Subject: Jasper jury awards in wrongful death

Pub: Missouri Lawyers Weekly

Author: Kyle Lewis

Category: Justice

Sub-Category: Courts

Issue Date: 07/30/2007      Word Count: 502

Jasper jury awards in wrongful death

by Kyle Lewis

Dolan Media Newswires


ST. LOUIS, MO -- The family of a man killed in a collision with a Joplin beer company truck was awarded a verdict by a Jasper County jury.

John Decker was driving to work when the driver of a beer truck failed to yield at a stop sign and collided with his vehicle in the middle of an intersection southeast of Joplin on a foggy April 8, 2005. The tractor-trailer overturned on his vehicle, killing him instantly.

John's wife, Kathy Decker, and other family members, including his adult children, filed suit against the driver and The Beer Co., but dismissed the driver from the suit after his lawyer requested a continuance.

According to Edward J. Hershewe, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, the driver indicated he became momentarily disoriented by the fog before he ran the stop sign.

Hershewe argued the driver was negligent. Hershewe said the fog was not a surprise to anyone in the area and he was driving the loaded commercial beer truck too fast with only 50 to 75 feet of visibility.

Ron Mitchell, the defense counsel for Beer Co., argued this was not the only accident that happened in the area due to the fog and the driver became disoriented due to denser fog at the intersection.

Hershewe also argued the company was negligent in hiring the driver without filling out the requisite Department of Transportation application and conducting an investigation into his driving history.

"The year before he was hired he received three speeding tickets, one ticket for following too closely and he had been involved in two rear-end collisions, a single vehicle collision and had hit a deer," Hershewe said.

According to Hershewe, Mitchell argued that all the previous violations were committed in a non-commercial vehicle and the driver never had any problems in the two years he had driven their commercial truck. Mitchell contended the driver had already been punished with a suspended license and fine.

The defense for the company presented evidence of the company's clean accident history and reception of the highest safety rating from the Missouri Department of Transportation for 2005.

"Their tactical decisions were to play up the effect of the weather and play down the effect of the tickets in the non-commercial vehicle," Hershewe said. "The way they argued kept the jury up in the air on liability and eventually they were able to convince the jury to not give any punitive damages."

The defense asked the jury, if they found The Beer Co. to be liable, to limit the award for Kathy Decker and her three minor children. They argued that John Decker never supported his adult children and his lost earnings were minimal.

Hershewe said they countered the argument with testimony from John's ex-wife who said he was a great father and didn't pay child support because the children had a wealthy stepfather.

The jury returned a unanimous plaintiff's verdict  after 1 hour and 35 minutes of deliberation.

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