Following a life-threatening accident in 2011, Carissa Johnson faced an arduous, two-year recovery that involved multiple leg surgeries.
Negretti & Associates Administrative Assistant Carissa “CJ” Johnson was involved in a horrific accident in April 2011. While she was on a sidewalk, an out-of-control SUV hit her, pinning her against the guardrail of a nearby parking lot, nearly claiming her life.
Recently, CJ opened up to Negretti & Associates Principal Jonathan Negretti about her accident, how she got through her recovery, and how her attorneys ensured that she was compensated for her indescribable misfortune. You can listen to the full conversation in the July 2, 2020 episode of Negretti & Associates’ Legal Beagle Podcast.
CJ says her family’s decision to find attorney representation after her accident was “the best decision we could have made.” Had she not hired an attorney, she reflects, “I don’t think that I would have pursued healing and recovery like I needed to.”
For Negretti & Associates, CJ’s story mirrors who we are as a law firm. Several members of our staff have endured terrible accidents first-hand. What we have learned has given us a deeper empathy for our clients as they manage the repercussions of their accidents and injuries. CJ often draws upon her own experiences to provide clients with valuable insights about the recovery process.
While she never imagined working at a law firm, CJ has come full circle in her life. To be able to help others as they mend their lives after a tragedy is, in her words, a blessing.
Jonathan Negretti: Tell me about what you were doing before this accident occurred that brought you to the place and time where the accident happened. What was the back story that led you to where this accident occurred?
Carissa Johnson: Back in 2011 I was doing some fitness modeling and some random modeling jobs. This happened to be a promotional modeling job that I was doing. I was working on a job that was in partnership with Segway, and it was for a doctor’s convention. We were in downtown Denver handing out promotional materials. We were just along the sidewalks talking to people as they were heading to the convention center.
Were you on Segways?
Yes. We were on Segways. But at the time of the accident, we were actually stationary on the sidewalk. We would move around occasionally. At this point in time we were just chilling on the sidewalk with our little pamphlets, ready to talk to people.
And then what happened?
It was our second day on this job — 7:45 in the morning. We had just gotten the day started. My friend and I were working on the job together. We were just talking, getting ready to hand out some material when I heard some sort of crash. I looked up and I saw an SUV that looked out of control. It was headed directly for us on the sidewalk. And it was going full speed.
So, I just looked down. I was, like, “Oh yeah, I don’t think I’m gonna survive this.” And I shut my eyes, said a prayer, and I thought I was going to meet Jesus. The next thing I knew, I felt the impact. I was hit and then hit again. The SUV actually slammed me into the steel-rail fence that was from of a parking lot by the convention center. I was hit and pinned — and I was still conscious. And the SUV wasn’t moving.
I was going crazy because I couldn’t get out. My legs felt like they were getting severed off. I was yelling for help, and I didn’t feel like any help was coming. So, I bent over the rail and tried to pull myself out. I was like, “I’m gonna pull off my legs just to get out of here.” I thought that was my best option at the time.
How did that work?
It didn’t. I pulled as hard as I could. And then I think at that moment I blacked out, maybe for 30 seconds. In that time an ER doctor, who was headed to the conference and just missed getting hit, saved me. He came over and had the SUV back off my legs, then caught me, set me down on the ground, and checked to make sure I was okay — which I clearly wasn’t, but I was alive. That’s my nightmare in a nutshell.
Did things slow down at all? Meaning, did time seem to go slower than normal? Or did it all happen just extremely fast?
It definitely slowed down. It was very ironic, when I think about it. I should have had time to move because it seemed slow. I literally had my life flash before my eyes, and it felt like forever. I saw this monster vehicle headed toward me and, yet, time did slow down. It’s very weird how that happened, and I am just still surprised to this day that I survived. It’s a miracle for sure.
It’s amazing because the car was probably going 35 miles per hour. The driver had sped up to try to beat a red light. I found out later that there was a driver in the middle lane, who had tried to make an illegal left turn onto a one way street. He was, like, “Oh yeah, there’s my turn.” He hit the rear of this SUV, who was already driving kinda aggressively, trying to beat the yellow light. I think when that happened, the guy just lost control and let go, jumped the curb, hit the trash can and nailed me. So, if he’s going 35 miles per hour, no doubt that was pretty darn fast by the time I heard the other two cars hit. No doubt it was fast, but in my mind, it was very, very slow.
This story made international news because there was an article on a website called The Mirror, which is out of the UK, that covered this story. I suspect part of that was because of your involvement in the fitness community and how you had risen to the pro level in that industry. But also because of the horrific damage that was done to your body. I think — if I remember from that article — you credited the Segway as actually helping you a bit. And, if not for the Segway, you felt like you could have been even more damaged or possibly paralyzed. What did you mean by that?
That is correct. All of this is ironic to me, but I feel like the Segway elevated me just enough to where when the SUV hit me, that it didn’t hit my internal organs. Instead, the brunt of the impact was my legs and not my organs, ribs, and my whole core. I’m pretty short, so the Segway added height and took off a little bit from the impact. It elevated me just enough to where I didn’t die.
