Trucking company's negligent hiring practices lead to fatal collision

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Case in Point

January 31, 2012

Trucking company's negligent hiring practices lead to fatal collision 

The plaintiffs alleged that the driver of a tractor-trailer was negligent and reckless for driving while fatigued and crossing the centerline. Suit against his employer alleged negligent hiring, among other claims. The parties reached a confidential settlement after the jury awarded $7 million. Reagan v. Dunaway Timber Co.

Roger Reagan, 42, was driving a tractor-trailer eastbound on a two-lane road when Morgan Quisenberry, driving a tractor-trailer for Dunaway Timber Co., approached from the westbound lane. As Quisenberry rounded a curve, his truck crossed the centerline and clipped an SUV. The truck then crossed completely over into the eastbound lane, struck a car, and veered head on into Reagan’s truck, which caught fire.

Reagan was trapped inside the truck cab for several minutes. He was able to pull himself out, but fell beneath the truck and was trapped there for about 15 minutes before being freed. He suffered significant internal injuries, a severe crush injury to his left leg, and second-degree burns. He died about an hour later of cardiac arrest brought on by the other injuries. Reagan is survived by his wife and two children, who were both minors at the time of his death. He had earned about $43,000 annually.

Reagan’s wife, individually and on behalf of his estate, sued Quisenberry, alleging that he was negligent and reckless for, among other things, driving while fatigued and crossing the centerline. Discovery revealed that Quisenberry’s license had been revoked twice before the incident for driving while intoxicated (DWI), which disqualified him from operating a commercial vehicle.

Suit against Dunaway Timber alleged, among other things, that the company was negligent and reckless in hiring, training, and supervising Quisenberry; failing to perform a background check and negligently entrusting the semi-trailer to him; and assigning a trip that he could not possibly complete without violating federal hours-of-service regulations.

The defendants argued that Arkansas law prohibited the negligent hiring claim. The trial court did not dismiss the claim, but ruled that the plaintiffs would be limited to introducing evidence of Dunaway’s “policies, procedures, and practices.” The court further ruled that the two license revocations were admissible on the issue of Quisenberry’s credibility because he had failed to disclose them on his driver’s application. The plaintiffs were prohibited from mentioning that the two revocations were for DWIs.

The plaintiffs presented expert testimony that the company’s hiring policies, practices, and procedures were inadequate. They also offered evidence that Dunaway could have learned about Quisenberry’s prior license revocations with a simple and inexpensive background search.

Other evidence showed that Quisenberry had exceeded the 11-hour maximum driving limit imposed by federal hours-of-service regulations and had falsified his logbook to cover up the violation. The plaintiffs presented expert testimony that based on the mileage Quisenberry had to travel, it would have been impossible for him to have completed the trip in fewer than 13 hours, unless he had been speeding.

The jury awarded $7 million, allocating fault at 75 percent to Dunaway and 25 percent to Quisenberry. The award included $3 million to the estate, $2 million to Reagan’s wife, and $1 million to each child.

The parties settled for a confidential amount under the terms of a pre-verdict high-low agreement.

Citation: Reagan v. Dunaway Timber Co., No. 3:10-cv-03016 (W.D. Ark. Nov. 16, 2011).

Plaintiff trial counsel: AAJ members J. Kent Emison and Mark A. Emison, both of Lexington, Missouri; and AAJ members Robert C. Sullivan and Jed Chronic, both of Kansas City, Missouri.

Plaintiff experts: Philip J. Smith, trucking safety, Tempe, Arizona; and Mariusz Ziejewski, accident reconstruction, Fargo, North Dakota.

Defense expert: Steve Jackson, accident reconstruction, Hot Springs, Arkansas.

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