Thomas Edwards, 62, was driving a tanker truck southbound on a highway at night when Gary Collier, driving a tractor-trailer in the opposite direction, drove off the road and through the median. The container on top of Collier’s trailer detached, leaving only the bottom portion—the black steel beams of the undercarriage and the tires—sitting in the southbound lanes. Edwards was unable to avoid striking the trailer undercarriage. Edwards suffered a fractured right hip requiring open reduction surgery and insertion of plates and screws, a sciatic nerve injury resulting in foot drop, deep vein thrombosis (DVT) in his right leg requiring lifelong therapy, and multiple rib fractures. He also suffered depression and developed a decubitus ulcer from having been confined to bed. He underwent surgery on branches of his sciatic nerve to help relieve pain.
Edwards is now able to walk short distances with a walker but otherwise must use a wheelchair. He faces an increased risk of a hip replacement and will require future pain medication and medication and monitoring for his DVT. His past medical expenses totaled about $357,000, and he will incur unspecified future medical expenses. A truck driver earning about $63,900 annually, he is now permanently disabled.
Edwards and his wife sued Collier, alleging he was negligent in crossing the median and was operating under extreme fatigue. The plaintiffs offered evidence that at the time of the incident, Collier had been awake for more than 19 hours and on duty for more than 13 hours. Suit against Collier’s employer alleged it was vicariously liable for his negligence.
The defense argued that Edwards had elevated blood sugar levels from diabetes that caused him to be fatigued and impaired his vision, preventing him from avoiding the undercarriage. The company also contended that Collier had lost control of the truck because of an unavoidable and unforeseeable blowout in one of the tractor’s drive tires—the rear tires located behind the front steering tires.
The plaintiffs countered that there was no evidence of tire marks or other physical evidence indicating that a blowout had occurred before Collier’s truck left the roadway. They also offered evidence that the failure of a drive tire should not cause an 18-wheeler to go out of control. The plaintiffs further argued that there was no evidence that Edwards’s blood sugar had impaired his vision.
Edwards’s employer, Slay Transportation, joined the suit as a plaintiff to recover for the damage to the tanker truck.
The jury awarded about $3.41 million, allocating fault at 93 percent to the defendants and 7 percent to Edwards. The award included $2.5 million to Edwards, $800,000 to his wife for loss of consortium, and about $110,900 to Slay Transportation for property damage. After apportionment of fault, the verdict totals just over $3.17 million.
The plaintiffs anticipate the defense will file posttrial motions.
Citation: Edwards v. Millstadt Rendering Co., No. 08-L-813 (Ill., Madison Co. Cir. Nov. 17, 2010).
Counsel for the Edwardses: AAJ members Eric J. Carlson and Jon G. Carlson, both of Edwardsville, Illinois.
Counsel for Slay Transportation: Joseph R. Swift and T. Michael Ward, both of St. Louis.
Plaintiff expert: Nathan S. Shigemura, accident reconstruction, New Berlin, Illinois.
Defense experts: Thomas Vadnais, accident reconstruction, Atlanta; John Daniels, endocrinology, St. Louis.