18 Wheeler Kills Student – $8,000,000 Verdict
FACTS & ALLEGATIONS:
On Nov. 27, 2005, Ellen Duensing, a 20-year-old college student, was stopped in a traffic jam while traveling south on Interstate 35 West through Hillsboro when her car was struck from behind by an 18-wheeler driven by Charles Lay. The impact severed Duensing’s left arm and leg and pushed her car more than 400 feet before it burst into flames. Medical records showed that Duensing died from blunt force trauma during the collision.
Lay was driving a truck owned by Kansas-based National Carriers Inc. Duensing’s father sued Lay and National Carriers Inc., claiming wrongful death. (The decedent’s parents were divorced; her mother brought a separate lawsuit against National Carriers and Lay which was previously settled.) Plaintiff’s counsel asserted that Lay knowingly falsified his driver logs to conceal the speeds and distances he had been driving, and National Carriers failed to properly monitor its drivers.
An expert on motor carrier safety regulations, Whitney Morgan, testified that National Carriers Inc. failed to monitor Lay or respond to warnings that he had violated Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. Plaintiff ‘s counsel argued that National Carriers should have done more to provide for the safety of motorists sharing the roadways.
Morgan placed the speed of Lay’s rig at 66 to 68 mph as he came upon the line of traffic that was crawling at around 10 mph. Plaintiff’s counsel argued that Lay did not keep his eyes on the road and did not, therefore, see the long line of slowed vehicles in front of him in time to stop. Additionally, Lay did not leave an adequate distance between his rig and the traffic in front of him. Counsel argued that if adequate separation between his rig and the vehicles ahead had been maintained, he would have been able to stop his tractor-trailer short of the
Defense counsel contested the allegation of gross negligence, arguing that National Carriers Inc. had adequate safety policies in place and could not have predicted the accident. Lay had a clean driving record, defense counsel asserted.
The estate sought survival damages, based on the allegation that the decedent experienced conscious pain and suffering prior to death.
Rob Ammons is Board Certified in Personal Injury Trial Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, in addition to being Board Certified in Civil Law by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. Rob Ammons’ law practice, The Ammons Law Firm, is located in Houston, Texas. The Ammons Law Firm practice is exclusively personal injury law, handling such cases as: tire defects, oil rig explosions, truck accidents, plant explosions, refinery accidents, wrongful death, post-collision fires, seat belt defects, airbag defects, SUV rollovers and workplace negligence.