In early November 2013, a Los Angeles Superior Court jury awarded over $150 million in damages to a 13-year-old year girl who witnessed three members of her family burn to death following a car accident on a Southern California freeway. This verdict could be one of the largest of its kind.
In this case, back in November 2009, the Asam family was traveling from California to Oregon for the Thanksgiving holiday when their SUV rear-ended a semi-trailer truck parked on the shoulder of a California freeway. The plaintiff (then 9-years-old) and her 11-year old brother managed to escape from their family’s SUV after it struck and got caught under a semi-trailer truck parked on the shoulder of the freeway. However, they witnesses the deaths of their parents and brother, who were burned alive when their family’s trapped SUV caught fire.
The lawsuit alleged that the driver of the truck, Rudolph Ortiz, pulled his truck over to the side of the road to sleep. In doing, he failed to use the emergency signals and ignored written warnings that stopping on the shoulder was allowed only in emergencies. Attorneys for the defendants argued that Ortiz stopped to take medication for a severe headache, which constituted an emergency. Defendants also alleged that the law was not broken as the semi-trailer truck was parked on the dirt road to the right of the shoulder. Finally, defendants alleged that plaintiff’s father was also negligent for attempting to stop the family’s SUV on the shoulder after the SUV allegedly struck debris on the freeway.
In the end, the jury found that Ortiz was negligent for parking on the side of the freeway in the dark without the legally required lights and emergency reflectors, and awarded plaintiff $150 million. Though the jury also found plaintiff’s father partly negligent, they concluded his actions were not a substantial factor in causing the family’s death. The $150 million verdict includes $8.75 million intended for the plaintiff’s brother, who committed suicide on their mother’s birthday before the trial began. All of the money, including the $8.75 million, will be placed in a trust for the plaintiff until she turns 18.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, there were 4,472 fatal crashes and 60,000 injuries involving large trucks (defined as a truck with a gross vehicle weight rating greater than 10,000 pounds) in 2009. The state of Texas accounted for 315 of the fatalities in 2009. Trucks accidents involving a car can be far more serious than an accidents involving two cars, largely due to the fact that a truck can weigh anywhere from 10,000 to 80,000 pounds, whereas the average weight of a car ranges from 3,000 to 5,500 pounds. At the same time, accidents involving semi-trucks and eighteen wheelers, present unique issues including, governmental regulations, unique insurance coverage issues, negligent maintenance claims, and trucking records and logs.
As seen by the facts of the case below, there are a variety of road hazards that can lead to serious car accidents, causing injuries and even death, including vehicles stopped on the side of the road and debris from other vehicles on the highway. In addition, on high-speed highways, it is not always easy for cars to make it to the shoulder, and even there, these vehicles can create a safety hazard.
If you or a loved one have suffered a personal injury or tragic loss as a result of an accident or collision with semi-tractor trailer in Texas, contact the San Antonio trucking accident lawyers at Carabin & Shaw. From offices in San Antonio, Rockport, Laredo, and El Paso among others, we serve clients throughout Texas, including San Antonio, Dallas, Houston, or any small town anywhere in Texas. Call us toll-free at 1-800-862-1260. or contact online to schedule a free consultation.
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Large Truck and Bus Crash Facts 2009, U.S. Department of Transportation
Jury awards $150 million to girl whose family died in crash, by James Barragan, The Los Angeles Times
The U.S. Department of Transportation Eliminates Truck Safety Inspection Report Requirement, While Enhancing Other Federal Safety Rules, August 17, 2013, Texas Injury Lawyer Blogs