Attorneys say a truck driver who was sued after a traffic injury hurt his case by taking photos while behind the wheel and posting snarky and aggressive Facebook messages.
Jerry O’Reilly, a truck driver from South Carolina, was headed west on Interstate 285 in Fulton County, Ga. He tried to change lanes and his 2007 Freightliner company truck clipped a 1997 Honda compact sedan also heading west.
Court documents state the sedan, driven by 41-year-old Kristin Meredith, flipped over multiple times before resting on the highway shoulder. Meredith reportedly underwent surgery to fuse vertebrae in her lower back after being taken to the hospital by ambulance.
O’Reilly was cited by law enforcement officers for improper lane change. He pleaded guilty to the violation and paid a $247.50 fine.
Meredith later sued O’Reilly and his employer, Try Hours, and National Interstate Insurance Co. The lawsuit was settled for $1 million, an amount made possible by evidence collected by investigators hired by Meredith’s attorneys.
O’Reilly didn’t post specifically about the wreck with Meredith, but his social media notes and comments provided the injured litigant with plenty of ammunition.
During a deposition for Meredith’s civil lawsuit in October 2013, attorneys for the plaintiff showed O’Reilly Facebook posts he’d written including one of his truck and a caption that read: “My new bumper. Now pull your ass out in front of me.”
In a comment underneath a picture showing a sedan surrounded by big trucks, O’Reilly wrote: “I’ve been there and done that also. I don’t get mad. I get even.”
The plaintiff’s attorney Ben Brodhead told “Land Line Now” News Anchor Reed Black that the Facebook posts presented in the case may represent only a small portion of photos taken while on the road.
“So the question really becomes, did he post one out of 10 photos, out of 50 photos? Do the 200 photos on the Facebook site represent thousands of pictures taken while driving, and those are just the ones he found interesting enough to post on his Facebook page?”
“This is certainly an issue of somebody who has a pattern of distracted driving,” Brodhead said.
According to the Daily Report publication, O’Reilly admitted to being diagnosed and treated for sleep apnea. He also admitted waiting more than eight hours before submitting to a required drug and alcohol screening after the wreck occurred.
But the Facebook posts appeared most surprising to the driver, plaintiff’s attorney Ben Brodhead reportedly said. While O’Reilly waited to give his deposition, the plaintiff’s attorneys noticed he changed the settings on his Facebook account to be private.
“Today while you were waiting on people during the deposition, you found it to be the time that was best to change your privacy settings, correct?” Brodhead reportedly asked O’Reilly during his testimony.
“I went on and changed them; I mean I don’t know what to tell you,” O’Reilly said, according to the Daily Report. “I didn’t know you had this stuff.”
Brodhead told “Land Line Now” that the Facebook posts likely played a key role in the settlement of the case.
“When you have a case that is simply negligence, leaving a lane, causing a collision, people understand that sometimes there are mistakes – whether it’s a professional driver or not,” Brodhead said. “But when you have someone who is engaged in reckless conduct or conduct that most people would consider to be unsafe, then that is something that would cause a jury to award a larger amount. And I think that would certainly provide some incentive for the defense to want to settle so the jury was not presented with that evidence.”
“Land Line Now” News Anchor Reed Black contributed to this article.
Copyright © OOIDA