You never know when your world will come crashing down around you and it seems as though my world changed forever on a sunny April day in 2009.
I am a retired librarian, having retired at the end of October of 2008. I started working when I was 16 and worked continuously until my retirement at the age of 62. Like most retirees, I had to assess what I wanted to do in my retirement years. I laughingly tell people now that one of the first things I did was clean out my shower with a toothbrush. Sounds trivial and foolish, but it was something that I had the time and inclination to do after retiring.
Early in 2009, I contacted Meals on Wheels to volunteer and started delivering meals to clients in Rittman and Creston twice a week. It was also always a goal of mine to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity and I was going to contact them after establishing my routine with Meals on Wheels. I also loved working in the dirt and one of the most important things that I really was looking forward to was working in my yard – planting flowers, weeding and then just sitting on my deck and admiring my work! Of course I was also looking forward to spending more time with my family and friends who were already retired or other friends still working who might just have a day off and want to travel to Amish country or have lunch. My husband was still working and I thought it would be fun to meet him for lunch occasionally as well.
On Wednesday, April 15th of 2009, I was going to my son’s house in Kenmore to take him to a job interview because he didn’t have a car at the time. I had brought my two dogs along for the ride – something I usually did not do – and they were in the back seat. At approximately 9:15 that morning, as I was driving east on Wooster Road West in Barberton, a young drunk driver crossed the double yellow line and hit my car head on.
All of the dreams and projects that I had hoped to accomplish came to a screeching halt right then and there with the possibility that I might not ever be able to do any of those things again or at best, it would be a long time until my retirement wishes would happen.
The impact of the crash caused my air bag to deploy and I struggled to breathe. It seemed as though time stood still and I saw my cell phone (which had been on the passenger seat) fly past my face. I also heard my dogs whimpering in the back and I couldn’t tell whether they were alright. I know that one of them came slamming into the back of my seat.
I could see the car that had hit me on the other side of the road and it was pretty smashed up. I could also hear someone yelling obscenities and later realized it was the young man who had hit me. How fortuitous that two cars behind him was an ambulance which I could see. I remember telling myself to breathe because it was increasingly difficult to do. Very soon, the ambulance crew were standing in the street next to my car at my window, talking to me, asking me questions and trying to help me to remain calm. I don’t know how long it was before the police and fire department arrived, but when they came, they quickly cut me out of my car. They found my phone and I told them which number belonged to my husband, who was still working at the time. I made sure to have them (police/firefighters) take care of my dogs because one would run if he got loose. They assured me that they would. (As well as my family knows my personality, they probably would tell you now that I was “taking charge” and trying to tie up all the loose ends.)
The ambulance crew were very soothing, which is what you want them to be. They even asked me which hospital I wanted to go to and I told them Akron General Hospital in downtown Akron. I honestly don’t remember the ride to the hospital and that’s probably a good thing. I do remember being rolled into emergency and the ambulance crew relating my story to the medical staff in the emergency room at the hospital. I was transferred to a table where they started their examination, asking many questions and then finally cutting my clothes away from me. I remember telling the nurse, “These are my favorite jeans,” but alas, I was never to see them again.
I probably went in and out of consciousness, but my husband, daughter, son and brother were staring down at me at different times while I laid in the emergency room – all of them telling me I was going to be ok, but their faces didn’t look very hopeful. They tried to be as positive as possible, but I couldn’t help but be afraid. They all had encouraging words but it was had to believe them!
At some point, I had an x-ray to assess the damage, if any, to my neck and spine and the x-rays revealed that I had broken 4 small bones in my lower back, small bones that are attached to the the spine. I was eventually told that these bones would heal themselves and nothing could actually be done in that area – they would eventually (and hopefully) repair themselves.
One of the emergency room staff (not sure whether it was a doctor or a nurse) told me that I was bleeding internally and that I would have to have surgery. It was then that I was taken to surgery where a small portion of my intestine was taken out to stop the internal bleeding. I have no idea how long I was in the emergency room or in surgery and the actual sequence of events but I remember waking up in a very dim hospital room with what seemed to be tubes everywhere on my body and a brace on my neck. I was in so much pain as I slowly emerged from the anesthesia.
The neck brace and a tube in my nose remained there for a couple days and my left hand was bandaged heavily. There were broken bones in that hand and on Saturday, April 18th, I had plastic surgery on that hand and the surgeon inserted a 2-inch by 1 inch titanium plate with six screws. A few days later doctors realized that my right foot was badly bruised and took x-rays and found that I also had broken bones in my toes.
During my eight day hospital stay, I also had other x-rays due to swelling in my right leg to rule out other broken bones. I was extremely bruised, especially on my left side where the impact of the crash was the worst. I also had extensive bruising and pain in my chest due to the air bag deploying and the seat belt cutting into me.
The hospital staff at Akron General Hospital took excellent care of me. I will be eternally grateful for their support and loving care. I was at times in extreme pain and they did all they could to help ease my pain and encourage me. The first time that I was able to walk down the hallway, with a walker and a nurse’s aide, was very exhilarating as well as very painful. I would experience those same emotions many times again in the months to come.
After I returned home on a Wednesday, my husband was with me for the first few days, as were my son and my brother. The following Monday my husband returned to work, but there was always someone with me when he was not home. That routine continued for about two weeks and even then I believe that my family and friends were reluctant to leave me alone, which was fine with me since I didn’t want to be alone. Fortunately I had an almost steady stream of visitors bringing food and staying to talk or just sit with me.
