Man who sued Township and firefighter who helped save his life gets nothing in settlement

DETROIT (WXYZ) - A man who slammed into the back of a fire truck then sued Frenchtown Township and a firefighter who helped save his life has settled out of court.

The 7 Action News Investigators looked into the case last year after getting a complaint from another Frenchtown firefighter who thought the suit was frivolous and outrageous.

Under terms of the settlement, some money will be paid out by the insurance company for the township, but the man who rear-ended the fire truck isn't getting a dime. His children will get some money and lawyers will be paid, but it's not anywhere near the big pay day Nick Otter was looking for.

Our investigation last January revealed some troubling things about Otter that the jury would not have been told about had the lawsuit gone to trial. And now, court records reveal something else about this case that had never been made public.

The crash that sparked the controversial lawsuit happened on June 19th, 2009. Nick Otter was headed down a rain-slicked road in Monroe County's Frenchtown Township. As he rounded a curve, he slammed into the back of a fire truck that was attending to another accident in the opposite lane.

A police dash cam was rolling and caught part of the incident on tape.

A Sheriff's deputy and two other eye witnesses put the blame squarely on Nick Otter. In his official report, Monroe County Sheriff's Deputy Robert Blair said that Otter's truck was "traveling at a speed too fast for the curve," that it "crossed the center line" and that the pickup hit the fire truck with such force it "caused the pump truck to move forward slightly."

Another witness, a tow truck driver, said Otter was "traveling at approximately 50 miles per hour," that his pickup drifted into the opposite lane and began to "fish tail" just before slamming into the fire truck.

But Otter's attorney blamed the township and the firefighter manning the truck. He said a flag man had left his post on the curve and the fire truck was actually over the center line in Otter's lane of travel.

Otter was seriously hurt.  He had to be cut from his pickup truck and was flown to a hospital in a helicopter.

Then came the lawsuit filed against Frenchtown Township and the firefighter who helped save Otter's life.

That's when a co-worker of the firefighter who was named as a defendant contacted the 7 Action News Investigators.  He said he was outraged by the suit and asked the Investigators to dig into Nick Otter's background. That's when we discovered Otter's checkered past.

At 28, Otter had racked up nine infractions on his driving record, including careless driving, running a stop sign and two citations for speeding.

We discovered that Otter was ticketed for driving without insurance at the crash scene, and our investigation uncovered something even the police didn't know at the time of the accident. When he slammed into the fire truck, Otter shouldn't even have been behind the wheel of a car.

Court records we uncovered revealed that a judge had previously suspended Otter's license as part of his probation for a drug conviction. The suspension should have been in effect at the time of the crash.  But the Monroe County Clerk's Office dropped the ball and didn't notify the Secretary of State, so the suspension didn't get recorded and Otter kept right on driving, even though a judge had ordered him not to.

While that information uncovered by the Investigators was certainly of public interest, and newsworthy, it would not have been revealed to the jury had the case gone to trial. That's because under the rules of evidence, Otter's driving record and lack of insurance wouldn't be relevant to issues raised in the lawsuit. In fact, lawyers on both sides agreed to a stipulation excluding everything we reported as evidence in the trial.

Just as the trial was scheduled to begin, the two sides reached a settlement. The lawyer representing Frenchtown Township told t Action News that Nick Otter initially wanted $300,000 to settle the case but the township's insurance company got off for a fraction of that amount. They cut a check for $47,000.

Nick Otter didn't get any money from the settlement.  His children got $20,000 in a trust account and the rest of the money, $27,000 went to pay lawyer's fees and court costs, according to the township's lawyer.

The township's attorney also told 7 Action News it was a business decision.  He said the insurance carrier decided it was cheaper to write that check for $47,000 than to pay the cost of a trial and possible appeal.

After the settlement, the 7 Action News Investigators found something else about Nick Otter in court records that had never been revealed. At the time of the crash a hospital toxicology screen found three drugs in his system that had been prescribed by his doctor: methadone, a powerful, long-lasting pain killer, Norco, a form of synthetic codeine, and Klonopin, a drug similar to valium.

A doctor brought into the case by the township attorney said in a sworn deposition,

"you shouldn't mix those kinds of drugs and be driving".

But the jury would not have been told about the prescription drugs either, if the case had gone to trial. Police investigators never confirmed the hospital's toxicology screen with a second test, and there was no way to tell whether there were enough of these drugs in Otter's system to have played a role in the crash.

After Nick Otter filed the lawsuit he had two run-ins with the law.  He was convicted of misdemeanor assault in one incident and possessing a dangerous weapon in second case, a felony. Otter will be sentenced next month for the felony conviction which carries up to five years in prison.

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