Thanks to a D.C. Superior Court verdict against the District of Columbia, a former Metro bus driver, James N. Savoy, 32, is now a rich man. Last June the city wrote him a check for $975,000, the largest amount it has ever lost in a judgment.
After a court battle lasting nearly five years, Savoy today has enough money to pay the hundreds of thousands of dollars of medical bills and to live securely off interest on the balance. But he says the money is of little consolation because he is today a cripple.
Savoy's ordeal stems from a day in 1977 when he was driving through the Interstate Rte. 95 tunnel under Third Street NW, and a motorist skidded out of control in front of him. When Savoy stepped out of his car to help, he was run over by another car. His legs and pelvis were mangled, and today he cannot walk without crutches.
According to court papers filed on Savoy's behalf, the accidents were caused by a large pool of soapy water left by city employees who had washed the tunnel walls earlier that day. Savoy's lawyer, Joeseph H. Koonz convinced a jury that city employes were negligent in not unclogging the drains, thus allowing water to accumulate.
Despite more than two years in and out of hospitals, Savoy said he will have to have continued hospital treatment the rest of his life. There is still a possibility, he said, that doctors will have to amputate his legs.
Savoy, who says he would like to finish college at the University of the District of Columbia says friends and neighbors have helped ease the pain. "My sister, brother, parents and neighbor's look out for me . . . it's really great," he said.
Koonz said that at the conclusion of Savoy's court appearance, "even members of the jury were hanging on to us and crying and weeping. It was all very emotional. The jury knew they were giving away tax dollars when they made their decision, but they thought James deserved it."
But the hundreds of thousands of dollars that have helped pay hospital bills, and have been invested to give Savoy security for life, were a constant source of stress when the public gained knowledge of the award, Savoy said.
"My phone jumped off the hook,"he said. "People were saying invest in this, invest in that. I had people wanting me to invest in everything from Florida land deals to a radio station."
Because of the publicity and subsequent solicitations, Savoy says he had fears of being attacked. "Other people who sue the city and win large amounts probably feel like I do, like a target."
Eventually, all the phone calls began to take their toll. "I got paranoid. It's like getting the million dollar lottery in that everybody wants you for something. It got to point where I just let the phone ring."