Susan Sawyer, 41, worked for Wackenhut Corp. as a guard stationed at the entrance to a high-security marine terminal in Pennsylvania. Sawyer was responsible for ensuring that the identifying information on each truck’s trailer matched the vehicle’s records. The job required her to leave the guard shack and walk around the vehicle to verify the information. Although the port had separate entrance and exit gates, one of them was closed on weekends, requiring all traffic in and out to use the same gate.
One weekend, Sean O’Neal, a trucker for Crete Carrier Corp., stopped at the guard shack on his way out of the port. Because the exit gate was closed, O’Neal had to leave through the entrance gate. As a result, when he pulled up, the shack was adjacent to the passenger side of the truck, not the driver’s side. Sawyer walked around to the driver’s side of the truck to inspect the trailer, noting that O’Neal had a cellphone to his ear and a dog on his lap. While Sawyer was standing about two feet from the vehicle, O’Neal began moving the truck forward. Sawyer attempted to get his attention, but he failed to notice her and drove through a stop sign. As he did so, the rear left wheels of the 18,000-pound semi truck drove over Sawyer’s right foot and ankle.
The entire incident was captured on surveillance videotape.
Sawyer suffered severe, extensive crush injuries to her ankle and foot; open wounds and degloving injuries to the leg, ankle, and foot; and permanent damage to the bones, ligaments, joints, muscles, tendons, nerves, arteries, veins, lymph vessels and skin. She developed posttraumatic arthritis in multiple foot and ankle joints; neuritis affecting all nerves of her foot; fibroarthrosis with stiffness and lack of function in the foot and ankle; and complex regional pain syndrome. She also suffers from gait abnormalities and depression. Her past medical expenses totaled about $500,000, and her future medical expenses and life-care costs are estimated at $4.7 million.
Sawyer is now permanently disabled. Her past lost earnings and fringe benefits totaled about $145,000 annually, and her future lost earnings and fringe benefits are estimated at $2.5 million.
Sawyer sued O’Neal, alleging that he was negligent in failing to keep a proper lookout and pay proper attention, in moving his truck while Sawyer was standing next to it, and in failing to heed the stop sign. The plaintiff also sued Crete Carrier, alleging vicarious liability for O’Neal’s negligence. The plaintiff’s accident reconstruction expert was prepared to testify that there was no position in which Sawyer would not have been visible from the truck’s mirrors.
Sawyer also sued the port, alleging that the facility’s layout and policy of closing one of the gates during the weekend increased the risk of danger.
The parties settled for $3.75 million, including Crete Carrier’s $3 million policy limits and the port’s $750,000 policy limits.
Citation: Sawyer v. Crete Carrier Corp., No. 3493 (Pa., Phila. Co. Com. Pleas June 12, 2012).
Plaintiff counsel: AAJ members Kenneth J. Fulginiti and Thomas J. Duffy Jr., both of Philadelphia.