$27 Million Jury Verdict Finds Garbage Company Responsible For Injuries

A multi-million dollar jury verdict is announced, finding a garbage company responsible for a Warren County girl’s injuries. Thanksgiving Day two years ago 17-year-old Shannon Houchin’s car careened into a Monarch Environmental Garbage truck parked in her lane on a Warren County road.

The jury awarded Houchin’s family more than $27 million after the family filed suit against the garbage truck’s company. The $27 million verdict is one of the largest in the state. Houchin was in a coma for 57 days and still suffers brain damage from the accident. Her Louisville personal injury attorney, Tyler Thompson, says the settlement will hopefully provide care for the rest of Shannon’s life.

Warren Circuit Judge Tom Lewis has denied a motion for a new trial made by Republic Services.

Warren Circuit Judge Tom Lewis has denied a motion for a new trial made by Republic Services. Last December, a jury awarded the family of Shannon Houchin more than $27,000,000 in damages, saying Republic was liable for her injuries when her car crashed into one of their garbage trucks parked on the wrong side of a Warren County road on Thanksgiving Day 2002.

Houchin was in a coma for 57 days and still suffers from brain damage.

Monday, Judge Lewis ruled the Republic’s claims for a new trial were without merit.

A year after a dramatic crash, victim, her family appreciating their blessings

Shannon Houchin looks through a photo album with her sisters, Sherry (left) and Stevie on Tuesday at their Smiths Grove home.

Lori Rone of Smiths Grove is thankful this year for the big things: the ability to sit at a table with her children and family, to tell them she loves them and to watch her twin 18-year-old daughters sit on a sofa and laugh at an inside joke. But perhaps it’s the smaller things for which she is truly grateful such as hearing her daughter, Shannon Houchin, say a single word or take a single step. Ever since last Thanksgiving Day, when Shannon’s car crashed into a garbage truck parked in the wrong lane, sending her into a two-month coma and months of rehab, her family has lived with faith in small steps. While Shannon will never be the same and will forever suffer physical and mental drawbacks from the crash, each step is an inspiration and proof that prayers do get answered, Rone said. We have so much to be grateful for, but we still remember that morning, Lori Rone said.In November 2000, Shannon Houchin, 17, was a senior at Warren East High School and enjoyed attending high school sports games with her twin, Shelly, riding horses, four-wheelers and socializing with her girlfriends. She was working part-time at McDonald’s in Smiths Grove at an hourly wage of $5.60. She had a petite frame, weighing 96 pounds. Shannon was not an athlete but had been a cheerleader in middle school. She was not a great student, but made average grades and enjoyed school more for its social network. At the time of the crash, Shannon did not have a boyfriend and never had a serious relationship.

On Thanksgiving morning, Nov. 23, 2000, Shannon awoke at her friend’s house, where she had gathered with friends and co-workers the night before to enjoy a pre-Thanksgiving dinner. She called her mother around 7 a.m. to inform her she would go straight to work and not stop by the family’s Smiths Grove home as originally planned. Shannon had to be at work by 9 a.m. and she left a little after 8 a.m. for the 10- to 20-minute drive on Girkin Road to McDonald’s. Police reports indicate she was neither speeding nor driving recklessly. She was wearing a seat belt. Houchin crested a hill along the two-lane country road at 8:15 a.m., when she saw a 40,000-pound garbage truck parked in her lane. She swerved to avoid the truck, but it was too late. The driver’s side of Houchins 1987 Honda Prelude collided with the front of the Monarch Environmental garbage truck as it sat idling in the oncoming lane, apparently so that the garbage hauler would not have to drag the cans across the roadway. Moments later the phone rang at Lori Rones Smiths Grove home. She was asked if she had a daughter named Shannon and if she drove a blue car. She was told that Shannon had been in an accident and that it was bad. Minutes later, Ronnie Houchin answered the phone at his Brownsville home as he prepared to go to a relatives house for Thanksgiving. The caller had startling news about his daughter. Shannon Houchin was in a coma at The Medical Center after suffering a head injury. On the exterior, the injuries appeared fairly minor some scrapes from broken glass and a bruise on her chest and shoulder from the seat belt. But the injury to Shannon’s head was much worse than it appeared.

