Summerville, SC Veterinarian Awarded $1,250,000 Jury Verdict

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The case prosecuted by attorneys Douglas Jennings and David Lail of Yarborough Applegate highlights the duty of care for homeowners

Yarborough Applegate Law Firm

This was a challenging case, and we were glad to reach this verdict on behalf of our client who is a stand-up guy and a real asset to the community. The jury’s verdict will allow him to make up for some of the losses that he has endured.

According to court documents, nearly three years ago, a visibly dead pine tree fell from the lawn of a tenant-occupied property in Summerville and struck the truck of Donald Gamble, injuring the 61-year-old veterinarian as he sat at a red light on a street adjacent to the property. On February 22, 2018, a Dorchester County jury returned a verdict for $1.25 million against the owner of the property for permanent injuries suffered by Gamble. The evidence presented to the jury showed that the tree was dangerous and had been dead for roughly three to five years and that Gamble’s economic damages from medical expenses and loss of earning capacity were $908,797.96. Gamble’s case, prosecuted by attorneys Douglas Jennings and David Lail of Yarborough Applegate, highlights the duty of care for homeowners to inspect the trees on their property.

Under South Carolina law, landowners in residential areas have a duty to others outside their property to exercise reasonable care to prevent an unreasonable risk of harm arising from defective trees on their property. This duty includes the duty to inspect trees on their property and to make certain they are safe. The law recognizes the danger presented by dead or diseased trees in heavily populated areas, such as within the limits of the Town of Summerville. According to this case's court documents, the dead tree caused serious injuries to Mr. Gamble, crushing his head into the roof of his truck, which caused a serious cervical spine injury. In this case's court documents, the property owner claimed to have been unaware of the tree's condition, due to his tenant's lack of reporting on its dangerous condition. However, in South Carolina, a landowner cannot avoid responsibility for damages caused by trees on his or her property by pointing to the tenant. The law states that the landowner has a duty of care, not the tenant.

After the incident, Gamble developed chronic radicular pain and numbness in his right arm over the next six months which finally forced him to seek medical treatment and ultimately required a cervical fusion surgery.

Gamble incurred roughly $70,000 in medical costs from his surgery and his treating doctors projected his future medical costs would surpass $80,000 for treatment related to the tree fall incident. Immediately following his surgery, he was unable to work during his recovery and was forced to hire a substitute veterinarian to replace him. Upon returning to work at his veterinarian clinic, Gamble testified that he was about 90% of what he used to be prior to being injured. Gamble has worked six days a week for the last 30 years and he had a strong desire to return to 100% but was unable to do so. His doctors estimated his permanent impairment at 20% but he estimated his impairment around 10%. At the time of trial, an economist calculated his loss of earning capacity to be $743,000.

According to Jennings, “We are happy that the jury understood the seriousness of the long-term impact on the plaintiff's livelihood and earnings. He made it clear from the beginning that he just wanted to be made whole and he is satisfied with the jury’s verdict and thankful for their service.” It is anticipated that Auto Owners Insurance Company will now be responsible for the entire verdict plus pre-judgment interest.

"This was a challenging case, and we were glad to reach this verdict on behalf of our client who is a stand-up guy and a real asset to the community. The jury’s verdict will allow him to make up for some of the losses that he has endured."

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Case Number: 2016-CP-18-1208
In the Court of Common Pleas, First Judicial Circuit State of South Carolina, County of Dorchester

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Laura Peirano

Douglas Jennings
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