Federal Jury Awards Favorable Verdict To Couple Following Semi-truck Accident ($5.2 Million)
On January 24, 2017, a Chicago federal jury unanimously agreed to award a couple $5.2 million in total for their injuries sustained after the trailer of a semi-truck operated by New Prime Inc., dislodged and struck their vehicle.
On January 20, 2012, the couple was traveling southbound on Interstate 57 near Effingham, IL. Traffic had slowed to a standstill, as crews up ahead worked to clear an earlier semi-truck accident. While the couple sat in their car waiting for traffic to clear, a New Prime, Inc. Freightliner’s tanker crashed into their vehicle.
On January 24, 2017, a Chicago federal jury unanimously agreed to award a couple $5.2 million in total for their injuries sustained after the trailer of a semi-truck operated by New Prime, Inc. dislodged and struck their vehicle.
“Both verdicts are substantial,” commented John L. Kirkton of the Illinois Jury Verdict Reporter, a division of the Law Bulletin Publishing Company.
On January 20, 2012, the couple was traveling southbound on Interstate 57 near Effingham, IL. Traffic had slowed to a standstill due to a separate incident involving a semi-truck up ahead. While the couple sat in their car waiting for traffic to clear, a New Prime, Inc. Freightliner truck barreled around the bend at 65 mph. The New Prime, Inc. driver slammed on the brakes.
“New Prime’s tanker was carrying a load of vegetable oil pushing 50,000 pounds,” stated Michael T. Wierzbicki, Jr., a partner at Horwitz, Horwitz & Associates who represented the couple. Wierzbicki focuses on commercial trucking and transportation litigation.
“Because of the size and weight, in particular, it’s much more difficult to stop. It takes a longer time and longer distances and becomes much more difficult to maneuver,” added Thomas A. Kelliher, an associate at Horwitz who also represented the couple.
The Freightliner began to jack-knife and fish-tail as New Prime’s driver applied the brakes. Realizing he would not stop in time, the driver swerved the truck towards a roadside ditch. In doing so, the tanker detached from the truck and began sliding down the road.
“[The husband] noticed the oncoming tanker in the corner of his eye and let out a warning before the initial impact,” stated Wierzbicki. Wierzbicki continued, “Then, the tanker crashed into the back of their car.”
The couple drove their car from the scene of the accident to the hospital, where they were treated for their injuries.
“[The husband], who was 32 at the time and had undergone a two-level lumbar fusion several years prior – required an extension of that fusion and suffered a shoulder-tissue tear,” commented Kelliher.
Kelliher continued, “[The husband] also underwent surgery to repair the same shoulder and has recovered fairly well, but still encounters aches and pains in that area.”
“[The wife], who was 33, also suffered a lower-back injury. She tried to treat it conservatively with physical therapy, injections, and medications, but her neurosurgeon has recommended she delay receiving any surgery because of her relatively young age and the surgery’s difficulty,” added Kelliher.
Wierzbicki filed the lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court, which was later moved to the United States Northern District Court – Federal Court. Wierzbicki alleged that New Prime, Inc. and its driver failed to operate the truck at a reasonable and proper speed, failed to employ proper coupling of the tractor and trailer, and failed to cease the operation of the vehicle given the hazardous weather and road conditions.
“New Prime took the stance that its driver encountered ice on the road, preventing him from stopping the truck. New Prime tried to paint the picture that their driver was a hero who went down with his ship,” said Wierzbicki.
Wierzbicki and Kelliher used the semi-truck’s recovered electronic data to present the evidence that despite bad weather conditions, New Prime’s story did not add up.
“New Prime claimed their driver tried to stop but slid on ice. The electronic data, which is like the black boxes on airplanes, we recovered showed a different story,” commented Wierzbicki.
The trial lasted one week and the jury found no fault on the couple, returning with a verdict that found New Prime Inc. 100% responsible for the accident despite going against some of the best trucking defense lawyers in Chicago and Illinois. Ultimately, the jury agreed with the arguments Wierzbicki and Kelliher presented, awarding a combined total of $5.2 million to the couple.
“Our clients felt vindicated after the jury’s verdict because they felt the defense tried to present their testimony as untruthful or evasive,” said Kelliher.
Wierzbicki added, “They were really relieved that the jury saw otherwise.”
Michael D. Carter Jr., who is a partner at Horwitz Horwitz & Associates, also represented the couple.