Jury Awards $15M to Survivor of Georgia Crash That Killed 5

January 23, 2017

Nearly two years after a Louisiana truck driver caused a seven-car crash killing five Georgia Southern University nursing students, a jury has awarded a survivor $15 million in a civil suit.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports jurors deliberated for about four hours Friday before deciding on the amount that trucking company Total Transportation of Richland, Miss., and its parent company, U.S. Express, must pay Megan Richards.

Richards, of Loganville, was released from the hospital the day after the April 22, 2015. Interstate 16 pileup that killed 20-year-old Emily Clark, of Powder Springs; 20-year-old Morgan Bass of Leesburg; 21-year-old Abbie Deloach of Savannah; 21-year-old Catherine “McKay” Pittman of Alpharetta and 21-year-old Caitlyn Baggett of Millen.

The women were on their way to their last day of clinical rotations at a Savannah hospital.

The truck driver, John Wayne Johnson, 56, of Shreveport, was sentenced to five years in prison in a plea deal after he pleaded guilty to five counts of first-degree vehicular homicide and other crimes.

Johnson’s tractor-trailer smashed into traffic snarled by an unrelated wreck. The impact crushed two vehicles directly in front of Johnson’s truck, killing the student nurses. The women were commuting from Georgia Southern University in Statesboro to their shifts at a Savannah hospital, a distance of about 55 miles.

Last April, the trucking company settled lawsuits with the families of those who died and another survivor, Brittney McDaniel.

In court Friday, Johnson apologized to Richards and her family. Richards’ lawyer Bob Cheeley had initially wanted “no less than” $25 million,” but the trucking company’s attorney David Dial argued for a “fair amount.”

“We said we would pay her medical expenses,” Dial said. “We don’t dispute it. We owe her that.”

WSB-TV reports Richards testified that she still suffers from a traumatic brain injury.

“Not every day is the worst day of my life, but a lot of days are bad,” she said in court, “but it’s the good days that make it worth it.”

Perhaps the worst thing for Richards is knowing that she’s one of the lucky ones.

“I stay hopeful. I’m a Christian and I believe that maybe I did live for a reason and he’ll help me and I’ll make a big difference as a nurse,” she said, “but sometimes I can’t help but think about how it’s changed me and how hard it will be.”

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