BY: Michael J. Cunningham | IN: Personal Injury
One rainy day in June 2021, on a stretch of southbound I-75 near Square Lake Road, a tragic motor vehicle accident killed two men and permanently disabled another. Two years later, Sommers Schwartz’s Michael Cunningham finally helped the survivor recover some of the compensation he deserves for the act of heroism that left him with devastating injuries.
The driving rain made the roadway slick that day. Timothy Ponzer lost control of his vehicle, which flipped, skidded, and came to a halt on the highway’s left shoulder. Ponzer was struggling to get out of his car, which had landed with its driver’s side down, when our client, Mark Kunch, drove up to the scene. Mark stopped and offered assistance; another driver, Alec Esparza, did the same.
The two men worked together, attempting to extricate Ponzer from his vehicle. As they pulled him out the passenger-side door, another driver, Tomi Lulgjura, sped towards them, but as he tried to change lanes, he slid and lost control. His white van careened towards the left shoulder, slamming into Ponzer’s overturned car.
The impact was devastating. Ponzer was ejected from his vehicle, which slid and struck Esparza, launching him into the traffic lanes. Ponzer’s car continued its slide into Mark, pinning him against a barrier wall. Emergency responders extricated Mark from the wreckage and rushed him to William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak. The two other men died at the scene.
Mark suffered severe injuries to his right leg. The impact caused multiple fractures and stripped significant skin and tissue from the limb. He was hospitalized for two weeks and underwent numerous surgeries to stabilize, repair, and reconstruct the leg. Surgeons inserted four compression screws to stabilize his knee.
For nine months after the surgeries, Mark followed an intense physical therapy regimen, hoping to recover fully. Unfortunately, due to the extent of the damage, his right leg remains extremely unstable. Although his left leg fared better than the right, he continues to suffer numbness and discomfort in both legs.
In addition to his physical pain and loss of mobility, Mark suffered significant psychological distress. He continues to struggle with insomnia, PTSD, panic and anxiety attacks, and flashbacks of the horrific events.
Mark was an ordinary motorist with an extraordinary sense of responsibility. When he found himself in a situation that would test his bravery and determination, he didn’t hesitate to risk his safety to help rescue Ponzer.
But this wasn’t the first time he risked his safety for another. He has a history of bravery; he previously jumped into a fast-moving river to save a relative from drowning.
What makes this incident even more gut-wrenching is that it could have been prevented. In this particular stretch of I-75, excessive rainwater can pool in the center lane, creating a hazardous “birdbath.”
This defect had been reported to the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) by the Troy Police Department, but nothing had been done to repair it. Although MDOT has been aware of the issue with the roadway since 2017, the highway has remained open, endangering countless motorists.
Representatives for Timothy Ponzer and Alec Esparza have sued MDOT and Dan’s Excavating, Inc., the construction company contracted to work on the I-75 Modernization Project. These lawsuits allege that defective pavement led to the deaths of the two men.
Lulgjura’s insurer tendered the total amount of his liability insurance policy, which was divided between Mark and the Ponzer and Esparza families. Unfortunately, the sum was not enough to fully compensate Mark for his injuries. Mike Cunningham also secured compensation from Mark’s uninsured/underinsured carrier, Acuity Insurance Company.
Mark Kunch’s actions remind us of the bravery within ordinary people, those willing to risk their safety to help others in times of need. His story is a stark reminder that driver carelessness, negligence, and apathy in road maintenance and safety measures can have devastating consequences.
View all posts byMichael J. Cunningham
For the past 30 years, Mike has been enormously successful in representing plaintiffs in medical malpractice, auto accident, and premises liability cases. Much to the dismay of his adversaries, Mike has obtained countless verdicts and settlements in excess of $1 million.