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Young Woman Left Paralyzed due to Resort Employee’s Reckless Driving

Texas state law contains clear mandates covering how employees at resorts should interact with their guests. However, one Texas resort flouted those regulations. They recklessly served alcohol to underage guests, even overserving them. They also allowed employees to fraternize inappropriately with guests unsupervised and untrained. Consequently, a guest named Stevie emerged from her stay at this resort paralyzed from the waist down.

Stevie was a college student everyone would want as a daughter, a sister, and a friend. She was outgoing, intelligent, dedicated, and caring. Stevie saw advertisements for the Texas resort and planned a vacation there. During her stay, an employee overserved her alcohol and then drove her off the property in a pickup truck. They began their drive back to the property in the early morning hours, the employee speeding down the road. The employee failed to spot a T intersection up ahead in the darkness. He blew through the junction, hit a berm, and went airborne. The truck dropped vertically to the ground when it crash-landed. The force was analogous to a fighter pilot using an ejection seat to escape a doomed jet. It traveled straight up Stevie’s spine, causing a burst fracture of her L1 vertebra. She was also ejected from her seat as if she wasn’t belted.

The day after the wreck, Stevie’s family searched for an attorney to help their daughter. Austin locals recommended Sean Breen of Howry, Breen & Herman, LLP for his work representing the catastrophically injured.

Because the accident occurred during the early morning, along with the weather and location of the crash, gathering evidence was challenging for Sean and his team. Adding insult to injury, the investigating officer, seeing Stevie ejected from her seat, assumed she wasn’t wearing her seatbelt. The Defense seized on this observation, attempting to deflect blame and minimize Stevie’s damages.

Sean gathered a crack team of experts, including an accident reconstructionist, a biomechanical expert, a group of medical experts, and a lifecare planner. The evidence they had included the “black box” event data recorder from the truck, markings of Stevie’s seatbelt, as well as medical scans of the burst fracture. This evidence allowed Sean and his experts to reverse engineer the forces that impacted Stevie’s spine and piece together what happened. Their goal was to use that information to educate both the opposition and a potential jury.

Indeed, what they pieced together centered on the fact that Stevie was wearing her seatbelt at the time of the accident. By understanding the physical dynamics of what was happening in the truck as it lost control, they determined that Stevie’s seatbelt became unspooled as the pickup traveled through the air. As a result, Stevie was ejected from her seat as if she wasn’t wearing a seatbelt at all, even though she was belted.

Sean and his team created a strategy for the case as if it was going to trial. If the lawsuit made it in front of a jury, he would be prepared. And even during mediation, it signaled to the Defense that Sean was serious and that any settlement offers would need to be serious as well. To reinforce accuracy and admissibility, Sean had DK Global work directly with his experts to create the visuals he would use. As he had done in many cases before, Sean wanted DK Global to put his experts’ opinions into a visual, so it wasn’t just words for a jury to hear.

The animation began with a 3D depiction of Stevie. Her skin and muscles went transparent as the camera zoomed in on her spine. Next, the presentation visualized the biomechanical forces that caused her vertebral burst fracture. It recreated what it looked like when Stevie’s L1 vertebra crushed in on itself, expelling bone fragments in the process and irreparably damaging her spinal cord. The 3D images were juxtaposed next to medical scans to validate their accuracy.

At mediation, the Defense and its insurance offered pennies on the dollar to settle the case. Sean knew Stevie needed more so she could afford the lifetime of care that she would. The case went to trial. At the end of the first week, Sean received a call from the Defense with a new offer — this time for full and fair compensation to take care of Stevie for the rest of her life.

Sean Breen is a record-setting trial attorney who has won numerous Hall of Fame verdicts and recovered hundreds of millions of dollars for his clients. Sean has been recognized as one of the “Best Lawyers in America” for personal injury, product liability, and commercial litigation. Additionally, Sean was selected to be part of the prestigious Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum, National Top 100 Trial Lawyers, and Super Lawyers. Howry, Breen & Herman, LLP represents clients nationwide with offices in Texas, Colorado, and California.

"Using these 3D illustrations really separates you as a firm, as a lawyer, as an advocate from people who don't ... literally people gasp when they see some of these visuals."
Sean Breen - Howry Breen & Herman, LLP
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