Judge William Alexander waited Wednesday evening until jurors and most others had left the courtroom before speaking directly to Christie Altice-Weaver, the daughter of the late William “Danny” Altice, and to Ann Dillon, the widow of Posey Dillon.
Both Altice, 67, and Posey Dillon, 59, were veteran volunteer firefighters who died July 26, 2010, of injuries they suffered after an SUV driven by Teri Anne Valentine collided with the men’s fire truck at a busy Rocky Mount intersection. A lawsuit tied to Altice’s death had just concluded in Franklin County Circuit Court when the judge addressed the two women.
“Maybe this will put everything to rest,” Alexander told Altice-Weaver and Ann Dillon.
It appears now that the judge’s words of comfort were expressed prematurely.
After finding that Valentine, but not Posey Dillon, acted negligently that day, a seven-person jury awarded $9,984.37 to the Altice family to cover funeral and burial expenses only. Altice-Weaver’s lawsuit had alleged that both Valentine and Posey Dillon, who was driving the fire truck, were negligent.
Two lawyers on opposite sides of the lawsuit agreed Saturday that the jury’s verdict Wednesday was inadequate. Under Virginia law, when a jury awards special damages such as funeral and burial expenses it is obligated also to award damages to compensate the family for losses suffered as a result of their loved one’s death.
Tony Russell, Altice-Weaver’s attorney, said Saturday that he will file a motion for a separate trial to consider damages if a settlement on damages is not reached soon with Valentine and her attorney, Brian Brydges, and with Glenn Pulley, an attorney representing State Farm Insurance.
During Russell’s closing argument Wednesday, he asked the jury to consider awarding $350,000 each to Altice-Weaver; Carey Altice, Danny Altice’s son; and Kayla Altice, the late firefighter’s granddaughter, if they found that Valentine and/or Posey Dillon had been negligent that day.
Brydges said Saturday that although “there is a problem with the adequacy of the verdict,” he would argue against a new trial focused solely on damages. He had previously asked Alexander to consider one trial to establish liability for the crash and, if negligence was found, a second trial to consider damages. Alexander had ruled against him.
Brydges said testimony by Altice family members during the trial about the impact of losing Danny Altice tainted the jury’s verdict that found Valentine negligent. He said he would prefer a new trial focused solely on Valentine’s liability.
Valentine testified Monday that she did not understand why she did not hear the fire truck’s siren and air horn or see its flashing lights before it was too late to avoid a collision at the intersection of School Board Road and Virginia 40. Several eyewitness to the crash testified during the trial that they had clearly heard the fire truck’s siren and air horn and had seen its lights as it headed eastbound on Virginia 40 in response to a report of a house fire in Union Hall.
After the collision, the fire truck hit a curb and began to flip. Altice and Weaver were ejected as the vehicle rolled and died of their injuries.
Valentine entered the intersection that day on a green light from School Board Road, and Dillon faced a red light. An investigation by Virginia State Police Trooper R.D. Conley concluded that the fire truck slowed but never stopped as it entered the intersection and reported that Valentine “lawfully entered the intersection” before striking the fire truck.
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