$281 million verdict when drive shaft flies off truck, kills driver of following vehicle
In our Atlanta personal injury and wrongful death law practice, which includes many accidents involving large commercial trucks, we sometimes encounter instances of parts flying off trucks and striking other vehicles. Fortunately, it is rare for cases like one in Texas that occurred in 2012. In that case, a South Texas jury returned a verdict for $281 million to the family of a man killed by a part breaking off a truck doing oil shale fracking work. The family was represented by Ron Rodriguez of Laredo, Texas, with whom appeared on Trucking Litigation Group seminar faculties.
On May, 29, 2012, Carlos Aguilar was struck by a drive shaft from a tractor-trailer truck. He was in his pickup following the tractor trailer when the drive shaft and went through his windshield, killing him. The tractor trailer belonged to Heckmann Water Resources, a subsidiary of Nuverra Environmental Solutions Inc. and a contractor for oil shale fracking work in the Texas oil patch near San Antonio.
Upon examination of the evidence of negligent maintenance and other factors, the jury returned a verdict for $281 million including. $100 million in punitive damages dye to the extreme nature of the company’s negligence. Friends in Texas who are familiar with the case tell me that the size of the verdict may in part stem from local anger and resentment about the effects of fracking operations in the oil patch.
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulation and mostly identical state trucking safety rules include detailed equipment safety standards. When equipment failure contributes to a tragic accident, it is important to promptly engage an attorney experienced in trucking cases, who then can bring in the right kind of trucking experts before the responsible company can massage, cover up or “lose” critical evidence.
If such a verdict were returned by a jury in Georgia, the $100 million punitive damages would be cut back to $250,000 unless the jury found clear and convincing evidence of intent to cause harm or operation under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
If a family member is a victim of such a tragic incident, the first thing to do is immediately hire a lawyer with the knowledge, experience and resources to hire the right types of investigator, accident reconstruction and trucking compliance experts.
Ken Shigley is past president of the State Bar of Georgia (2011-12), double board certified in Civil Trial Advocacy and Civil Pretrial Advocacy by the National Board of Legal Specialty Certification, and lead author of Georgia Law of Torts: Trial Preparation and Practice. His Atlanta-based civil trial practice is focused on representation of plaintiffs in cases of castastrophic personal injury and wrongful death.