TRAVERSE CITY — A Grand Traverse County jury awarded a Buckley couple more than $2.3 million in damages for injuries they suffered in a crash with a propane tanker.
Their verdict, delivered late Thursday, represents the largest personal injury resolution in 13th Circuit Court for at least the past 25 years. It covers past and future damages from a 2014 crash with a Ferrellgas propane tanker for Garold Milliron, 60, and Cynthia Milliron, 59, both of Buckley.
Traverse City-based attorney Blake Ringsmuth, who represented the Millirons, thanked the jurors who served through the five-day trial.
"While this was a large verdict, it was decided upon by folks in our community after listening to all the evidence," he said. "And the verdict speaks volumes for what we value and I’m proud to be a part of that system of justice. If folks question the size of the verdict, they should take time to understand all the losses that resulted from this preventable crash."
The trial stemmed from a September 2014 crash on a curve on M-37 near Center Road. A semi-truck driver — James Douglas Allison — drove a Ferrellgas propane tanker through the curve when it crossed the center line.
The tanker collided with the Millirons' pickup truck, leaving them with serious injuries. It also jackknifed and caused an hours-long road closure.
The Millirons this year sued the Kansas City-based propane supplier and Allison for damages. Their filing prompted a back-and-forth by attorneys before a settlement conference in which Ringsmuth said Ferrellgas laywers offered "far less" than the ultimate verdict.
The Millirons and Ringsmuth rejected the offer.
"It’s simply that we had a fundamental disagreement on what the value of health and safety are," Ringsmuth said.
The defendants ultimately admitted negligence, that Garold Milliron suffered a serious impairment of body function and the couple had no fault in the crash.
That meant the question for jurors in the eventual trial came down to how much, if anything, Ferrellgas and Allison owed the Millirons in "non-economic" damages such as pain and suffering. Insurance covers medical costs stemming from traffic crashes under Michigan's no-fault law.
Ringsmuth said the trial featured testimony by specialists who spoke about the Millirons' injuries. He said they suffered pelvic and foot fractures that will impair their mobility for life, as well as neurological injuries. The Millirons also testified to sights and experiences that continue to haunt them.
"Part of the harm suffered by the Millirons was seeing the dual axles of propane tanker crossing the center line and coming at them," he said.
Henry Husted, president of A-1 Professional Tree Service in Traverse City, served on the jury. He said he lost sleep even after the trial thinking about how Garold Milliron's "golden years" will be filled with lingering pain.
Garold Milliron worked hard for an early retirement, enjoyed the outdoors and hoped to spend time with his grandchildren, Husted said. He said the fact those ambitions are now in doubt played into his decision.
"It just weighed on my mind," he said.
Husted said during the jurors' deliberations he sought the lowest verdict amount, a decision, in hindsight, he thinks was a mistake.
"To tell you the truth I don’t even think it was enough," he said about the final verdict.
James P. Feeney, a Bloomfield Hills attorney who represented Ferrellgas and Allison in the case, didn't return a call for comment.