BARTOW, FLORIDA – A Polk County jury awarded a 21-year-old woman $65 million in damages Wednesday in a personal injury lawsuit against a trucking company.
“Trucking companies should get the message that they need to follow safety regulations designed to protect the public,” said Tampa attorney Jim Freeman, of Wilkes & McHugh, P.A. “This accident was preventable if the driver only waited for a clear view before turning.”
On Aug. 21, 2007, Kendra Lymon was a normal 19-year-old woman whose life was shattered when an 18-wheeler, owned by Bynum Transport Inc., T-boned her little Dodge Neon at the intersection of State Road 17 and State Road 64.
Kendra had no pulse when emergency personnel arrived at the accident scene. The lack of oxygen to her brain caused parts of it to die, and she suffered brain damage. She was in a coma, and hospitalized at Tampa General Hospital for months.
Today, she can’t speak. She can’t eat without assistance. She can’t control her bladder. She has trouble walking and sometimes needs a wheelchair. She needs around-the-clock care and continued rehabilitation, including physical, occupational and speech therapy.
Kendra was a beautiful young woman who knew what she wanted and worked hard to get it. She was a good student in high school, who participated in drama club and helped care for her siblings while their mother worked. Kendra loved to read and could speak six languages.
After graduating a year early from Hardee High School, she enrolled in South Florida Community College. She wanted to be a psychologist and was the first person in her family to attend college. She was about to enter her second year there when the accident happened.
Now she requires care and supervision 24 hours a day, seven days a week – and will need that for the rest of her life. Her medical bills alone are estimated to be more than $24 million over the span of her life, according to experts.
“She has suffered these terrible injuries needlessly,” Freeman said. “Kendra Lymon is one of the most deserving clients I’ve had in 30 years of practice.”
The defendants, Bynum Transport Inc. and driver Robert Bohn, tried to blame the accident on Kendra. Bohn claimed he had a green arrow, but eyewitness Ralph King said Kendra had a green light and wasn’t speeding. King said she tried to turn to the right, but by the time the truck entered her lane, there was no time to avoid it.
Bohn was fresh off a 24-hour shift as a full-time battalion chief for Polk County Fire Services when he headed to Bynum Transport Inc. for his part-time gig. Just after 8:30 a.m., he picked up a red 1997 Freightliner tractor and 2004 trailer, which together weighed 28,000 to 30,000 pounds. The plan was to haul a load of juice to Georgia that day to make some extra money.
But Bohn didn’t have 10 hours of off-duty time before driving the Bynum truck that day. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Rules require such a break because driver fatigue is biggest cause of truck accidents.
And Bynum Transport, where Bohn had worked part-time since 1993, didn’t have any system to crosscheck what the driver told them. They didn’t monitor Bohn’s hours of rest. The Driver’s Log he filled out the morning of the accident shows zero hours of work for each day in the week before the accident, despite the fact he had just finished a shift at the fire department. Federal regulations consider that or any other work the same as driving.
As Bohn approached the intersection of state roads 17 and 64, there was a tractor-trailer in the opposite turn lane, blocking Bohn’s view. Bohn turned left anyway, and he plowed into Kendra’s car on the driver’s side, crushing it and sending it spinning off the highway.
The Lymons, represented by Wilkes & McHugh, P.A. attorneys Jim Freeman and Bennie Lazzara, sued Bynum Transportation Inc. and the truck driver, Robert Bohn, for negligence.
The trial, which lasted over a week in the Tenth Judicial Circuit Court in Polk County, concluded Tuesday. The jury came back Wednesday with a unanimous decision: Jurors found the defendants were 100 percent at fault in the accident and awarded $65 million to the Lymons.
“With this verdict, the family – including her mother, uncle, aunt and siblings who have been caring for Kendra – can now afford to get her the professional help she needs,” said Tampa attorney Bennie Lazzara. “Doctors say with proper medical care, Kendra will have a normal life expectancy.”