You underwent multiple operations and had titanium rods inserted in your legs. Is that both legs, or just one leg?
Both legs. Well, actually, I had rods and pins inserted in both legs, because I had compound tibia and fibula fractures in both legs, and a compound left ankle fracture. So, I had a bunch of hardware connecting me together. And it took forever. It didn’t look like the bones in the left leg were going to fuse back together, but they finally did six months later.
Because I’m so involved in fitness no one ever thought I was going to get back into it, because of the trauma and everything my legs have been through. It was really intense. But I couldn’t shake it. I can’t shake the fitness bug. I did everything that I could to get back into the gym and back working out.
But I felt like a well-worn machine by 2013, which was two years later. I was squeaky. I was creaking. I could relate to the 70-year-olds in the gym when it was cold. It was horrible. I was in a lot of pain. I couldn’t run, so I underwent additional surgeries to have the rods removed. I went through two additional surgeries to have all of the hardware removed.
After the accident and after you recovered a bit, did you immediately go and look for an attorney to help you? Or were you trying to deal with it on your own? Tell me about that experience.
When I was hit, I honestly didn’t know what to do. I was just very thankful to be alive. It was an interesting experience, because I was working — workers’ comp was involved, as well.
There was a woman who showed up in my hospital room. I call her my angel. She was my case manager and I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t have health insurance at the time, and it was terrifying. I didn’t know how everything was going to work out. It was amazing to have the case manager come in.
And then later someone was, like, “You know, this is really an intense thing that you went through. There are a lot of moving parts — a lot of different parties involved. You should probably get representation.”
My family and I were both so unfamiliar with the process. We didn’t necessarily want to sue anyone. Yes, it was horrible, but accidents do happen. Yes, I almost died. But I didn’t know whether we should do anything.
Eventually, we decided, “Okay. Everyone else has legal representation. We should probably pick up representation, as well.” It was the best decision we could have made.
How did you find your attorney?
It was through recommendations. I think a family friend recommended the attorney that we went with, because we had no idea where to start. We knew we didn’t want to go with one of the ambulance chasers on TV, because that is definitely not our style! Their image is not anything that we wanted to deal with.
After you hired this law firm to help you, I imagine you were educated on the process and what the next steps were. And they walked you through everything up until the case concluded?
Yes, they did walk me through the process. They helped streamline it. Of course, if I hadn’t picked up attorney representation, I don’t think that I would’ve pursued healing and recovery like I needed to and should. They helped guide me in that direction and make sure that I did take care of my wellbeing and that I did try to get back on my feet. They helped me know that I shouldn’t feel guilty for trying to get my life back. They helped guide, guide me the whole process.
It was really scary at times, and I was really anxious and nervous about it all — especially when I thought about it possibly going to trial and having to defend myself about this accident that I was legitimately hurt in. That broke my heart. I never wanted to go there. I felt like that would be the worst thing: I had to endure all this and then I would have to fight to, to tell the adjusters that Yes, I am hurt. Obviously, my life was set back tremendously.
Again, I’m lucky I’m alive. It helped to have them there for me through this whole recovery process. I do still keep in touch with them. It was a sure blessing to have them even though, again, I never thought I would need an attorney for anything like this. It was a good decision.
Fast forward to today. You’ve worked for our firm for a few years now. How surreal is that you now help people who have gone through something similar to what you went through — people who are unfamiliar with the process, who are uncomfortable with even talking to an attorney or someone that works in an attorney’s office? How does that make you feel?
I honestly can’t believe that I’m in the place that I am, and that everything has come completely full circle. I never envisioned this. I knew I wouldn’t be able to work like I did before, because of my PTSD, et cetera. To have the opportunity to work for a firm who helps injured clients and help them understand the process — help people who are probably a lot like me … “I don’t want to sue these people, but I’m hurt, and I don’t know what to do” — it is the best feeling. It really is.
I am so thankful to work with Negretti and just the caliber of people that we have. I know everyone just has the best heart and it truly feels incredible. I never would have imagined that I would be able to help people like I was helped in my time of need. So, it’s a huge blessing. I love it so much and it breaks my heart for what a lot of our clients have experienced, and for some clients who are probably coming to our firm soon. I’m glad that we can be there for them and help them through terrible times in their lives, and hopefully make things better and help them get back to their lives.
You’re a modern-day success story. Not only did you get back into the fitness competitions and excel and do very, very well, you found yourself working for a law firm. It was very organic. And it’s really neat that we have you as part of the team. You’re not only exceptional at what you do, but you have such a big heart and you’re so caring. And that’s important to the people that we represent.
I tell all clients, and I really believe this, CJ, that all of our clients have the chance to get back to doing the things in their lives that are important to them. And I think it’s so great that you get to give back in this way. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for being a part of our team and for jumping on today’s podcast and sharing your story.