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Resort’s Negligence Results in Tragic Accident and Paralysis for College Student

When a Texas resort served a 20-year-old college student alcohol and allowed an employee to take her off site, disaster struck. The student, Stevie Church, was everything you would ever want in a daughter, sister, and friend. However, her bright future was cut short after she sustained a paralyzing spinal cord injury in a serious car accident due to the resort’s negligence.

While visiting the resort, Stevie was not only over-served by staff, but was taken off the property by a male employee in his pickup truck. As they were driving back to the resort, the man blew through an intersection at a high rate of speed and hit a berm. The truck went airborne before crashing. Both Stevie and the resort employee had been wearing seatbelts, but Stevie’s came loose. The vertical force from the landing went straight up Stevie’s spine, resulting in a burst fracture and paralysis.

Sean Breen, a trial attorney at Howry, Breen & Herman, LLP, was recommended to Stevie and her family for legal representation because of his record working on behalf of paralysis and brain injury victims. From the beginning, Sean knew the case would be serious. He and his team spotted major red flags in how the resort ran its business, most notably overserving alcohol to minors and allowing employees to work without supervision or proper training.

The case also posed unique obstacles because of the dynamics of the accident. The crash took place in the early morning hours while it was raining. Due to the weather conditions, there were no skid marks left behind. Sean also knew the Defense would argue that Stevie wasn’t actually wearing a seatbelt.

Stevie’s injuries damaged her spinal cord and devastated her ability to lead a full life. Sean and his team wanted to secure enough money so that Stevie would have medical care for the rest of her life. They enlisted the help of DK Global to help them tell the story of what really happened to Stevie that night.

Sean needed to prove that the dynamics of the accident are what brought her out of the seatbelt — not that she wasn’t wearing one. With the help of DK Global’s visuals, Sean and his team were able to successfully dodge this defense by proving that when the truck was airborne, Stevie’s seat belt became unspooled and she was ejected from her seat like a fighter pilot.

Sean and his team used the science of her spine, along with pictures and scans, to create a presentation in which the jury could see what happens when an individual’s spine compresses due to vertical force. Essentially, the team created a roadmap of the elements involved in the accident and resulting injuries despite a lack of physical evidence at the accident scene. They used the black box from the truck, the seatbelt, and Stevie’s diagnostic scans and x-rays showing the damage to her spine.

The animation opened with a 3D illustration of a young woman resembling Stevie. Then, it showed a skeletal version that recreated the impact her spine received from the accident, highlighting the damage that was done to her vertebrae. The video noted that the flexion and compression resulted in an unstable, complete L1 burst fracture, which means near complete effacement of the spinal canal. 

The Defense had offered pennies on the dollar during mediation, which Sean and Stevie’s family rejected. The case made its way to trial, where Sean presented the animation to the jury. As the first week of trial concluded, the Defense approached Sean with a settlement offer that provided full and fair compensation. Stevie will receive the care she needs for the rest of her life.

Sean Breen is a partner at Howry, Breen & Herman, LLP, in Austin, Texas and Snowmass, Colorado. He knew at an early age he wanted to be a trial attorney to help people and make a difference in the lives of others. He believes in the power of a jury and has experience that includes more than 100 jury trials. Breen takes difficult and demanding cases and relentlessly pursues them until he receives the financial compensation his client deserves.

"Working with DK on this case, is a product of working with them for many years now. It's becoming almost seamless. We know how each other works, we know what we want, we know what is needed. So, as usual, it was great."
Sean Breen — Howry, Breen & Herman, LLP
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