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Justice for Mildred Smith: Trial Notes from Goings Law Firm

In 2019, in the quiet rural countryside of Lexington County, a horrific tragedy claimed the life of 80-year-old Mildred Smith and left an indelible mark on her beloved family and community. Known for her unwavering strength and selflessness, Mildred was the matriarch of her family who, through sheer determination and love, worked hard every day of her life to serve and support her family.

When her case came to us here at Goings Law Firm, LLC, we knew we had to help. There had been too much injustice visited upon this devastated family already, so we took her case and got to work immediately learning more about Mildred, her family, and what had happened to her that day in 2019.

Mildred Smith: The Family Matriarch

Mildred’s story was not at all focused just on herself — she had been a true matriarchial figure in her family, creating a legacy built on sacrifice, love, and an unyielding commitment to her children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren. Mildred was the rock upon which her family stood. She took in children who were not her own, demanded excellence in education, and instilled values that would carry her family through generations. Her life was a testament to the belief that with enough care and determination, one could change the fortunes of an entire family unit.

Even as she entered her 80s, Mildred was not just sitting back to witness the fruits of her lifelong labor; she was actively participating in nurturing the continued growth of her family, having recently welcomed with great love and excitement new great-grandchildren into her family. It was during these golden years, a time that promises joy and family involvement for many seniors, that tragedy struck, cutting short a life that still had so much to give.

The Incident

The incident occurred on a quiet stretch of two-lane country highway in Lexington County, not far from where Mildred and many of her family members lived and raised their families. With Mildred’s brother Clinton at the wheel and a cousin by his side, the family navigated the road with the routine ease of familiarity. It was a journey like any other, until they approached a construction zone. Ahead of them, two cars had already come to a safe stop. Clinton followed suit, bringing the vehicle to a gentle halt — a normal maneuver that should have ensured their safety.

However, within moments, the family’s world was shattered.

With a shocking and catastrophic impact, a commercial plumbing vehicle slammed into the back of Mildred’s vehicle. The driver, seemingly oblivious to the stationary vehicles ahead of him and the glaring warnings of the construction zone he had driven into, crashed into them after making no attempt to slow down or brake. The force of the collision was devastating, propelling Mildred’s car into the ones ahead and causing a chain reaction of destruction.

Mildred, seated in the rear, bore the brunt of the impact. The accident claimed her life almost instantly, leaving behind a void in the hearts of her family and a trail of unanswered questions.

The most difficult to answer was the disbelief around the behavior of the at-fault driver. How could the truck driver have missed the glaring signs of halted traffic and construction warnings on a clear, straight road?

Challenging the “Unimpaired” Verdict

In the aftermath of the accident, the initial investigation by law enforcement suggested a potential impairment on the part of the truck driver. However, this line of inquiry hit a significant roadblock when the toxicology report taken hours later at the hospital returned negative, seemingly exonerating the driver from any allegations of impairment or driving under the influence. This unexpected turn of events created a substantial challenge for us as we began working on the case, and it threatened to undermine the pursuit of justice for Mildred and the injuries sustained by her family members.

We didn’t back down, though, of course — we just put our heads together and kept looking at the evidence over and over, searching for something we might have missed. We were driven by a conviction that the truth lay buried beneath the surface-level appearances of the supposedly negative tox report, and we were determined to unearth whatever that deeper truth might be. We kept coming back to that core question: How could the driver have failed to notice a well-signaled construction zone and a line of stopped cars on a clear, straight highway?

Uncovering the Truth: A Dive into Toxicology

Our breakthrough came when we decided to take a closer look at the underlying data within the toxicology report, a decision that would pivot the case towards a totally unexpected and groundbreaking revelation. We sought the expertise of a State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) investigator and asked to view original copies of the tox report that would allow us to see into the underlying data of the tox screen report. Typically, these reports only indicate positive or negative results for a predetermined panel of substances, without revealing the nuanced data that underlies these conclusions.

The meticulous examination we then went through unearthed critical details that had been overlooked by authorities and medical professionals when they took the at-fault driver’s toxicology test hours after the accident, at the hospital. We found traces of substances in the driver’s system that, although below the threshold to return a positive report, were still statistically significant. Notably, one of these substances was fentanyl, a powerful opioid known for its rapid onset and potent effects. Despite the low levels, the timing of the blood test—taken hours after the accident—suggested that, at the time of the crash, the driver certainly would have been under the influence of a lethal dose of fentanyl.

This revelation blew the case wide open. And we didn’t even discover this until the second day of the actual trial. These tox reports, you see, have to be viewed in person — SLED will not send copies of these reports to law firms through the mail. So we almost didn’t get a chance to see this report and work through the implications of the underlying data, and when the SLED agent showed up on Day 2 of the civil trial, our questioning of him drove the case in a new direction.

