Trial dates have not been set.
Alexander said Friday that he had erred during a three-day jury trial that ended Sept. 25 because he failed to allow specific testimony offered by an expert witness for the plaintiff, Christie Altice-Weaver, the daughter of one of the firefighters killed that day, and related portions from a training manual for operators of emergency vehicles.
Tony Russell and Kathleen Wright, attorneys for Altice-Weaver, had asserted in court filings that the jury should have been allowed to consider that evidence and had asked for a new trial to determine whether Posey Dillon, the firefighter driving the fire truck, was negligent the day the collision occurred. Dillon had been trained as an operator of an emergency vehicle.
Ultimately, Alexander agreed that he had erred by "unduly restricting" the expert's testimony and by barring the introduction of companion evidence in the training manual.
On July 26, 2010, Dillon, 59, and fellow firefighter William "Danny" Altice, 67, were responding to the report of a house fire in Union Hall with possible entrapment of a person inside when their fire truck collided about 4:30 p.m. with an SUV driven by Teri Anne Valentine at a busy intersection in Rocky Mount.
Altice-Weaver's lawsuit had argued that both Dillon and Valentine were negligent that day.
The September trial resulted in a verdict that found that negligence on the part of Valentine had led to the crash and the deaths of Dillon and Altice. After the collision, the fire truck hit a curb and then began to flip. Altice and Dillon were ejected as the vehicle rolled and died of their injuries.
The jury cleared Dillon of negligence.
Altice-Weaver's lawsuit had alleged that Dillon entered the intersection without due regard for others' safety and should have come to a complete stop before proceeding. An investigation of the crash by Virginia State Trooper R.D. Conley concluded that Dillon slowed but never stopped the fire truck as he drove it into the intersection "without regard for the safety of individuals on the roadway, including [Altice]."
Trial testimony by eyewitnesses differed about the speed at which the fire truck had entered the intersection. Valentine acknowledged during her trial testimony that she did not understand why she had not seen or heard the fire truck as it approached the intersection with siren and air horn sounding and emergency lights flashing. She had driven into the intersection of School Board Road and Virginia 40 that day on a green light. Dillon faced a red light.
After the jury found Valentine negligent, it opted to award the beneficiaries of Altice only the costs of his burial and funeral expenses, which came to $9,984.37.
On Friday, Alexander said that verdict was inadequate because it had not also awarded damages to compensate Altice's son, daughter and granddaughter for their sorrow and losses tied to Altice's death.
And he then ordered that a new trial, separate from the Posey Dillon trial, be held to focus solely on the damages Valentine should pay to Altice's beneficiaries. He said the first trial had already established her liability. Alexander suggested that the lawyers involved settle the case and cited a possible award that totaled $175,000.
Bryan Brydges, Valentine's attorney, said Friday that his client could not afford that amount. Alexander replied that a trial would therefore be necessary.
When Alexander ordered a new trial to consider Dillon's potential negligence, James Daniel, an attorney representing Ann Dillon and Posey Dillon's estate, told the judge he was "shocked."
After the hearing, Russell said he admired Alexander's willingness to reconsider previous rulings and said he is looking forward to presenting "the full side of the story" of the plaintiff's case against Dillon.
Alexander suggested the parties consult in a conference call next week to establish trial dates. He said he preferred that the trials be scheduled without undue delay.
Written by Roanoke Times