Friday, July 15, 2016

How We Used Craigslist to Catch a Hit and Run Driver and Get Our Client $1 Million

I have heard just about every lawyer joke in the world (and I love them), but it's cases like this that make me really proud of what I do, and of the difference we can make in people's lives.

Our client was a 56 y/o man riding his motorcycle on the 134 in Burbank, CA.  Two huge scaffolds (12' each) came off the back of a full-size white pickup and wiped him out, causing serious leg injury.  The truck never stopped.

Six surgeries later, our client was able to keep his leg, but with diminished use.  He could no longer work at his job (as a chef), which required him to be on his feet all day.

The police report had little to nothing on the identity of the truck, just calling it a White Ford F350.  The police didn't get a license plate or other identifying information.   In fact, the police report blamed my client for the accident, saying he was "driving too fast for conditions."  Are you kidding me??  Driving too fast to avoid 12 foot long metal scaffoldings that were tumbling down the highway towards him??  Unfortunately, I see this all the time.  Police tend to blame motorcyclists for an accident no matter what the facts are.

As far as the police were concerned, the case was closed, and they weren't going to do any follow up investigation to find the hit and run driver.  It was up to us to track down the people who caused the accident, and we were not optimistic.  We checked the 911 call logs and traffic cam footage, but neither were any use.  The only real lead we had was that the scaffolds had the letters "KON" spray-painted on them.  The scaffolds themselves were long gone by the time we were hired -- all we had were some cell phone shots of one of them.  We didn't even have a good photo of the initials - just a witness statement that those letters were on the scaffolds!

The only evidence we had - a cell phone photo of a scaffold
We started looking for contractors, roofers, etc. in the area with the initials "KON", or with that name.  We came up empty.  We chased down leads for months trying to find the culprit.  All the while, our client was struggling with a crippling injury and was faced with the reality that the hit-and-run driver was never going to be caught.  He could no longer work and his bills were piling up.

Desperate, we threw up a Hail Mary pass - posting a $10,000 reward on Craigslist for information leading to a judgment or settlement against the responsible party.  We were flooded with responses.  Most of them were garbage, and many of them were crazy.  Typical responses were: "Give me $500 cash up front and I'll tell you who did it."  Ahhh, Craigslist.

We got two decent leads from the hundreds of Craigslist responses we reveived.  The best lead was from a local resident who hadn't seen the accident, but who thought the scaffolds might be from a small roofing outfit called "Konrad Roof Company."  Konrad's construction yard was located only a few miles away from the accident scene.  So…the stakeouts began.  We did some surveillance at Konrad's construction yard and were looking for the letters "KON" written on any their equipment.  At the very least, we were looking for a white Ford 350 truck matching the police description.  We found none of the above.  Still, Konrad Roofing was our best lead.

The Defendant Roof Company

Rather than make a pre-litigation demand and tip our hand that we had only marginal circumstantial evidence of liability, we opted to just file suit against Konrad Roof Company and act like we KNEW it was them.  So we filed and served the complaint, then waited for the angry phone call from defense counsel demanding to know why we had sued their client.

The call never came.  Instead, discovery started as usual.  We hit them with written discovery regarding all their job routes on the day of the accident, time cards for employees and subcontractors working that day, etc.  We also sent out Requests for Admission asking them to admit that it was their scaffolds, admit that it was their workers, etc.  Again, we were posturing like we had caught them red-handed, and had irrefutable evidence against them.  In reality, we had almost nothing.

When we got responses to our written discovery I couldn't believe my eyes.  Konrad admitted to dropping the scaffolds!!  Ho.  Lee.  Sh*@.  We got em.  An  impossible, blindfolded, full court buzzer-beater and we drained it.  Four months later, we settled for the full boat - insurance policy limits of one million dollars.  On a hit and run with no witnesses and no proof.*

If you've never seen a rough-and-tumble biker reduced to tears of joy, you really haven't lived.

* Yes, we paid the $10,000 reward!  The tipster was absolutely floored when we called him up and asked him where to deliver the check.

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For more information, you can contact me at RiderzLaw.  We never get tired of talking about this case.

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