A D.C. Superior Court jury decided to award $1.2 million yesterday to a 30-year-old Southeast man, who sued the District government after he was injured in an automobile accident in the I-95 tunnel while trying to help another motorist.
A jury of six men and six women took about three hours to determine that the city government's negligence in failing to cause removal of a large pool of water from the tunnel had caused the accident that crippled "good Samaritan" James N. Savoy, a former Metro bus driver from the waist down.
The award is the largest ever won by a citizen who claimed an injury based on improper city actions, the Corporation Counsel's Office said. Savoy's attorney was Joseph H. Koonz. If the award is upheld the money will come from city tax dollars.
The city's attorney, William J. Earl, said the government definitely would appeal.
The suit resulted from a June 14, 1977, accident in the i-95 tunnel under Third Street NW, when Savoy, who was traveling south, saw a motorist in front of him skid out of control and into the tunnel wall. The skid was caused by a pool of soapy water left by city employes who had washed the walls earlier in the day, according to court papers.
Clogged drains prevented the water from flowing into sewers, according to Koonz.
The city argued that it was not responsible for Savoy's injuries. "The reckless and careless driving" of Jesse Cherry, 25, Oxon Hill, the driver of the car that struck Savoy, was to blame, according to papers filed by the city.
At the time of the accident, police charged Cherry with excessive speed and operating a vehicle after his license had been suspended. He is awaiting trial on those charges.
Cherry's alleged speeding caused his car to skid out of control when it hit the water, a skid not caused by presence of the water alone, the city argued.
The city also argued that Savoy was in part responsible for his injuries because he was walking on a "hazardous" roadway and should have known "that he would confront oncoming traffic traveling at a high rate of speed and unable to exert maximum control" because of the presence of the water.
Since the accident, Savoy has had 11 operations, spent 264 days in the hospital and accumulated medical expenses exceeding $100,000, Koonz said. Savoy walks on crutches. He is married and has three children.