Huge compensation award for Southern Baptist missionary paralysed in car accident

Jeremy Vangsnes was on the way back from Glacier National Park when he was involved in an accident.Ken Thomas

A Southern Baptist missionary student who was paralysed in a car accident aged 21 has been awarded $26 million in compensation.

Jeremy Vangsnes, now 27, suffered brain injuries in the crash, which occurred during a mission assignment with the Southern Baptist Convention's North American Mission Board (NAMB) in Yellowstone National Park in Montana.

With his two brothers brothers Ryan (then 19) and Daniel (23), he was returning from a family visit in a car driven by Scott Minear (20) in 2009 when their Jeep Cherokee overturned.

Testimony at the trial indicated that the missionaries got permission from a leader for their trip, carried on with their Christian witness and were expected to represent Southern Baptists in their lifestyle even during off-duty times.

A Montana judge ruled that the car's driver, Scott Minear, was acting within the course and scope of his NAMB work when the accident occurred and that the NAMB was liable. Its insurers agreed to pay the assessment.

All four were injured and Jeremy Vangsnes was initially reported dead at the scene before being revived and later transferred to long-term care.

The award is the highest in Montana state history. According to Personal injury lawyer Alexander Blewett, the award will allow Vangsnes' father, who serves as Jeremy's full-time caregiver, to hire 24-hour skilled nursing care and buy a house that is more appropriate.

"Nothing will undo the tragedy that robbed this talented young man of his future," Blewett said in a media release. "But this money will allow Jeremy to live the fullest life possible."

The family experienced an outpouring of support at the time of the accident. Dennis Culbreth, senior assistant to then NAMB President Geoff Hammond, flew to Montana immediately after hearing of the accident. Morris Chapman, then president of the SBC Executive Committee, was on holiday nearby and visited the hospital in Billings after learning of the accident.

NAMB set up a special fund for the family, as did Vangsnes' home church, First Baptist Church in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

Jeremy's father Mark Vangsnes described support his family received as "unreal" in an interview with the Baptist Courier a month after the wreck.