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A San Diego Navy vet lost a leg in a crash caused by a Navy van. He won a record $10.8 million settlement.

Judge gavel, scales of justice and law books in court (BrianAJackson/Orlando Sentinel/TNS)

A San Diego motorcyclist and Navy veteran who lost a leg in a 2019 chain-reaction crash started by a Navy sailor driving a military van has won a $10.8 million settlement against the United States.

Attorneys for the motorcyclist, Peter Arthur, believe the settlement is a record amount against the federal government in the San Diego area for a suit involving a vehicle collision.

“Justice demanded that Peter get paid fairly,” Robert Francavilla, one of Arthur’s attorneys from the personal injury firm CaseyGerry, said. “He suffered some really catastrophic injuries.”

Arthur, a 49-year-old immigrant from the South American nation of Guyana who served 20 years in the U.S. Navy, underwent multiple surgeries following the Sept. 13, 2019, crash. Arthur was thrown from his Harley-Davidson motorcycle, causing the femur, tibia and fibula in his right leg to shatter. Doctors eventually had to amputate the leg above the knee.

He also suffered injuries to his right biceps and nerves in his elbow that required surgeries and resulted in “severe ongoing dysfunction in his right arm,” according to his lawsuit. His arm bears heavy scarring from the injuries and subsequent operations.

According to the civil suit, the crash occurred on north Interstate 5 near Mile of Cars Way in National City. Navy sailor Michael Stanley Reynolds was driving a large passenger van — a 2014 Chevrolet Express — in one of the right lanes of the freeway when he “suddenly and without warning” swerved into the next lane to his left, according to the lawsuit.

The van collided with a second vehicle, which collided with a third vehicle that was pushed into the path of Arthur, who was riding in the far-left lane, according to the suit. Arthur was thrown onto the freeway.

Reynolds did not face criminal charges in connection with the crash. A Navy spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment Friday in time for deadline.

Arthur’s civil lawsuit against the federal government alleges his injuries were “permanent, disfiguring, and disabling” and “will require extensive future medical care, life care, and vocational rehabilitation.”

Before the crash, Arthur was a biomedical engineer, repairing and supporting hospital equipment. Because of his injuries, he can no longer work in the field — but his attorneys believe he can and should become an inspirational speaker.

“He’s an amazing guy, probably the strongest and most likeable guy I know,” Francavilla said. “He has this never-give-up attitude. He fought and continues to fight.”

Arthur has embraced his disabilities, saying during an interview Friday in Francavilla’s office that “I wouldn’t go back to two legs again.” He used to think that others felt sorry for people with disabilities, but now he believes his disabilities unlock a humanity in himself and in others that “they don’t get to freely and nonjudgmentally show to their able-bodied selves.”

He also recalled a conversation he had with a young man while both were rehabilitating their injuries. He said the young man told him that he “probably said a lot of things that were amazing, inspirational … and very enlightening” before the crash.

“But he said, ‘Now you’re saying those same things, and I bet they get to people because you’re in the body that you’re supposed to be in,'” Arthur recalled. That helped him embrace his new body with its new imperfections.

Adam Levine, another of Arthur’s attorneys, researched vehicle collision settlements involving the federal government in the Southern District of California. According to his research, Arthur’s settlement is the largest of its kind. The settlement was agreed upon in May, and during a hearing late last month, the sides agreed they’d be able to dismiss the suit by the end of the year.

Francavilla said the case centered largely on what he called a “phantom vehicle.” The Navy sailor initially claimed another vehicle cut him off, forcing him to swerve and cause the crash. One other witness also mentioned seeing a vehicle that contributed to causing the sailor to swerve — but the attorney said their testimonies in depositions ended up disproving that theory.

Francavilla had previously won a similar case in 2014, when a judge awarded $5.4 million to his client who was struck by a Border Patrol agent speeding around a blind corner on an unpaved road in Otay Mesa. That client was also a motorcycle rider whose leg had to be amputated.


©2022 The San Diego Union-Tribune

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