Our findings not only confirmed the driver’s impairment but also shed light on the broader issue of drug impairment in driving incidents. It underscored the evolving landscape of substance abuse, with the emergence of powerful opioids that are not always detectable by standard toxicology screens.

The Importance of Creativity in Legal Advocacy

The pursuit of justice for Mildred Smith underscores the crucial roles that creativity and persistence play in legal advocacy. Faced with a negative tox screen and an initial presumption of the driver’s sobriety, we had to think outside the box. We’re proud of our attorneys who were on the case, as they refused to settle for easy answers (and lowball early offers!); instead, they looked past the surface level to uncover the deeper facts that were not hiding in plain sight.

This case reminds us just why it’s so important to dig deeper, to question the obvious, and to leverage every available resource to uncover the truth. It demonstrates that effective client advocacy often requires more than just legal knowledge—it demands creativity, tenacity, and an unwavering commitment to justice. And perhaps most importantly, in the context of the real world of civil claims, insurance companies, and day-to-day litigation, effective client advocacy in our world of plaintiff law demands that firms and attorneys commit themselves to a zealous willingness to take any and all cases to trial, if need be — we didn’t realize this until after the trial, of course, but if we had just accepted a settlement offer for Mildred’s family without ever taking her case to trial, then this SLED report never would have come to light, and Mildred’s family might have only received a fraction of the ultimate settlement we obtained for them.

In short – trial matters, and working with an attorney who is a seasoned litigator makes an enormous difference in how insurance companies, adjusters, and even defense attorneys on the other side treat you and estimate the size of your claim.

Impact on the Family and the Importance of Justice

The revelation of the driver’s impairment by fentanyl not only served as a pivotal moment in the trial but also brought a profound sense of closure to Mildred’s grieving family. For years, they had grappled with unanswered questions about the circumstances of her tragic death. The detailed investigation and subsequent findings provided them with the answers they had sought for so long, ultimately leaving them with some semblance of peace, and a sense of closure, around their loss.

That revelatory moment in the courtroom – the “a-ha!”, lightbulb moment – was emblematic of the broader pursuit of justice. Justice involves the pursuit not only of legal victories and positive financial outcomes for our clients but also of the pursuit of truth and closure for those who have suffered immeasurable loss. This trial, and this discovery from the witness box that changed the trajectory of the entire trial, underscored the essential role the legal system plays in providing families with the understanding and resolution necessary to begin the healing process.

And finally, while Mildred’s family was just like most of the families we serve when we’re working on wrongful death claims and cases here in South Carolina, the fact that we ultimately were able to deliver a substantial settlement to them represented a significant bright spot for the family amid their pain and loss. While no settlement or jury award of monetary damages could ever replace Mildred or erase the pain of the family’s loss, that money represented a significant step towards securing a better future for many of Mildred’s family members – the youngest little great-grandchildren, especially. This aspect of the case highlighted the dual nature of legal victories: they offer both a measure of justice for the wrongs of the past and a foundation for hope and opportunity in the future.

The Vital Role of Trial Readiness in Client Advocacy

We have spoken to this a bit already, but the Mildred Smith case exemplifies the critical importance of a law firm’s willingness to go to trial to achieve maximum value for its clients. Settling for the first offer or shying away from the complexities of a trial can significantly undermine the potential for achieving a just outcome. It is this readiness to confront those challenges head-on by pursuing cases all the way to trial, all while armed with a creative and thorough approach to legal advocacy from case opening to end, that distinguishes us and the approach we take here at Goings Law Firm, LLC.

Happily for our future clients, our readiness to pursue justice all the way to trial not only benefits our immediate clients but also sets a precedent that influences future cases. Insurance companies and opposing legal teams come to recognize our firm’s commitment to their clients and their unparalleled dedication to uncovering the truth, no matter the obstacles. This reputation serves as a powerful deterrent against unjust settlements and underscores our firm’s role as staunch defenders of our clients’ rights and well-being.


The tragic case of Mildred Smith, while marked by loss and sorrow, ultimately stands as a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the victory achieved through the unyielding pursuit of justice. It highlights the profound impact of innovative legal strategies, the importance of digging beneath the surface to uncover the truth, and the crucial role the legal system plays in providing closure to those who grieve.

In facing the complexities of this case, Goings Law Firm, LLC and, in particular, our attorneys Robert Goings, Jess Gooding, and Morgan Drapeau demonstrated that at the heart of effective client advocacy lies a commitment to creativity, to tenacity, and to belief in the moral imperative to seek justice. As we reflect on the legacy of Mildred Smith and the tireless efforts of those who fought for her memory, we are reminded of the transformative power of the law to effect change, provide solace, and pave the way for a brighter future for those touched by tragedy.

Contact us at (803) 350-9230 or online for a free consultation for your Columbia personal injury claims. We assure you that you can get the best possible outcome for your case.

Last Updated : June 7, 2024
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