone, foot and forearm; extensive nerve damage along her spine, pelvic area, and legs; and muscle spasms resulting from the damage to the nervous system.
In medical depositions Ford read, doctors said her nerve damage causes a sensation akin to being on fire and would remain with her the rest of her life.
"This has to be in the top 10 percent of cases I've seen in severity of pain," one doctor said.
In a written argument to the judge, Loeschen said Carla Link has been in pain every day since the crash.
"Perhaps the most cruel pain is for Carla to have retained her cognitive abilities and have a full awareness of the pain she is in. ... Carla is fully aware that she is trapped in a broken body through no fault of her own, and late at night, when she is all alone, she endures a physical agony that she knows will not be better in the morning, in a couple of days or even in the next few weeks. Carla's pain is a constant companion that will never leave her," Loeschen wrote.
He sought total damages of $19.1 million.
Fabricius responded in a much shorter written argument, asking the judge to consider Carla Link's pain and suffering and Joseph Link's loss of companionship together.
"The claims of Ms. Link and Mr. Link are akin to those of a couple where one person is rendered a paraplegic. The injured person is confined to a wheelchair. The spouse is charged with the responsibilities of a caretaker. Fair compensation for such a situation is in the area of $4 to $5 million," Fabricius wrote.
He did not return calls seeking comment.
The award made by Ford included compensation for her medical bills, which came to $699,000. The rest was for pain and suffering, loss of a normal life, and disfigurement.
Loeschen called Fabricius and the Progressive Insurance company "gracious" throughout the lawsuit, which the company had a duty to defend.
"Progressive didn't want to get sued by Clovis Crane when the judgment came in over the policy limits, as everyone knew it would. That's what forced us to have to go through this Pyrrhic victory," Loeschen said.
Loeschen said Joseph Link is a minister and Carla Link helps him conduct parenting classes. She also ran her own parenting counseling business before the accident.
He said the couple had people all over the world praying for her.
"When she was first injured, the doctors said she would probably be a vegetable. Nobody ever expected her to walk or speak or anything. There were 5,000 people praying for her in Brazil. I believe that was what brought her back," he said.
Loeschen said Carla Link can now walk with a walker or cane but still has a lot of pain.
"Her body is advancing in age more rapidly than the rest of us would. At 56, she's about where a 70-year-old person would be," he said.