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Gwinnett Jury Awards $1.7M in Expressway Collision

Mike Walker (from left), Ed Piasta and Stanley Levitt (Courtesy photos)

Mike Walker (from left), Ed Piasta and Stanley Levitt (Courtesy photos)

A Gwinnett County jury awarded more than $1.7 million to a woman who suffered back and shoulder injuries when she was rear-ended while stopped in morning rush-hour traffic on Atlanta’s Downtown Connector.

The jury also determined that attorney fees should be awarded under Georgia’s law allowing the recovery of litigation expenses in cases where jurors find a defendant acted in bad faith, was stubbornly litigious or caused the plaintiff unnecessary trouble and expense.

Plaintiffs attorney Michael Walker of Piasta Newbern Walker said that issue and any potential appeal were eliminated by a confidential agreement between the parties.

“We didn’t get to the fees, because we resolved the case,” said Walker, who represented plaintiff Joanne Alfred with firm partner Edward Piasta and Atlanta solo Stanley Levitt.

Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith partner Brantley Rowlen defended the case with associate Adi Allushi.

We’re obviously disappointed in the verdict and thought the damages were extremely high given Ms. Alfred’s injuries and recovery, but Ed and Mike tried a great case,” Rowlen said via email.

According to Walker and court filings, Joanne Alfred was driving on Atlanta's Downtown Connector in March 2016 in a Toyota sedan when traffic stopped near the 10th Street overpass.

Defendant Anthony Rulli was behind her in a rented Kia sedan on his way to a business meeting on behalf of his employer, PowerSecure Inc.

The defense portion of the pretrial order said Rulli “briefly glanced at his GPS” as he was driving, and, when he looked back up, traffic had stopped in front of him and he was unable to stop in time to avoid hitting Alfred’s car.

Rulli was not cited and denied he was following too closely, distracted or driving too fast.

Alfred was taken by ambulance to Atlanta Medical Center and released later that day.  

She underwent arthroscopic surgery for a shoulder impingement and was out of work for about six weeks, Walker said.

“She also has some lingering pain, and one dispute was whether she was going to need additional surgeries,” he said.

Alfred sued Rulli and PowerSecure in Gwinnett County Superior Court.

Walker said there were settlement discussions, but they were unsuccessful, and trial began April 9 before Judge Warren Davis.

Alfred had about $60,000 in medical bills and made no claim for lost wages, Walker said.

The trial wrapped up after noon on April 11, and Walker said the jury took about two hours to award $1,755,396 in damages and found “an award of attorney’s fees and litigation expenses to be appropriate.”

“No jurors told us the basis for awarding the fees,” Walker said.

“The defense lawyers tried a great case,” said Walker. “We just had a great, deserving plaintiff and I think the jury saw that.”