She stayed at The Medical Center for a month under the constant care of medical staff and under the watchful eyes of her parents and stepparents. Friends and classmates of Shannon and her twin sister, Shelly, held nightly vigils at the hospital, writing cards, praying and giving Shelly a shoulder to cry on. A photograph of Shannon in the hospital bed shows that she was surrounded by plush frog toys, gifts from those who knew of her lifelong affection toward frogs, Rone said. The vigils continued even after Shannon was transferred to different hospitals and rehab centers in Louisville. It was a common sight to see a crew of friends and classmates make the two-hour drive from Bowling Green and sleep in the hallways or floors during the weekends, she said. During the entire event, Shannon was never alone. Either Rone, or her father, Ronnie Houchin, or another family member was at her side. The coma would continue for almost two months when doctors announced she had officially come out of the fog. Therapists at the rehab centers flexed Shannon’s limbs to counter the effects on her joints and muscles caused by the extensive coma. When she finally came out of the coma she was unable to open her eyes, so she tried to communicate through hand signals. What followed was extensive surgery and therapy aimed to restore basic skills such as speech, walking, her vision and her memory.

A year later, Shannon is unable to open her eyes without using her hands. She cannot move her eyeballs and must move her head to see in different directions. To keep her eyes open for extended periods of time she has to have her eyes taped open. A lawsuit was filed on behalf of Shannon by her parents against Republic Services of Kentucky, who is doing business as Monarch Environmental, and against the driver of the truck, Jackie Jones of Smiths Grove. Shannon and her family are represented by Louisville attorney, Tyler S. Thompson, and Monarch and Jones are represented by Bowling Green attorney David Broderick.

The lawsuit is pending and may head toward mediation rather than a jury trial at this time, according to Thompson. Houchin accumulated more than $114,000 in medical bills by March and is expected to require 24-hour care for an indefinite time and possibly the rest of her life, according to depositions filed in the case. Houchin is expected to undergo future surgery to allow her to blink her eyes. She suffers a series of neurological problems, including the inability to remember whether she has eaten and asks to eat nearly every 20 to 30 minutes and shes gained weight as a result, according to court records. Shannon also suffers from hemidystonia, which is characterized by involuntary muscle contractions, which force some parts of the body into abnormal and sometimes painful movements or postures, according to the Dystonia Web site. Houchin must have injections of a drug to counteract the hemidystonia, which, in addition to being expensive, is painful and gives a burning sensation once injected. Lori Rone and other relatives often walk with Shannon in order to help her physical coordination and health. Shannon can do it but needs frequent breaks and tires easily. In addition to physical changes, Shannon’s short-term memory and judgment is not as sharp as it once was. Mainly she’s a very different person. Every now and then you get to see a glimpse of the old one, Rone said. Shannon was able to walk across the graduation stage last spring with her twin sister but Shannon did not receive a diploma and has not yet graduated high school because of the crash. She is attending Warren East with the help of an adviser, who spends the day with her so that she doesn’t get lost in the school or confused about where she is supposed to be. Ronnie Houchin said his perspective on life has changed during the past year with his daughter’s injuries.

Ever since Nov. 23, 2000, Houchin said he finds an occasional complaint about his aching head or back to be laughable when he thinks of his daughter and how she never complains about herself. Somebody asked me if she could walk, Houchin said of his daughter. And I said, Yes, well, it’s not pretty, and then I said, No, it’s absolutely beautiful how she walks. Both the Rones and Houchins credit prayer and amazing community support with pulling them through the past year. Shannon’s name was on prayer lists from churches as far away as Texas and Washington D.C, Lori Rone said. The family was helped with benefits for the family and by Chandler Real Estate. We thank all the community and the surrounding counties, there’s been a lot of support, said Steve Rone, Shannon’s stepfather.

In addition to commercial vehicle accident cases like this, the Louisville truck accident attorneys at Dolt, Thompson, Shepherd & Conway, PSC also represent injury victims of trucking accidents in Kentucky.