Press "Enter" to skip to content

Lawsuit over Albemarle crash that killed unborn child ends in $1.7M settlement

A lawsuit prompted by a car crash that killed a young Charlottesville woman’s unborn child has resulted in a $1.7 million settlement.

Representatives of the mother and other relatives will head back to Albemarle County Circuit Court Monday for a hearing to determine how to divide the money compensating for the death of 22-year-old Elle Carolina Zazakos’ unborn child.

“Elle has gone through a lot,” her lawyer, Richard Armstrong, told The Daily Progress. “This is a very hard thing for a mother when she’s seven months pregnant to lose a perfectly healthy child.”

Court records indicate that around 10 p.m. Sept. 13, 2021, 45-year-old Aaron Raymond Dube was traveling west on Richmond Road in a late-model Dodge Charger when, about 30 feet west of Peter Jefferson Place on Pantops just east of Charlottesville, he inexplicably lost control of the vehicle.

“He veered to the right and struck the guardrail and then overcorrected, crossed the grassy median, and struck the Toyota,” according to Zazakos’ lawsuit.

Behind the wheel of that Toyota RAV4 was Zazakos, pregnant with her second child.

“EMS workers found her RAV4 off the side of the road with the plaintiff in the driver’s seat,” Armstrong’s firm wrote in a narrative. “Multiple airbags had gone off.”

Still awake and alert, Zazakos reported pain in her ankle, in the firm’s account. And with a discharge of fluid below her waist, Zazakos was rushed to University of Virginia Medical Center.

“The trauma team at UVA had been alerted and was waiting for her,” according to the narrative.

However, after a CT scan, the emergency team found it could not detect a fetal heartbeat. Although there were additional diagnoses, the medical examiner put cause of death as “acute placental abruption,” the separation of the birth sac from the uterine wall.

The trauma wasn’t over. Medical personnel induced delivery of a little girl, Aaliyah Zazakos, and the grieving mother was allowed to spend some time with her dead baby.

Zazakos hired Armstrong of the law firm of Allen, Allen, Allen & Allen and sued Dube the following May. While the accident report by Albemarle County police didn’t find that Dube had been drinking, it noted that the weather was clear and that the scene showed “no visible skid marks.”

Dube, supplying a Keswick address, was charged the night of the wreck with reckless driving. However, six months later, the charge was dropped on a prosecutor’s motion, according to court records. Dube did not reply to a request for comment from The Daily Progress.

“Two independent witnesses saw the crash, and liability was not disputed in this matter,” Armstrong’s firm said in its narrative.

Serving Dube with the lawsuit turned out to be a challenge. Sheriff’s deputies approaching addresses for him in Keswick and in the Southwest Virginia town of Pearisburg returned saying they couldn’t find him.

“Dube is a hiker and has not been to the property in four years,” a Giles County sheriff’s deputy wrote on an unserved service form.

While Dube was eventually found, his insurance policy with USAA carried liability limits of $50,000 per person and $100,000 per accident. That’s above Virginia legal minimums but wouldn’t suffice for the claims. USAA was offering to pay $50,000 for the baby’s death, according to court records.

Under Virginia law, when there’s insufficient coverage for a claim, policies belonging to the victim and members of their household can be tapped to make up the shortage. So two additional insurers stepped in. Progressive Gulf Insurance Company, which insured the baby’s mother’s vehicle, will pay $200,000, and the Cincinnati Casualty Company, which insured her parents, will pay $1.45 million.

While Zazakos agreed to settle her separate $750,000 claim for her own injuries for an undisclosed amount, the wrongful death action for her unborn child continued past the taking of depositions last fall. Plaintiff’s “Exhibit A” was a photograph of Zazakos’s RAV4 with its smashed front end as it lay on grass beside the highway, its airbags deployed.

Last fall, the parties agreed to enter mediation with the McCammon Group, a Richmond-based dispute resolution firm. Mediator James Barkley convened a full day of discussions, which resulted in a settlement approved by Albemarle County Circuit Court in mid-December.

In her Dec. 12 order on the settlement, Judge Cheryl Higgins approved legal fees totalling $566,666, a third of the settlement amount, a typical contingency arrangement. The court agreed that $377,777 will go to the Allen firm, which represented both the mother and baby. The court order specifies $188,888, a third of the legal fees, go to the Charlottesville-based Flora Petit law firm, which a person familiar with the case indicated was for referring the client to the Allen firm.

The father of the dead child, according to court records, was Trenton Lee Stevens of Ruckersville. He has been represented by Joel McClellan of the Richmond-based law firm of Marks & Harrison.

While his lawyer did not return a reporter’s phone call, Stevens appears to be seeking a portion of the settlement, as are two half-siblings of the dead baby, one 4 and another 2, each of whom is represented by a court-appointed guardian.

The guardians and other lawyers will return to Albemarle County court on Monday to ask Higgins to divvy up the settlement money. Armstrong said he didn’t want speak to the merits of each person’s claims.

“We trust that Judge Higgins will see the fairness in this case and will distribute the money appropriately,” he said.


Be First to Comment

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *