Court awards $2 million to Olympic athlete

Published 8:48 pm Monday, August 14, 2017

An Olympic high jumper received one of the largest awards in a personal injury case in Troup Superior Court history last week, according to his attorney Matt Alford.

David Adley Smith, who participated in the 2016 Olympics as a high jumper representing Puerto Rico, was awarded a $2 million jury award Wednesday following a September 2012 car crash on I-85, Alford said.

“We were extremely pleased with the jury verdict, not just the amount,” Alford said. “This jury was attentive and understood the claim we were making and I think it boils down to the defense of this case really tried to downplay how talented this young man was.”

According to the report from Georgia State Patrol, the accident occurred when Donggue Lee, the defendant in the case, changed lanes in his 2011 Nissan Altima on 1-85 South, striking Smith’s 2003 Honda Accord in the passenger side rear door. Smith’s vehicle then rotated clockwise and exited onto the shoulder of I-85. According to the accident report, Lee told police he didn’t see Smith’s vehicle.

The crash left Smith with pain in his left hip and other issues on his right side. Alford said Smith suffered an avulsion fracture of his left hip and returned to competition after extensive rehabilitation, but the pain never subsided.

Eventually Smith went to doctors at Emory Southern Orthopedics in LaGrange for a second opinion, Alford said. They determined that a bone chip from the fracture from the collision did not heal properly, Alford said. Smith had surgery earlier this year.

Smith won two SEC Championships in the high jump — 2015 (indoor) and 2013 (outdoor) — after the accident. Alford said Smith competed for Puerto Rico in the Olympics to honor his grandfather.

“I think what really resonated with the jury is despite all these accomplishments, including an 18th world ranking last year and as high as fifth at one time in 2015, is that DJ was able to do all this with physical limitations from the wreck,” Alford said.

After the Olympics last year, Alford said Smith decided to head to Emory to get a second look at why he was in pain.

“As good as this kid was, his career was negatively affected. He could very well be without his injury in the handful of elite world high jumpers,” Alford said. “From a financial standpoint, that was considerable for his future, and that was taken away from him because of the wreck. He just didn’t know it until a doctor at Emory at Southern Orthopedics figured out what was causing the problem.”

Alford said the injury has changed Smith’s career trajectory.

“The surgery and trying to recover from the surgery, he is just simply unable to do it and his future is very much in doubt now,” Alford said. “Financially, it has been very detrimental to his career long-term. I think all of those factors is what resonated with the jury and resulted in their pretty quick decision.”

Lee was represented by David Atkinson and Eleanor Jolly of Swift, Currie, McGhee and Heirs in Atlanta. Peter Alford served as legal counsel. When reached for comment Monday, Atkinson said it is against the firm’s policy to comment on pending litigation.

Nathan Cronic, also from Willis McKenzie LLP in LaGrange, also represented Smith in the case.