A Navy veteran in San Diego who lost his right leg after a sailor crashed a government-owned van into his motorcycle has accepted a $10.8 million legal settlement, according to his attorneys.
Peter Arthur, 49, who served for 20 years in the Navy, settled his lawsuit with the government earlier this month after suffering severe injuries in the highway collision. The amount of the wreck settlement was a record for the city, the attorneys said.
In 2019, Arthur was riding his motorcycle along a stretch of the I-5 highway when the van driven by a sailor "suddenly and without warning swerved" into another lane. It pushed a vehicle directly in front of Arthur, throwing him from his motorcycle at highway speeds, according to the legal complaint.
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As a result of the crash, Arthur sustained several fractures, including to his femur; tearing of his biceps; lacerations to nerves in his arm; and ultimately, an above-the-knee amputation of his right leg.
The reason for the relatively high-dollar amount for this case, according to Arthur's legal team, rested on the client's attitude after the crash and their ability to demonstrate to the judge in the case the extent of his pain.
"I think the combination of a great plaintiff in Peter and us working hard to get justice and focusing not only on what happened to Peter, but what he's left with and will be left with for the rest of his life is what I think helped us to get him that justice," Arthur's attorney Robert Francavilla told Military.com in a phone call Tuesday.
"And Peter was able to also demonstrate and articulate that but not in a way that made him sound like a complainer, but in a way that says, 'Hey, here are my challenges and here's what I'm doing to try to help,'" he said.
The ability to file a claim against the military is sometimes misunderstood among veterans and service members because of legal precedents such as the Feres Doctrine, which generally prevents service members from suing the military for injuries or illness incurred at the fault of the military.
Francavilla explained that Arthur is a veteran and not an active service member. But regardless of his client's status, he said there is remediation available against the government for injuries or illness when the government is at fault.
"A federal tort claim -- that's your remedy if the U.S. government is involved," Francavilla said. "This is really no different than if it was a big 18-wheeler grocery store truck that swerved over and caused a chain reaction crash. In that case, it would have been Arthur v. Acme Grocery Company or Grocery Company A.
"It just so happened that it was a United States Navy vehicle that swerved over, and we were able to demonstrate that they were [the] at-fault party and thus should be accountable to Peter for fair damages," he added.
The settlement, which was officially decided Oct. 3, was also determined by facts about the sailor who was driving the van and the circumstances leading up to the multi-car crash.
The sailor driving the van had a "clear and unambiguous history of dangerous, reckless, careless and negligent driving," the complaint alleged.
According to the San Diego Union Tribune, which first reported the story, the driver did not face any criminal charges for the incident. But Francavilla told Military.com they were able to challenge in court the sailor's claims about what caused the crash.
"The real case pivoted on the fact that the naval enlisted person had made claims that 'Oh, there was this phantom vehicle that pulled up next to me and moved into my lane and caused me to have to make a sudden emergency swerve,'" Francavilla said. "The key to this settlement was being able to show that there was unlikely a phantom vehicle. ... We pretty definitively showed them that he made an unsafe lane change and set the wheels in motion for this chain reaction crash."
Arthur's legal team believes the substantial settlement was agreed upon because they would be able to prove that if the trial continued.
The Navy declined to comment when contacted by Military.com, deferring the publication to the Department of Justice. The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of California also declined to comment.
Now, Arthur is unable to work his job preparing and repairing sophisticated medical equipment because it's difficult for him to move around with his prosthetic. His "compromised right arm" has limited his ability to move around the hospital equipment like he once was able to do, according to his attorney.
But his recovery and outlook have been positive. Arthur went out of his way to thank other motorists -- one was a veteran herself, Francavilla said -- who helped keep him alive in the first moments after the crash.
"He was in great shape before this, and he's gotten himself back to being physically in pretty darn good shape," Francavilla said. "Even emotionally, it has been a really, really difficult challenge and roller coaster for him, and he's fought back pretty amazingly to the point where I think this guy's a remarkable guy."
-- Drew F. Lawrence can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @df_lawrence.
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