During those early days and months, I had trouble sleeping and even had a couple of “melt downs,” where I cried uncontrollably and my family doctor prescribed an anti-depressant for me. She likened my melt downs to post traumatic stress. It was a very helpless feeling that took quite a while to overcome.
After months of doctor’s visits, which included an orthopedic doctor, a neurosurgeon, a hand doctor and then back to the surgeon who had done the surgery on my abdomen, I began physical therapy twice a week for my spine and neck – to help strengthen them. All of this lasted for several months.
As I mentioned earlier, the day I was hit, I was heading to my son’s house to pick him up for a job interview. I found out later that he blamed himself for the accident since I was coming to his house. I can only imagine the guilt that he felt and I did my best to alleviate that and assure him that the driver of the car that hit me was the only one to blame because he chose to drink and drive. I was not the only one suffering from this terrible accident – mentally or physically.
After the accident there was still the lingering issue of obtaining a settlement to pay for such things as surgeries and hospital bills. The young man who hit me didn’t have insurance, didn’t have a driver’s license and was driving a car that belonged to a relative, without that person’s permission.
The day of my accident, my husband called our insurance company to let them know that I had been hit and gave them all the details. One of the things that they told my husband was not to worry, they would take care of things and “you don’t need to call an attorney.” He thought that was an unusual thing to say and so he decided that yes, indeed, he did need to call an attorney. The next day, my first full day in the hospital, before he came to see me, he was looking through the telephone book for an attorney and based only on an advertisement, he decided to call the law firm of Slater & Zurz, LLP. What a fine choice that turned out to be.
My husband, Glenn, spoke to personal injury lawyer Attorney Jim Slater a number of times while I was in the hospital. Mr. Slater never failed to ask how I was doing and to reassure my husband that he would help us with whatever we needed. Once I returned home, Mr. Slater continued to call to inquire about my health, and eventually, Glenn and I would travel to Akron to visit Mr. Slater at his downtown office. He was cordial and professional: making us both feel at ease during this trying process.
Because the man who hit me didn’t have insurance, we had to go through our insurance company to pay all the bills; hospital, replacement car, surgeries, etc. They were not easy to deal with and it was a long-drawn-out process that took many months to come to an agreement that we felt was fair. During all those months, Mr. Slater never failed to contact us with updates, and many times he would come to our home in Doylestown so that we wouldn’t have to make the trip downtown. He was always concerned with how I felt and if I was up to the trips. On one visit when Mr. Slater brought his wife to visit, they also brought us some famous “Killer Brownies” from West Point Market! We were grateful and thought that this kind gesture was definitely above and beyond an attorney/client relationship.
Several months passed after the initial accident and in February 2010 we met in Canton with our attorneys, Mr. Slater, and his partner, Rick Zurz, a representative from our insurance company and a mediator to hammer out a final settlement. It was a long and tedious day, but Slater & Zurz certainly came through for us. We were fortunate to get a reasonable settlement that took care of all the expenses we had accumulated during the previous months.
My physical therapy went on for a number of months and I was again grateful for the wonderful people who helped me achieve a level of normalcy once again and become relatively pain-free.
Near the end of 2009, I was contacted by the Victim Assistance Program of Summit County and asked if I wanted to appear and give some sort of testimony in the trial of the young man who hit me. I looked across the courtroom at a nervous young man and told him what my year had been like: how lucky I felt to be alive and how reckless I thought he had been that morning. I told him about my family and friends who came to my rescue when I needed them emotionally during the year. He quietly said that he was sorry and then the judge sentenced him to four years in prison. They placed handcuffs on him and he asked if he could kiss his wife and the judge said “No.” He looked so small and helpless and I felt such pity for him and his family.
There were times during those four years that I remembered the angry young man who was screaming obscenities in the road that day and I would become concerned that when he was released from prison that he might try and find me for some sort of retribution. I was informed when he asked to be pardoned early and he was denied. I was then contacted when he was actually released and I felt uneasy for a few months.
As the years have passed, I have experienced pain in my lower back which gets worse as I grow older. I don’t have a crystal ball that can tell me whether my accident is partly to blame for this pain (which has been diagnosed as Spinal Stenosis). I just have to live with it. Of course, my age is a factor and I’m just happy most days to be able to get out of bed and be able to function. The nightmares are over and I will often bring up the accident – as an excuse – when I’m unable to do something or a new doctor sees the scar running down my abdomen from chest to my lower belly.
I’m so thankful that Glenn was aware that we needed representation and we both know that we were fortunate to have chosen Slater & Zurz. Not only did they work on the larger settlement, but they also included other smaller compensations that came up during the year, such as prescriptions and physical therapy. It was such a relief to be able to not worry about those things during those months.
In conclusion, we understand that we were clients and that there was a cost to us for this help as there would be for any law firm that is hired to help someone who had been through an incident similar to ours. We feel that in our case we received not only the great legal representation but also there was the human factor of care and consideration that is equally important to weather the storm of such a terrible accident. We continue to hold the services of Slater & Zurz, LLC to a higher level and would certainly retain them again – for any matter that might come up. Mr. Slater is a wonderful lawyer and we also consider him a friend.