Subject: Verdicts & Settlements August 20, 2007: Trucking company settles in fatal collision

Pub: Missouri Lawyers Weekly

Author: Anne C. Vitale

Category: Justice

Sub-Category: Courts

Issue Date: 08/20/2007      Word Count: 628

Verdicts & Settlements August 20, 2007: Trucking company settles in fatal collision

by Anne C. Vitale

Dolan Media Newswires



The adult children of a Kansas City woman who died in a fiery collision with a semitrailer have reached a settlement in their Jackson County wrongful death suit against the truck driver and his employer, CDE Trucking Company.

"In our estimation, the amount of the settlement was driven by three factors: the substantial negligence of the truck driver; issues raised about whether the truck driver was properly qualified and screened; and the gruesome nature of her death," said plaintiff's attorney Robert D. Kingsland of Kansas City. "We thought that the settlement was in the best interest of the family in light of numerous allegations of comparative fault raised by the defendants, which we believed to be substantive, damaging and harmful to the verdict potential of the case."

On Jan. 17, 2006, Jane Doe, 55, was driving to work on an undisclosed interstate in Kansas City when the front left tire of her vehicle went flat. She pulled over, leaving her disabled vehicle straddling the right lane of the three-lane westbound highway and a narrow shoulder bordered by a concrete wall.

As trucker John Smith approached in his semitrailer, he rear-ended Doe's vehicle. The impact punctured the vehicle's gas tank and ignited leaking fuel, engulfing the car in flames.

According to the county coroner who performed the autopsy, Doe died from a combination of smoke inhalation and blunt force trauma to her thoracic spine. Due to her severe burn injuries, the coroner needed dental records to identify Doe during the autopsy.

Plaintiffs' investigation determined that Smith had violated numerous laws by speeding, failing to keep a careful lookout and maintain the ability to stop within a safe distance, and by passing on the right. Plaintiffs also discovered that Smith, 43, had been convicted of a felony conspiracy charge involving the use of an 18-wheel truck to transport cocaine from Mexico into the United States, which CDE Trucking did not know until after the collision.

Furthermore, plaintiffs learned that Smith's actual job experience raised doubt about whether he was a properly qualified semitrailer driver. Smith indicated on his job application that he had been driving commercial trucks for the past six years when, in fact, he had been operating a backhoe for various excavating companies. Smith also stated that he had been employed as a full-time truck driver during a three-year period when he was actually being held in custody on a probation violation.

The defendants countered with damaging evidence of comparative fault. In addition to Doe's vehicle partially blocking the right lane of the interstate, the defense argued that Doe suffered from a chronic sinus condition and had an extremely high level of Benadryl in her system at the time of autopsy. Furthermore, at the time of the collision, Doe's driver's license was suspended for failure to appear at traffic ticket hearings - and had been suspended twice before for the same reason.

The parties agreed to mediate the case on July 25. A day later, they reached the policy limits settlement .

The defense attorney, whose identity is subject to a confidentiality agreement, declined to comment.

Facts of the Case

Type of Action: Semitrailer/vehicle collision

Type of Injuries: Death

Court/Case Number/Date: Jackson County Circuit Court/Confidential Number/July 26, 2007

Caption: Children of Jane Doe v. CDE Trucking Company, et al.

Judge, Jury or ADR: Mediation

Name of Mediator: Not disclosed per confidentiality agreement

Verdict or Settlement: settlement

Special Damages: N/A

Allocation of Fault: N/A

Last Offer: N/A

Last Demand: N/A

Attorneys for Plaintiff: Robert D. Kingsland and Jason P. Osteen, Dempsey & Kingsland, Kansas City

Attorney for Defendants: Confidential

Insurance Carrier: Not disclosed per confidentiality agreement

Plaintiffs' Experts: Mary Case, St. Louis (forensic pathologist); Richard Ziernicki, Centennial, Colo. (accident reconstruction)

Defendants' Experts: Dr. Eddie Adelstein, Columbia (forensic pathologist); Dr. Thomas Gennarelli, Milwaukee, Wis. (neurosurgeon); John Goebelbecker, Morton Grove, Ill. (accident reconstruction); Karl K. Rozman, Kansas City (pharmacologist)

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