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$19-Million Settlement Goes Before Council

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Forty-four-year-old Carol Adkins sits in a Florida apartment, fed intravenously through a tube to her stomach. Sometimes she opens her eyes, or bats a balloon with a stick.

These days, she communicates by blinking: One blink is yes, two is no.

Her family clings stubbornly to the hope that her condition--her doctors say she is “post-comative"--will improve, but any progress will take years.

It costs about $30,000 a month to keep her alive, her attorneys say. She is expected to live 30 more years.

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Twenty-two months after she was crushed in her rented car in a freak pileup involving a city maintenance truck on the Hollywood Freeway, Adkins’ attorneys said Monday they have reached a tentative $19-million settlement with the city of Los Angeles. The payments would be made in cash in four installments--$11 million by the end of January, $3 million by July 31, 2000, $3 million in 2001, and $2 million in 2002.

The agreement has to be approved by the Los Angeles City Council. It is set to go before the Budget and Finance Committee on Wednesday, and Senior Assistant City Atty. Dan Woodard said he hoped it would go before the City Council by the end of the week.

If approved, it will be the largest settlement ever reached with the victim in a personal injury case in city history, Woodard said.

Six of the lawsuits filed by victims and their families over the March 1998 accident have been settled, Woodard said, including a $2-million deal in October with the family of Roger Randall, who was killed. Five lawsuits remain.

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Adkins’ attorneys and family members say the determined single mother of two teenage daughters had nearly reached her professional goals at the time of the accident.

Adkins, who taught nursing at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, was an oral dissertation away from getting her doctorate. She had received a teaching offer from Columbia University in New York, and was looking to do seminars in England.

“She was ready to roll,” said her older brother, Richard Birt.

She also had just become engaged to John Norris, whom she was visiting in Newbury Park just before the accident occurred.

Photos from the days before show a glowing Adkins skiing in Big Bear, hiking in Joshua Tree. The morning of the accident, Adkins’ visited Cedars-Sinai Medical Center to observe the hospital.

“When she was airlifted up to Cedars, some of the nurses recognized her,” said Richard Ferko, one of Adkins’ attorneys.

Investigators believe driver Louis C. Gysin fell asleep at the wheel of his southbound city truck on March 5, 1998, as he neared Universal Center Drive.

The four-ton cherry-picker careened across several lanes of freeway, plowed through the center divider, became airborne and passed over a car before landing on its side on the northbound freeway. It slammed into a van, killing Randall, and came to rest atop Adkins’ rented white sedan.

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The boom of the crane crushed Adkins’ car, pinned her head and shattered her left arm, said another of Adkins’ lawyers, Nicole Rapp. Firefighters rushed to the scene, cut the roof of the car and tended to her until paramedics could free her.

“We have videos of the whole thing,” Rapp said. “One firefighter, the minute he got there, he sat with her, held her head for an hour, talked to her and talked to her. In the early part you can hear her, she was conscious, and then that was it.”

The truck driver has pleaded not guilty to criminal charges, and his case is pending.

Within a year of the accident Adkins exhausted her own $1 million in insurance. She then went on Medicare, and lost many benefits of her private insurance, such as physical therapy.

With the possible settlement on the horizon, her family is hopeful.

Her brother has moved back to Florida to help care for her. Her fiance, Norris, took four months off work after the accident to visit her every day at the hospital while she was still in California. He flew to see her on weekends when she went home to Florida, and moved to Florida near the end of last year to be with her.

These days, she can hold onto a ball and stack plastic doughnuts on a children’s toy. She sticks out her tongue when she doesn’t like things, and sometimes she talks in her sleep. Her brother says she can follow her loved ones across the room with her eyes.

“She was very determined. Anything she ever wanted to do, she would always accomplish it. That’s what gives us incredible hope,” Birt said. “There’s just lots of layers we have to peel back before she’ll be where she was.”

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Times staff writer Jeff Leeds contributed to this story.


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