A jury comes back with a $20K verdict for pastor who asked for nearly $2 million in auto accident.
Katheryn Hayes Tucker – Fulton County Daily Report
October 05, 2010
In a civil battle between a DUI driver who caused an automobile crash and the preacher who was the victim, a Fulton County State Court jury sided with the reformed drinker who told a story of redemption.
Although the plaintiff asked for nearly $2 million in compensatory damages plus punitive damages in a weeklong trial, the jury came back in under four hours with a verdict of about $20,000 on Sept. 24.
Defense attorney Hilliard V. Castilla of Harper, Waldon & Craig said jurors told him later they were moved by the “theme of redemption” in the story of Alexandrina Brown, a grieving woman who had turned to alcohol, then turned her life around after the crash.
Castilla also said that Richard Mace, a pastor at Victory World Church, was unable to convince jurors that the crash caused the shoulder and jaw injuries that he complained of after Brown’s Mercedes SUV rear-ended his Kia van at a stoplight.
The defendant, a 59-year-old small business owner, was covered by State Farm Insurance Co. with $500,000 in liability coverage on her auto policy and a $2 million liability umbrella policy, her attorney said. Castilla said he offered $300,000 to settle pre-trial, but the plaintiff’s attorney refused to negotiate without an opening offer of at least $500,000.
Castilla convinced the jury that his client, who was convicted of DUI in charges that grew out of the crash, could not have caused the plaintiff’s jaw and shoulder injuries. Instead, Castilla told the jury that the plaintiff should get $15,000 to $20,000 for the rear-end collision.
It was a challenging case for the defense because the defendant was convicted of DUI. Her blood alcohol count was 0.179 – “twice the legal limit and more,” said Castilla. And that was at 11:30 a.m., the time of the Feb. 7, 2009, crash, when Mace was sitting at a stoplight on Nesbit Ferry Road at Holcomb Bridge Road in Roswell and Brown hit him from behind.
The defense dealt directly with the DUI. “She talked about her long slide into alcoholism and how this accident was a wake-up call for her,” Castilla said.
Brown, who had no children and is divorced, testified that she had been grieving over the death of the niece she had raised as her own. Depressed and lonely, she had begun to drink at night before bed and again in the morning, Castilla said.
Brown also apologized to Mace from the witness stand. “The jury did like Ms. Brown. She was contrite and sincere,” Castilla said. “They were impressed by the fact that after she completed her criminal sentence, she voluntarily undertook to get counseling, joined AA, and surrounded herself with a support system to keep from going back down that road.”
Castilla, a minister himself – pastor of Beaulah Cathedral Church in Decatur – sounded the theme of redemption in his closing argument. “She used this not to get bitter, but to get better,” Castilla said he told the jury in closing.
And he had one more strategy. “I’m a man of faith, so I just prayed,” Castilla said. He said some of the jurors “expressed support to Ms. Brown” after the trial. Her response: “I won’t let you down.”