In a decision that could very well set the course for future personal injury cases, a Texas jury earlier this year awarded $101 million to a man involved in a serious truck accident. The award appears to be the highest ever for a truck crash, exceeding an earlier award by some $10 million. Moreover, it reflects the defendant’s liability as a result of gross negligence.
According to a July 23 (2018) article from Freight Waves executive editor John Kingston, the defendant in the case was an international oil services company known as FTS International. Although the company’s core services don’t include trucking and logistics, they do maintain a fleet of trucks necessary to carry materials used in oil fracking.
The 2013 accident involved one such truck carrying a heavy load of sand. According to Kingston, FTS International violated its own policies in relation to that truck and its driver. Multiple violations were enough to convince the jury of gross negligence on FTS International’s part.
How It Happened
Kingston reports that victim Joshua Patterson was driving a pickup truck home from church when he was rear-ended by the FTS truck. He appeared to walk away uninjured, which is not unusual for traffic accidents, only to begin complaining of back and neck problems shortly thereafter.
Patterson underwent a series of treatments that ultimately ended in surgery. He was eventually declared unable to work due to the extent of his injuries. Patterson’s attorneys argued that FTS International and its driver were liable to the extent that their actions resulted in permanent pain and suffering, including the loss of the ability to work.
Siding with the plaintiff, the jury assessed a $50,000 judgment against driver William Acker. The remainder of the $101 million was assessed against FTS International.
A Classic Case of Negligence
So what did the jury see that was so egregious? The Majors Firm, a Rockwell firm specializing in personal injury, says they saw a classic case of negligence. The negligence started when FTS International contracted out their background checks to a third-party vendor not doing its job.
Had a proper background check been conducted, Acker never would have been hired. He had more than three violations within the previous 36 months which would have automatically disqualified him under FTS International policy.
Acker’s drug test conducted several months before the accident came back clean. However, he admitted in a court deposition that he was a regular user of marijuana and methamphetamine. A drug test conducted after the accident showed both in his system.
Lastly, Acker attested to having undergone safety training prior to the accident. It was later discovered that he had not. How much training he had actually undergone is not clear in the Freight Waves article.
It’s interesting to note that of the total amount assessed against FTS International, roughly $75 million was for punitive damages. If you’re not aware, punitive damages are intended to punish defendants as a means of deterring future behavior that could result in a similar accident.
Why Personal Injury Attorneys Exist
The Majors Firm is quick to point out that this case illustrates why personal injury attorneys exist. Had Mr. Patterson not had competent representation, any settlement he and FTS International’s insurance company had reached probably would have paled in comparison.
The overall size of the award is less important than the fact that FTS International was assessed such a large amount in punitive damages. The goal of personal injury litigation is to simultaneously secure financial compensation and motivate plaintiffs to change the way they do things. Both were accomplished in this case.