Attorneys for Plaintiff: William B. Kilduff and Christopher L. Spinelli
Paralegal: Julie Bickhart
Settlement: $1 Million Dollars
The plaintiff, 53, agreed to help a friend, Defendant Driver, with a for-hire moving project in the summer of 2016. (Defendant Driver operated an occasional moving company service that would, on occasion, rent a Cargo Truck at issue from Defendant Local Dealer.)
Defendant Driver offered to pay the plaintiff if the plaintiff would help load a Cargo Truck Defendant Driver rented from Defendant Local Dealer. Along with Defendant Driver and one other, (now deceased), the plaintiff was to help drive the Cargo Truck to its destination point in Texas, unload it, and drive it back to Richmond.
The plaintiff agreed, and on July 26, 2016, Defendant Driver rented the 2013 Isuzu NPR Cargo Truck from Defendant Local Dealer in Richmond, Virginia. Defendant Driver was familiar with the Cargo Truck, having sat as a passenger in it before. Defendant Driver testified that he had previously complained to Defendant Local Dealer about the Cargo Truck’s tendency to vibrate at high speeds. Defendant Local Dealer told Defendant Driver on the 26th that Defendant Driver would be okay taking the truck and Defendant Driver could always call roadside assistance if a problem developed on the road.
The plaintiff then assisted with loading the truck with a third-party’s furniture. Defendant Driver and the now-deceased companion began taking turns driving the truck to Texas, while plaintiff drove the third-party’s vehicle, following behind the Cargo Truck, because the third-party’s vehicle was to be transported to Texas as well.
On the evening of the 26th, the plaintiff and his companions stopped at a motel in Charlotte, North Carolina for the night. Defendant Driver testified that on that evening Defendant Driver called the Corporate Defendant’s service numbers and complained about the Cargo Truck’s tires. Accordingly two representatives came to the motel parking lot, examined the truck tires, and concluded that the tires were not worn enough to cause operational problems.
The three travelling companions continued the next morning, and eventually arrived at their destination in Texas. They unloaded and began their return trip, this time with the plaintiff in the cab of the Cargo Truck along with Defendant Driver and the third individual. While Defendant Driver was driving, the plaintiff was seated between the third individual and the Defendant Driver, and the plaintiff fell asleep.
At about 6:50 am on July 29, 2016, on I-10 near Mobile, Alabama, the Defendant Driver lost control of the Cargo Truck while traveling at highway speeds. According to the Defendant Driver, the Cargo Truck pulled off the road to the right, crossing directly over March Road which runs as an underpass under I-10 and then collided with an embankment.
As a result of the crash, the plaintiff, who was asleep at the time Defendant Driver lost control, suffered broken ribs, legs, and back.
The plaintiff contended that both Defendant Local Dealer and Corporate Defendant shared in liability in this matter. Plaintiff’s expert Lance Watt, after examining the remains of the Cargo Truck, testified that the front steering wheels were in a toe-out condition at the time of the rental, and this toe-out condition had existed for a lengthy period prior to the rental and crash. The toe-out condition was consistent with the distinctive wear pattern across the face of the tires. Additionally the front tires were never properly balanced. According to Watt, the Cargo Truck was not in a suitable condition to be rented, and the shaking that would manifest at highway speeds was directly caused by these conditions.
Plaintiff’s expert also opined that the vehicle inspection checklist supplied by Corporate Defendant and allegedly completed by Defendant Local Dealer prior to Defendant Driver’s rental is inadequate. It affords all local dealers too much leeway in evaluating the condition of tires on their rental trucks.
The Corporate Defendant and Defendant Local Dealer relied in part upon the Alabama police officer’s report, consideration of the approximate angle of departure of the Cargo Truck from the roadway prior to the crash, and other elements to argue that the Defendant Driver simply fell asleep before the crash. Additionally, in discovery the Corporate Defendant identified a driver who operated the Cargo Truck immediately prior to this crash who reported no problems.
The Corporate Defendant and Defendant Local Dealer identified two experts who opined that the tire tread would not have contributed to the Cargo Truck running off the road and colliding with an embankment. These defendants’ liability experts in this case both testified in deposition that the tire treads were within reasonable operational standards. One of the two defense experts contended that the unusual wear pattern along the side of the tires only developed after the crash, when the Cargo Truck was towed and transported from Mobile, Alabama to Mandeville, Louisiana.
The plaintiff had $82,921.20 in incurred medical bills and a lifetime lost wages claim of $368,795.00, which was disputed. As a result of the crash, the plaintiff suffered fractures of his left hip and vertebral body, and developed chronic low back, dorsal hip, and radiating leg pain.
The plaintiff settled with the Defendant Driver for $125,000.00, which was the limits of his coverage, and after extended mediation efforts the plaintiff settled with both the Defendant Local Dealer and the Corporate Defendant for an additional $875,000.00.