A $4 million jury award to a Salt Lake man left partially paralyzed after a car accident more than four years ago was reduced Wednesday by a 3rd District judge.
Michael R. Murphy ruled that the statutory limitation on state liability applied in the $4 million verdict against the Utah Department of Transportation and LeGrand Johnson Construction Co. of Logan.Murphy's ruling let stand a $2.5 million judgment against the construction company, but reduced the state's liability by about $1.5 million, to $250,000, as provided by the Utah government immunity act.
The award is still believed to be among the largest in Utah's history.
Attorneys representing Daniel McCorvey, the accident victim, argued that the limitation on the state's liability was unconstitutional. But Murphy ruled that since road maintenance was an essential governmental function, the statutory cap on damages was constitutional.
A jury verdict in November held the state 28 percent liable, the Logan contractor 50 percent liable, and the driver of the second car 12 percent liable. The second driver was not named in the suit.
McCorvey's attorneys, David R. Olsen and Jesse C. Trentadue, had asked for special damages of $3.9 million and general damages of $1.5 million.
The suit stems from an accident on I-15 near Cove Fort, Millard County, on Aug 7, 1986, in an area that was being resurfaced.
McCorvey's car was going about 55 mph when gravel flung from a passing car caused him to move onto the shoulder, where he lost control of the vehicle.
McCorvey suffered a broken neck when the car rolled, and a passenger, Vaun Paul Page, suffered a broken back, leaving him a paraplegic. McCorvey's injuries left him an incomplete quadriplegic, with 60 percent use of his arms, and numbness in his hands.
McCorvey's attorneys contended that traffic was improperly controlled on the project.
Hal Christensen, who heads the litigation division of the attorney general's office, said the state maintained the project was adequately equipped with signs in accordance with the state's traffic control plan, and that there was a flagman at the site. He said the state's position was that the accident was due to McCorvey's excessive speed.