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FBI Agent Not at Fault in Accident

ST. LOUIS (CN) - An FBI agent was not at fault in a four-car accident caused by a drunken driver, a federal judge ruled. Agent Dennis Rice's vehicle was involved in the accident, but Rice is not liable for Sherry Lesch's injuries, which cost her more than $696,000.

U.S. District Judge Catherine D. Perry found Louis Gumpenburger 100 percent at fault.

Lesch sued the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act. Gumpenburger's vehicle hit Rice's first, then collided head-on with Lesch's vehicle.

On April 25, 2005, Rice had moved his vehicle into a center turn lane to make a left turn when he saw Gumpenburger driving right at him, not attempting to stop, court records state. Rice made a quick left turn to avoid Gumpenburger, who at the same time swerved to avoid Rice. The vehicles clipped each other, causing minor damages; Gumpenberger's vehicle continued going the wrong way until he hit Lesch's vehicle.

Lesch was ejected from her vehicle and was dragged for a time by a vehicle following her, driven by Timothy Frishholz. Gumpenburger had a blood alcohol level of .113, well above the legal limit of .08, the lawsuit states.

Judge Perry ruled that for Lesch to receive damages from the United States, she had to prove that it had a duty to protect her from injury. But Perry did not find Rice negligent in the accident.

"Lesch and Gumpenburger argue that Rice should not have entered the left-turn lane because Gumpenburger was quickly approaching and Rice should have seen him, but I disagree," Perry wrote. "I find that Rice kept a careful lookout, was traveling at an appropriate rate of speed, signaled as required, and did all he could to avoid the accident. His evasive maneuver of making a sharp left turn even though he was not yet at the proper turning place was the only reasonable action he could have taken."

Lesch's injuries included complex fractures of her left hip, dislocation of her left femur, abdominal trauma and back injuries. She underwent several surgeries, including a total hip replacement.

Judge Perry found that Lesch sustained $695,878.53 in proven damages. That includes $218,878.53 for past medical expenses; $100,000 for future medical expenses; $77,000 for lost earnings; $200,000 for future earnings; and $100,000 for emotional distress.

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