An attorney for Thomas Woodruff Jr. on Monday filed an answer to the wrongful-death complaint by the sister of Lukisha Thomas, who died after being struck by a vehicle in March.
The answer was filed at the Aiken County Clerk of Court's office by Aiken attorney Robin Braithwaite, who is representing Woodruff. The complaint was filed in September by Mt. Pleasant attorney Ladson Howell Jr. on behalf of Maria Saxon, Thomas' sister and the personal representative of Thomas' estate.
Thomas was walking on the sidewalk of York Street on March 30 with her boyfriend, Ray Charles Wooden Jr., and her 2-year-old son when a 2006 Jeep driven by Woodruff left the roadway and struck them. Thomas later died during surgery. Her son was treated and released from the hospital that day, while Wooden was hospitalized for several weeks.
Woodruff, an Aiken attorney, was charged with careless driving after an investigation by Aiken Public Safety.
The document admits to a number of allegations listed in the complaint; however, it states that Woodruff disagreed with several of the allegations.
The fifth paragraph in the complaint stated that Woodruff “failed to pay attention while driving and looked away from the roadway and his course of travel.”
“The Defendant admits as much of paragraph 5 of the Plaintiff's Complaint as alleges that as he was driving, he looked away from the roadway and his course of travel,” the answer stated. “The Defendant denies the remaining allegations of paragraph 5 in the Plaintiff's Complaint.”
The sixth paragraph of the complaint alleges that Woodruff “ran his vehicle up onto the sidewalk and struck” Thomas and Wooden. The answer stated that Woodruff admitted the vehicle struck Thomas and Wooden, but that there wasn't “sufficient information to form a belief as to the remaining allegations” in that paragraph.
Woodruff also denied the allegation that he “killed Ms. Thomas in front of her young child.”
In a separate document also filed on Monday, Braithwaite filed a motion to strike regarding three paragraphs in the complaint, which allege that Woodruff made no apology to Saxon or any member of Thomas' family, that a hearing related to the wreck was held May 6, and that Woodruff “refused” to appear at the hearing “despite knowing that Ms. Thomas' surviving family wished for him to do so.”
Braithwaite called those allegations “improper” and wrote that they are subject to the motion to strike.
The complaint listed negligence as the first cause of action and alleged that Woodruff was “negligent, grossly negligent, negligent per se, careless and reckless” in at least one of seven particulars, including failing to keep a proper lookout, failing to properly equip his vehicle with adequate and safe brakes, operating the vehicle at a speed “which was excessive under the circumstances,” and failing to take evasive action to keep from striking Thomas, Wooden and her child.
Woodruff denied the allegations, according to the answer.
Saxon is seeking compensation for medical expenses; pain and suffering for the period proceeding death; fright, grief, mental distress and mental anguish; funeral expenses; and exemplary damages. The complaint states Saxon is entitled to compensation for a number of injuries and damages, including pecuniary loss, mental shock and suffering, wounded feelings and loss of companionship.
Woodruff alleges in the answer that an award of punitive damages would constitute an “impermissible and excessive fine” under the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and that those damages would be a violation of the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the fifth and 14th amendments, respectively.
Teddy Kulmala covers the crime and courts beat for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since August 2012. He is a native of Williston and majored in communication studies at Clemson University.