A Lee County, Ala., jury has found in favor of an Auburn area teacher who was seriously injured in a collision that occurred at an intersection in Auburn, Ala. The jury awarded Frankie Askew Bell $550,000 in compensatory damages and $150,000 in punitive damages. Mark Sawyer, who was operating his car on South College Street in Auburn at about 5:45 a.m. on November 5, 2010, hit Dr. Marie Wooten and Mrs. Bell in a designated crosswalk. Dr. Wooten, the Dean of Math and Sciences at Auburn University at that time, died on the scene from her injuries. Mrs. Bell suffered severe and permanent injuries and was life-flighted to Columbus Regional Medical Center.
Testimony at trial from the Auburn City Engineer indicated clearly that the intersection was well lit. Sawyer could see the intersection from 200 yards away. Sawyer admitted that he was setting his cruise control on 45 miles per hour when his car hit both women in the crosswalk. He testified that he saw both women, yet never applied his brakes and never slowed down. In fact, Sawyer continued driving his car for more than 50 yards after the impact.
Alabama law requires that every driver of a vehicle must exercise due care to avoid colliding with any pedestrian. Mr. Sawyer did nothing to avoid hitting these women. Dr. Wooten and Frankie Bell were more than halfway through the crosswalk when Sawyer hit them. Sawyer testified that he knew people exercised and jogged in the early morning hours. He disregarded the safety of these women who were in a crosswalk designated for walkers, joggers and bikers. If Sawyer had been paying attention, he could have avoided this tragic and deadly collision. At the time of the incident Sawyer had marijuana in his system. The jury found him guilty of wanton conduct.
Mrs. Bell suffered severe injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder and 25 broken bones including complex fractures of both legs her (right leg shattered from knee to ankle); fractures of both shoulder blades; fractures to transverse process at C7-T12; fractured right wrist; fractured jaw; head injury; concussion; and post-concussive syndrome. She underwent multiple surgeries, extensive rehabilitation and missed almost a year of teaching math to her high school students. Her medical bills were in excess of $250,000. Considering the severity of her injuries, Mrs. Bell’s recovery has been a miracle.
Mrs. Bell is grateful for the EMTs, first responders, medical providers, surgeons, nurses and physical therapists who took excellent care of her. The excellent treatment and care she received helped put the very good teacher back on her feet and into the classroom. She is also thankful to her husband, Felix, her children, her family members, friends, her fellow teachers, her church, and folks at her gym for offering tremendous support during her difficult recovery process. While Mrs. Bell continues to suffer pain, she fights through it every day. She says her faith in God gives her strength to fulfill the purposes He has for her on this earth.
Prior to the collision, Mrs. Bell worked as a Loachapoka High School math teacher and was a doctoral student at Auburn University’s College of Education’s educational leadership program. She is now teaching math at Lafayette High School. She was working on her Ph.D. at the time of this collision. Mrs. Bell will complete that degree very soon. She and her husband, Felix Bell, live in Opelika and have five children. Julia Beasley, a lawyer in our firm, along with Wes McCollum, a lawyer with McCollum & Wilson in Auburn, represented Mrs. Bell. They did a very good job for her in this case.
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