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Tractor-Trailer Hit Pickup Head-On

Missouri Lawyers Weekly, December 29, 2003

Verdicts and Settlements: Tractor-Trailer Hit Pickup Head-On
15-Year-Old Girl Was Among Five Killed, $9.5 Million Settlement

The parents of a 15-year-old girl who was killed in an accident with a tractor-trailer sued the trucking company for wrongful death.

On Aug. 26, 2001 the girl was a passenger in a pickup truck on westbound Interstate 70 in Saline County. She and four other people were returning to Kansas City from the World Championship Horse Show in Louisville, Ken. The pickup was puling a horse trailer

Six miles east of Sweet Springs, MO., a semi tractor-trailer driving east crossed the median and hit the pickup head-on. All give people in the pick up were killed in the fiery crash.

ABC Trucking Company contended that its driver lost control of the tractor-trailer because he suffered a cough syncope episode – a loss of consciousness arising from a lack of blood flow to the brain during a violent coughing spell. This sudden, unexpected medical condition, ABC claimed, absolved the company from liability.

The plaintiffs claimed that driver fatigue was the cause of the crash. They said he was ill and had been taking over-the-counter cold medication.

After a venue battle and an attempt by the defendants to remove the case to federal court, the case was returned to its Dec. 1, 2003 trial setting in Jackson County. The plaintiffs planned to make extensive use of testimony from trucking experts regarding federal hours of service regulation, a nationally-recognized scientist and author on sleep patterns and fatigue, and a toxicologist who discussed impairment caused by cold and medications.

In addition, the plaintiffs subpoenaed records from a debit card company, which showed the truck driver’s cash and purchase transactions across the county. By tracking the driver’s location at given times, the plaintiffs’ experts argued that he exceeded the federally mandated hours of service regulations during the week before the crash by over 20 hours.

The trucking company said the driver was not over hours, and its experts disputed the debit card evidence.

The plaintiffs also argued that ABC Company’s policy of paying drivers by the load encouraged them to exceed federal mandates.

The parties settled for $9.5 million before trial.

Type of Action: Automobile accident

Type of Injury: Death

Court/Case No./Date: Jackson County Circuit Court/Confidential/November 2003

Caption: Doe, et al. v. ABC/Trucking Company

Judge, Jury or ADR: Settlement

Name of Judge: Marco A. Roldan

Special Damages: None

Verdict or Settlement: $9.5 million settlement

Allocation of Fault: N/A

Last Offer: N/A

Last Demand: N/A

Attorneys for Plaintiff: Brian F. McCallister, The McCallister Law Firm, Kansas City; Grant L. Davis and Scott S. Bethune, Davis Bethune & Jones, Kansas City

Insurance Carrier: Confidential

Plaintiff’s Experts: Dr. Jeffrey M. Kaplan, North Kansas City (neurologist); Matthew J. Meyerhoff, Phoenix (truck safety); Stan Oglesby, Concordia (accident reconstructionist); H. Chip Walls, Miami (toxicologist); C. Dennis Wylie, Santa Barbara, Calif. (fatigue expert)

Defendants Experts: Dr. Bernard M. Abrams, Kansas City (neurologist); Patrick M. Demers, Shoreview, Minn. (toxicologist); Hugh Galbreath, Morristown, Tenn. (truck safety); Robert S. McKinzie, Olathe, Kan. (accident reconstructionist); Dr. Allen J. Parmet (physician); Kenneth A. Thompson, Louisburg, Kan. (truck safety)