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$8M Settlement for Driver Shot and Paralyzed by Police Officer

On October 12, 2011, Officer Kristopher Clark responded to a call requesting backup for a low-speed chase through the streets of Tacoma, Washington. Despite receiving orders from a superior to stay inside his patrol car after blocking the exit of an apartment complex parking lot, Clark exited his vehicle and fired an astounding 11 rounds into the fleeing vehicle. Than Orn, the driver of said vehicle, was struck multiple times in the neck and spine, resulting in devastating paraplegia. Attorneys Tom Vertetis and Thomas Balerud of Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala, along with Loren Cochran of Cochran Douglas, represented Orn against the city of Tacoma, ultimately securing an $8,000,000 settlement.

On the night of the accident, Than — a Cambodian immigrant who had already overcome tremendous adversity and struggle — was driving home after work to hand off the car to his wife, who would then commute to her work. Unfortunately, while driving, Than neglected to turn on his headlights. A patrolling sergeant signaled Than to pull over. However, Than feared the police based on his experience with Cambodian authorities. Additionally, he believed that his wife would be late to work if he pulled over. So, he kept driving, careful to drive responsibly and at the posted speed limits.

Nevertheless, the sergeant called for backup. By the time Orn arrived at his apartment parking lot — at 5 miles per hour — an astonishing 23 police cars were trailing him.

In the parking lot, Officer Clark had parked his vehicle in a blocking position in front of a second patrol car. He and his fellow officers were under strict orders to stay in their vehicles and not engage. However, as Than tried to drive his car around the police units, looking for a parking space, Officer Clark disregarded orders, exited his vehicle, and fired his weapon at Than.

Orn suffered severe neck and spine injuries, experiencing complete paraplegia below his belly button. In addition, Orn had extensive nerve damage in his upper extremities, particularly with his dominant hand, resulting in a severely diminished capacity to fulfill daily functions. Moreover, statewide news outlets covered the incident at length, compounding the emotional toll of the shooting and significantly increasing Than’s pain and suffering. To evade blame, Tacoma Police charged Than after the shooting with assault on a police officer and felony eluding.

Than’s criminal Defense team referred the Orn family to Loren, Tom, and Thomas to help him attain justice in civil court. Their primary challenge was not simply overcoming the criminal charges but justifying why Than didn’t pull over along with the destructive totality of his injuries. The trio collaborated with liability and damages experts, the former Chief of Police, and multiple physicians that expounded on the nature of Orn’s damages.

However, the case languished for years, eventually dragging on into 2020. As the pandemic took hold, virtual litigation became necessary, and the need to create clear and compelling demonstratives grew. Loren, Tom, and Thomas contacted DK Global to demonstrate the totality of circumstances and the extent of Than’s severe, life-altering injuries.

DK Global’s 32-minute animation first recreated the entire 16-minute police encounter across numerous streets in Tacoma. A dotted line traced the path Than and the police took from beginning to end. The dialogue between the patrol units and police dispatch was captioned to further clarify the lack of threat Than posed. The second portion of the video depicted the moment of the shooting, pointing out the specifics of what happened while demonstrating the evidence at the crime scene and a bullet trajectory analysis. Finally, the video revealed Than’s injuries, layering MRI scans and x-rays next to 3D graphics showing where and how he was injured. Last, the surgical procedures required to save and improve Than’s life over the nearly ten years of litigation were outlined.

Despite years of mediation attempts, the case eventually made its way to trial. The first federal trial to be conducted 100% remotely, Loren, Tom, and Thomas made the animation a focal point. On the 8th day of trial, the city of Tacoma approached the trio. They settled the case for $8,000,000, finally bringing justice to Than Orn and his family.

Loren Cochran is a founding partner at Cochran Douglas, where he primarily represents victims of sexual abuse, civil rights violations, and catastrophic injuries. He also advocates for families whose loved ones were killed or injured due to negligence or misconduct. He has received a Super Lawyer designation nine years in a row, is a National Trial Lawyer Top 100 member, and is an often requested speaker to discuss complex case themes, overcoming jury bias, quantifying damages in personal injury cases, and the Freedom of Information Act.

Thomas B Vertetis is the managing partner of Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala PLLC, and has consistently obtained success in the courtroom representing victims in complex personal injury cases, including medical malpractice, wrongful death, sexual abuse, school liability, and civil rights claims. He is the proud recipient of the American Board of Trial Attorneys (ABOTA) 2019 Washington Trial Lawyer of the Year, the Litigation Counsel of America Peter Perlman Service Award, The Best Lawyers in America®, 2023 Lawyer Of The Year in the Seattle Area for Medical Malpractice Law – Plaintiffs, and has been a Super Lawyer since 2012.

"DK Global was extremely responsive. Their attention to detail was fantastic. I don't know if we would have been nearly as successful if we didn't have those demonstratives."
Tom Vertetis - Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala PLLC
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