Subject: Verdicts & Settlement August 13, 2007: Yellow Transportation settles

Pub: Missouri Lawyers Weekly

Author: Anne C. Vitale

Category: Justice

Sub-Category: Courts

Issue Date: 08/13/2007      Word Count: 943

Verdicts & Settlement August 13, 2007: Yellow Transportation settles

by Anne C. Vitale

Dolan Media Newswires



The family of a motorcyclist struck and killed by a Yellow Transportation semitrailer has reached a settlement in their Jackson County wrongful death case against the trucking company and its driver. The motorcyclist's wife, who witnessed the collision, also sought emotional distress and punitive damage claims.

"Evidence developed throughout discovery made it relatively clear that all three claims would be submitted to the jury," said lead plaintiffs' attorney Stanley J. Goodkin of St. Louis.

At 5 a.m. on Aug. 16, 2005, John Doe, 57, was driving his motorcycle eastbound on I-70 in Cooper County near Boonville. It was raining lightly and dark. His wife, Jane Doe, was driving her car about 150 to 200 feet behind her husband's motorcycle, both traveling in the right lane. The posted speed limit was 70 mph, but Mr. and Mrs. Doe were driving 50 to 55 mph because of the wet road conditions.

Two semitrailers passed Jane Doe -the second being a Yellow Transportation Inc. rig driven by James Tasoulas. According to Jane Doe, Tasoulas was tailgating the first rig by driving about 30 feet behind it.

When he was about 100 feet in front of Jane Doe, Tasoulas maneuvered the YTI rig into the driving lane and struck the rear of her husband's motorcycle. According to the accident reconstructionist, John Doe was ejected onto the highway, tumbled about 40 feet and came to rest against a guardrail, where Jane Doe administered CPR until paramedics arrived.

A paramedic, Tasoulas and Jane Doe all witnessed John Doe breathing shallowly and moaning. An endocrinologist testified that following impact, John Doe lived for at least 17 minutes and experienced pain and suffering.

Jane Doe and her adult daughter filed a wrongful death claim against YTI and Tasoulas. Jane Doe filed a separate claim of negligent infliction of emotional distress for having witnessed her husband being struck on his motorcycle and later dying on the highway.

YTI admitted that Tasoulas was acting in the course and scope of his employment but denied liability and disputed the value of plaintiffs' claims. Tasoulas vehemently denied that he was tailgating but told the highway patrolman at the scene that he was receiving road spray from the truck in front of him, which obscured his vision before the collision.

Tasoulas testified that he was probably not looking out for motorcycles when he changed lanes because the "weather conditions were so bad" and it was dark. He further testified that perhaps if the motorcyclist had been wearing reflective clothing rather than a black leather jacket, dark helmet, dark denim pants, and if his motorcycle had not been partly black in color, "maybe" he would have seen the motorcycle or Mr. Doe and been able to avoid the collision.

The state trooper and the accident reconstructionist performed a lamp examination on the motorcycle and determined that at the time it was rear-ended, the motorcycle's tail light and head lights were both operating and projecting light.

Randy Nichols, YTI's corporate designee and safety analyst, testified that the collision was "preventable" because YTI's driver "made a lane change into the motorcyclist, who was operating lawfully with appropriate lighting in the right lane." Nichols also admitted that YTI had several safety rules concerning distance between the truck and a vehicle, as well as rules to manage the space they were moving into when making a lane change, paying particular attention to motorcyclists. Nichols admitted that the violation of any of these rules could cause injuries to other motorists on the highway.

Nichols admitted Tasoulas "should have seen the motorcyclist" when he changed lanes. And he admitted that if Tasoulas was following the rig in front of him by 30 feet, he would have been tailgating, in violation of YTI's internal safety rules.

Plaintiffs sought punitive damages based on the evidence of tailgating and safety violations. Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment on the punitive damages claim.

Defendants also retained an expert to testify that John Doe's work and general life expectancies were substantially impaired because he was diabetic, insulin-dependent and had an amputated great toe. Plaintiffs' expert testified that John Doe could have worked until age 75 and had a normal life expectancy.

Jane Doe's psychiatric social worker and psychiatrist testified that she was traumatized by witnessing her husband's accident and death and now suffers major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Defendants also filed a motion for summary judgment on this claim.

After mediation failed in March 2007, the matter was set for trial on June 25. About 10 days before trial, while both motions for summary judgment were pending, the parties reached the settlement.

Jack M. Strauch, national lead litigator for Yellow Transportation's parent company, YRC Inc., did not respond to requests for comments. Hal D. Meltzer, the Kansas City-based local defense counsel, declined to comment.

Facts of the Case

Type of Action: Wrongful death; negligent infliction of emotional stress

Type of Injuries: Death; emotional distress

Court/Case Number/Date: Jackson County Circuit Court/0516-CV23336/June 14, 2007

Caption: Doe, et al. v. Yellow Transportation, Inc., et al.

Judge, Jury or ADR: Judge

Name of Judge: Stephen Nixon

Verdict or Settlement: settlement

Allocation of Fault: N/A

Last Offer: N/A

Last Demand: N/A

Attorneys for Plaintiffs: Stanley J. Goodkin, St. Louis; Mark G. McMahon, St. Louis

Insurance Carrier: Self-insured, first ; thereafter, Old Republic

Plaintiffs' Experts: Sgt. G.Q. Billings, Jefferson City (accident reconstructionist); John S. Daniels, St. Louis (endocrinology/diabetes/metabolism); Deborah E. Wald, St. Louis (psychiatric social worker); Harold Wolf, St. Louis (psychiatrist)

Defendants' Experts: Rudolph Mortimer, Urbana, Ill. (human factors/ergonomics consultant); Joseph Prelogar, Mission, Kan. (certified public accountant); David Robbins, Kansas City (endocrinology/diabetes/metabolism)

Copyright 2008 Dolan Media Company.  All rights reserved.

Putting the Brakes on Unsafe Trucking Companies