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Massive Defense Firm Denies, Delays, Defends, and Refuses Settlement for Motorcyclist with TBI

Half a second. Had Tesla's employee simply waited half a second more, the left turn he made would not have caused a crash. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen because Tesla’s employee was in a rush. Driving a Tesla-owned Ford F-250 maintenance truck, Tesla's employee shot an unsafe gap through oncoming traffic, broadsiding Chris Dugan, who had pulled out of a Speedway gas station heading to work. Chris Dugan had the right of way.

The broadside collision ruined Chris’s life. He suffered a severe traumatic brain injury and a partial amputation of his foot. The once loving father and engineer now has the cognition of a 10-year-old and the language skills of a five-year-old. He was not only robbed of his capacity to raise and support his daughter but was also condemned to a future of continuous medical care and assisted living.

The Dugan family hired Lee Christie, one of the top trial lawyers in Indiana, and his trial partner Katie Marshall to advocate for them in their lawsuit against Tesla, who teamed up with Nicholas Rowley and Karen Zahka of Trial Lawyers for Justice.

Nick and Karen joined the case after Tesla refused to settle. They faced what many thought was an unbeatable opponent: a company valued at over half a trillion dollars, run by the world’s richest man, an army of Defense attorneys, and a scorched earth approach to litigation. Determined to attain justice for Chris and his family, Lee, Katie, Nick, Karen, and their team got to work. They analyzed expert reports, eyewitness testimony, depositions — everything. Most importantly, they spent a lot of time with Mr. Dugan and his family in their homes, opening their hearts and establishing true human connection.

The Defense’s strategy was to deny, delay, and defend. Chris was not wearing a helmet at the time of the accident — which is legal and inadmissible in Indiana. Chris had a prior traumatic brain injury, brain hemorrhage, and brachial plexus injury. Tesla sought to portray Chris as a reckless biker, aiming to diminish his damages. Tesla also sought to bifurcate the trial into separate liability and damages trials, a motion that Jim Yukevich withdrew when he was lead trial counsel on the case. Nick Rowley welcomed the bifurcation request after it was renewed by Tesla’s new trial team led by Alex Spiro, who actually never showed up for trial.

With trial approaching, the team wanted to present the liability case to the jury in a way that was simple and showed all the different options Tesla’s driver had because Tesla was refusing to accept any responsibility for the collision, expecting a Defense verdict. Nick reached out to his long-time visuals expert and team, DK Global. Together with the trial team and their experts, DK Global produced a reconstruction animation of the crash to demonstrate precisely what was needed to tell the liability story. Hundreds of hours of work were put into what Nick Rowley says is the best job he has ever seen in his career.

The animation opened with an aerial view of the incident’s location, pinpointing the positions of Chris Dugan (the motorcyclist), Tesla (the Tesla-owned F-250 maintenance vehicle), the exact point of impact, and the movement of the vehicles until they came to rest. It then transitioned to a 3D reenactment of the scene and vehicles involved, with deposition testimony. Chris was highlighted from the Defendant’s perspective, showing the points in time when he was visible on his motorcycle. The animation then replayed the incident from an external view. Subsequently, a top-down view illustrated Chris’s visibility to the driver. It further explored the options Tesla’s employee driver had, including the option to turn at a different and safer entry point, and the safer and proper route of entry to the gas station that the other drivers were using, illustrating the simple and safer decisions that would have prevented the collision.

Tesla was determined to defense the case. On the trial’s first day, they attempted to prevent the inclusion of the DK Global animations. Nick successfully persuaded the judge to reject their motion. After weeks of arguments and expert testimony, the jury returned a verdict of more than $60,000,000 in favor of Mr. Dugan. However, they attributed 30% liability against Chris, who had pulled out of the gas station at a rate of speed faster than 90-95% of motorists at the exact second when he was not visible to Tesla’s driver because of a large truck traveling in the same direction. Also, Chris Dugan was not wearing a helmet. After assessing comparative fault, $42,481,243 was the amount awarded to Mr. Dugan.

Nicholas C. Rowley, a founding partner of Trial Lawyers for Justice, has become a prominent figure in the legal field, winning over $3 billion for clients nationwide. Facing adversity early on, including bullying and poverty (Nick started working and earning money to support himself in the 5th grade), he was emancipated by age 16. His tenure as a medic in the US Air Force and Army, coupled with education funded by the GI Bill, helped him go to college and law school. Now, with landmark verdicts across the country, Nick's unprecedented record of winning jury trials and large settlements demonstrates his unwavering dedication to seeking justice for victims and families across the country. He embodies the spirit of a fighter cultivated from his challenging youth and military service to a distinguished legal career.

Karen Zahka, a partner at Trial Lawyers for Justice, is celebrated for her impactful litigation and work as a trial lawyer across the United States. With bar admissions in California, Nebraska, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Oklahoma, her legal journey is marked by significant victories, including a groundbreaking $40 million case for a stroke victim and a $24.4 million verdict for a family affected by severe medical negligence. Recognized as a Super Lawyers Rising Star since 2016 and awarded "Excellence in the Law: Up and Coming Lawyer" by Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly in 2022, Karen's expertise is widely acknowledged. Additionally, she was selected to the National Trial Lawyers: Top 40 Under 40 in 2019.

Lee Christie is a founding partner at Christie Farrell Lee & Bell, based in Indianapolis, IN. Specializing in truck and car accidents, medical malpractice, wrongful death, and personal injury, Lee has tried numerous cases in federal and state courts, where he has received verdicts as high as $30.5M from a garage door negligence case. In 2015, he was named the Indiana Trial Lawyer of the Year. He served as President of the Indianapolis Bar Foundation and is currently the President of the Indianapolis Bar Association for 2024-2025. Additionally, he actively contributes to his community as a patron of the YMCA, a past president of the Lawrence Township Girls Basketball Association, and a founding board member and officer of the Walker Foundation. The Walker Foundation provides college scholarships and mentors to underprivileged high school graduates in the inner city of Indianapolis. Lee is rated AV-Preeminent by Martindale-Hubbell; was named “Lawyer of the Year” by Best Lawyers for arbitration and mediation in 2024; was selected to the Top 10 Indiana Super Lawyers in 2014; and has been among the Top 50 Indiana Super Lawyers consistently since 2005.

Katherine M. Marshall is an associate at Christie Farrell Lee & Bell. She dedicates her practice to attaining justice for clients harmed by negligence. Katie is the 2019 recipient of the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association Max Goodwin Young Lawyer of the Year award. She is a member of the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA); a board member of the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association; and is active with the American Association for Justice, Indianapolis Bar Association, Indiana Bar Association, American Bar Association, and the Sagamore Inn of Court.

"It's the best job I've ever seen. It made the difference at trial. It simplified this whole thing."
Nicholas C. Rowley - Trial Lawyers for Justice
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