Subject: Verdicts and Settlements April 30, 2007

Pub: Missouri Lawyers Weekly

Author: Anne Vitale

Category: Justice,Automotive

Sub-Category: Courts

Issue Date: 04/30/2007      Word Count: 755

Verdicts and Settlements April 30, 2007

by Anne Vitale

Dolan Media Newswires



A Jackson County jury awarded the family of a 19-year-old woman who was killed in a construction zone collision with a tractor-trailer. The jury allocated 60 percent fault to the decedent driver, who failed to yield the right-of-way, reducing the award.

"We conceded that a percentage of fault needed to be allocated to the decedent," said plaintiff's attorney Christopher J. Stucky of Kansas City. "We're pleased the jury was able to look past the fact that the decedent created the initial situation and see that the trucker did not respond appropriately."

The collision occurred near the southeast Missouri town of Ellsinore on April 12, 2004. Jennifer McBride was attempting to enter traffic on U.S. Highway 60 from the north and failed to yield to a westbound tractor-trailer owned and operated by Riverside, Transport, Inc.

According to the plaintiffs, McBride made it across the trucker's lane and into the center turn lane. The truck driver slammed on his brakes and swerved to the left, striking McBride's vehicle in the driver's door and killing her instantly.

McBride's mother and son, who was 8 months old at the time of her death, filed a wrongful death suit against Riverside on a respondent superior theory of liability for the negligent actions of its driver. Accident reconstructionists for both sides agreed that the collision occurred in the center turn lane of U.S. Hwy. 60. The plaintiffs contended that if the trucker had stayed in his lane or swerved onto the shoulder on his right, he would have missed McBride's vehicle. Thus, they argued, he responded inappropriately by swerving to the left.

The experts also agreed that immediately prior to slamming on his brakes, the truck driver was speeding through the construction zone - traveling 53 to 58 mph in a 50 mph zone.

The plaintiffs built their case largely around the Riverside driver's violations of several aspects of the Missouri Commercial Drivers License Manual. The manual says professional truck drivers are required to drive slowly and carefully through a construction zone, at least in part because "other drivers are often distracted," and under certain circumstances the safe driving speed is below the posted speed limit. Plaintiffs openly conceded that McBride failed to yield the right-of-way. But they claimed that the truck driver, due in part to his excessive speed, failed to avoid her car when he could and should have.

The Riverside driver had been driving through the construction zone for about six miles before he got to the intersection where the collision occurred. But during his deposition, he claimed he did not see any of the construction signs, construction workers or construction equipment that witnesses said were present in the construction zone. Riverside did not call its driver as a witness at trial.

In defense, Riverside stressed the fact that McBride pulled out in front of its driver, leaving him no time to react. The company disputed whether McBride had cleared the trucker's lane. As the truck driver swerved left to try to avoid McBride's vehicle, they claimed that McBride continued driving straight ahead and collided with the truck.

Riverside further argued that the truck driver's speed did not make a difference. According to both sides' experts, the trucker would have hit McBride's vehicle even if he had been traveling the speed limit and no other factors changed.

After a six-day trial and over four hours of deliberation, the jury apportioned 60 percent of the fault to McBride and 40 percent to Riverside, reducing the verdict.

The plaintiffs offered to settle the case Stucky said. Thus they were "pleased" that the net recovery exceed their offer.

Defense attorney of Kansas City called it a well-tried case. "Riverside is exploring its post-trial options," he said.

Facts of the Case

Type of Action: Wrongful death

Type of Injuries: Death

Court/Case Number/Date: Jackson County Circuit Court/0516-CV23422/April 19, 2007

Caption: Murphy v. Riverside Transport, Inc.

Judge, Jury or ADR: Jury

Name of Judge: Vernon E. Scoville III

Special Damages: N/A

Allocation of Fault: 60 percent to decedent; 40 percent to defendant

Attorneys for Plaintiff: Christopher J. Stucky and Benjamin C. Fields, Douthit Frets Rouse Gentile & Rhodes, Kansas City; Douglas Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy & Robbins, Poplar Bluff

Insurance Carrier: Lincoln General

Plaintiff's Experts: Gerald Miller, Kansas City (economist); Jerry Wallingford, San Antonio, Texas (accident reconstruction)

Defendant's Experts: Thomas Schaeffer, St. Louis (accident reconstruction)

Copyright 2008 Dolan Media Company.  All rights reserved.

Putting the Brakes on Unsafe Trucking Companies