United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
E. OTT CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Lillie Hopson was involved in a serious head-on collision
with a Jeep operated by United States Postal Service driver
Sherry Hanson Green. This Federal Torts Claim Act
(“FTCA”) case is a consequence of that accident.
See 28 U.S.C. § 2674. The case was tried before
the undersigned and the Court now finds for Hopson and
against the United States of America on the negligence claim.
testimony at trial, including that of Accident
Reconstructionist Mary Pamela Sterling, demonstrates that on
January 30, 2017, on a rural road in Blount County, Alabama,
the Jeep that Green was operating exceeded the posted speed
limit on Blount County Road 41,  crossed over the double
yellow center line,  and hit Hopson's vehicle. (Tr. 23,
25-38). Her Jeep “overrode”
Hopson's vehicle, forcing it backwards and causing it to
slide off the road. (Id. at 27). Hopson reported
being unable to move while confined in the car. Her arms were
pinned to her chest and her legs were jammed under the
dashboard due to the impact. She was particularly stressed
due to her claustrophobia. (Id. at 52, 84-85).
Emergency personnel had to remove the driver's side doors
to get Hopson from the car due to the fact that they had been
so severely damaged. (Id. at 86). She was placed on
a medical board and moved to a waiting helicopter for
transportation to the University of Alabama in Birmingham
trauma unit. (Id. at 87). Hopson has limited memory
of these events due to the excruciating pain she was
determined that Hopson had injuries to her neck, back, and
arm. They were not able to begin the necessary medical
procedures and surgeries until the next day. Overnight,
Hopson was so restless that she had to be restrained.
(Id. at 88). Her surgeries included repairs for a
left radius shaft fracture in her forearm, a wrist fracture,
and back fractures. She also had significant bruising. She
required two units of blood. (Id. at 89). She had
two rods and eight screws inserted in her back and two plates
and twelve screws inserted in her arm due to a severe break.
(Id. at 92). Hopson remained in the trauma unit for
three day and then she was placed in another unit for an
additional six days. (Id. at 52). Thereafter, she
was moved to a rehabilitation unit at St. Vincent's
Hospital in Blount County. She stayed there for 17 days.
(Id. at 54-55). She then resided with her daughter
for another week. (Id. at 55). During her stay with
her daughter, Hopson still had difficulty ambulating and
caring for herself. She was able to return home after that
with the assistance of home health services for approximately
four months. The subrogation amount for her medical bills is
$57, 607.08. (Id. at 141).
the accident, Hopson was an active, independent 71 year old
individual. (Id. at 129). She particularly
liked to gamble, traveling to casinos with her niece, sister,
and daughter. She also liked to go to music festivals and
flea markets. (Id. at 60). She actively interacted
with her adopted granddaughter. She was able to take care of
both the inside and outside of her home. She was able to take
care of her granddaughter. She was able to walk on her own
and she would drive herself. After the accident, she requires
a cane to walk and she drives on a limited basis, usually
to the local Dollar Store. (Id. at 103). She is no
longer able to work around the house and is much more limited
in her ability to do basic household chores. She can no
longer garden. (Id. at 61, 65-66). Subsequent to the
accident, she also consistently experiences pain in her back,
leg, arm, and neck. She also experiences weakness in her legs
and finds it necessary to rest more often. (Id. at
difficulty performing simple tasks such as bathing, dressing,
and tying her shoes. (Id. at 63, 114-15). She is
particularly dependent on her granddaughter and other family
members. She does not have the physical ability to interact
with her granddaughter like she did previously. She also is
not comfortable riding in a vehicle. She also does not visit
at her daughter's home despite the fact that she
previously visited there frequently. (Id. at 66).
Her daughter described her situation as not being able to
“go, ” “see, ” or “do.”
(Id. at 67). Hopson describes the accident as
“turn[ing] my life upside down.” (Id. at
also experiences daily back spasms if she sits in the same
position for too long. (Id. at 57-58, 108-09). The
hardware used to correct the problems in her back causes
discomfort and negatively impacts her ability to sleep.
(Id. at 130). She also still experiences back pain
daily. Her present lifestyle principally consists of reading
and watching television. (Id. at 110).
time of the accident, Hopson's granddaughter, Katie,
lived with her. They have lived together for almost
Katie's entire life. (Id. at 54). Hopson's
ability to care for Katie, who now is 11 years old, is more
limited. (Id. at 79).
are two questions to be resolved in this matter: (1) Is the
United States liable for the actions of Green and (2) what is
the correct amount of damages if the Court finds the United
States liable. Hopson brings two claims, one for negligence
and one for wantonness. Her FTCA claims are governed by
Alabama substantive law. “Under Alabama law,
‘[t]he basic elements of any negligence action are: (1)
an obligation owed by the defendant to the plaintiff, (2) a
breach of the standard of care applicable to that obligation,
(3) causation, and (4) damage.” Hilliard v.
Huntsville Elec. Util. Bd., 599 So.2d 1108, 1110 (Ala.
1992) [quoting Maharry v. City of Gadsden, 587 So.2d
966, 968 (Ala. 1991)]. Furthermore, Plaintiff bears the
burden of proof in establishing these elements. See Brown
v. Autry, Greer & Sons, Inc., 551 So.2d 1049, 1050
(Ala. 1989).” Borden v. CSX Transp.,
Inc., 843 F.Supp. 1410, 1416 (M.D. Ala. 1993).
“The Alabama Supreme Court has defined wantoness as
“the conscious doing of some act or the omission of
some duty which under knowledge of existing conditions and
while conscious that, from the act or the omission of such
duty, injury will likely be the probable result ....'
Roberts v. Brown, 384 So.2d 1047, 1048
(Ala.1980).” Webb v. Midland Funding, LLC,
2013 WL” 360151, *4 (N.D. Ala. 2013).
first question enumerated above is easily answered. The
evidence before the Court clearly demonstrates that Green was
operating her vehicle while working for the Postal Service.
Her operation of the vehicle was negligent under Alabama law.
She crossed over the double center line and struck Ms.
Hopson's vehicle. As a direct result of the accident, Ms.
Hopson sustained her injuries. The Court does not find,
however, that Hopson demonstrated that Green's conduct
rose to the level of wantonness as defined by Alabama law.
answer to the second question is not as simple. Ms.
Hopson's counsel asks the Court to award her $1, 444,
207.00 in compensatory damages. (See Doc. 44 at 5).
Counsel for the United States requests that the Court
“award only modest and reasonable amount of fees or of
damages consistent with the evidence.” (Tr. 144).
the FTCA, the United States is liable to a plaintiff
“in the same manner and to the same extent as a private
individual under like circumstances ....” 28 U.S.C.A.
§ 2674. Accordingly, “[t]he components and measure
of damages in FTCA claims are taken from the law of the state
where the tort occurred....” Harden v. United
States, 658 F.2d 1025, 1029 (5th Cir. Unit B
1982) (quoting Ferrero v. United
States, 603 F.2d 510, 512 (5th Cir. 1979)); see
also 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b). “[T]here is no
formula prescribed by law to calculate non-economic damages.
Consequently, the amount awarded for pain and suffering will
vary widely from case to case. Such damages ‘are
largely speculative and difficult of determination, but no
one's estimate is better ...