Keith and Diane Harmon have been awarded $1.2 million by a Claiborne County jury in their wrongful death lawsuit stemming from the death of their son Andy.
The jury reached its verdict on Thursday in the civil case of the Harmons v. Thelma B. Trent, Doug Trent and Mary Trent, heard in the Claiborne County Circuit Court before Judge John McAfee. The verdict is believed to be the highest jury verdict award in the history of the county, according to the Hurley Law Firm from Knoxville, the Harmon family’s attorneys.
“It’s never been about the money, but I’m glad that the people of Claiborne County have shown that Andy’s life was worth something and that the kind of behavior that Ms. Trent and her parents exhibited won’t be tolerated in this county,” said Brandon Harmon, older brother of Andy Harmon, after the verdict.
Andy was 17 at the time of his death on June 14, 2010. He was a rising senior at Claiborne High School and was active in the community as a volunteer firefighter. He had also started “The Toxic Teen Club” to offer high school kids a place to hang out free of drugs.
He was driving an S-10 truck on Lone Mountain Road when Thelma “Beth” Trent, 31, crossed the centerline in a Ford F-250 and hit his vehicle. According to the suit, Trent’s truck hit Harmon’s vehicle so hard it drove it backwards and onto its top.
Trent pleaded guilty in April 2011 to vehicular homicide by intoxication and is serving a nine-year prison sentence. She was found to be on methamphetamine and a number of other drugs at the time of the crash.
“Although an adult, for the last four years prior to the accident Ms. Trent had maintained no job, resided with her parents, and relied on them almost exclusively for support and living expenses,” according to a statement from the Hurley Law Firm. “During that time, Ms. Trent had been a habitual drug user, was involved in several car wrecks, and was arrested while in possession of a crack pipe.”
The suit was also brought against the parents of Beth Trent, Doug and Mary Trent, on the basis that they knew, or should have known, that their daughter was not a fit individual to operate a vehicle.
“The jury found that Mr. and Mrs. Trent were also responsible for the death of Andy Harmon for negligently entrusting their vehicle to her, given her known drug and driving history,” said attorney Jed McKeehan.
In closing arguments, attorney Scott Hurley told jurors that no amount of money could ever replace the life of Andy Harmon, and Ms. Trent was unlikely to ever have any money to repay the Harmons for their loss. He went on to ask the jurors to send a message to the residents of Claiborne County and east Tennessee that the operation of vehicles while on drugs, and allowing individuals who are known to be drug users to do so, will not be tolerated.
The jury voted 12-0, reaching the verdict in less than three hours. The trial lasted three days.
The Trents were represented by Tom Johnson of the Kramer, Rayson firm in Knoxville.