Jane and John Doe vs. ABC Trucking Company
(Names of parties are confidential and have been changed pursuant to terms of settlement agreement)
The fifteen-year old daughter of Jane and John Doe, Janie was excited to be asked by her best friend, Aimee to join her, her mother, her brother and her trainer at the World Championship Saddlebred Horse Show in Louisville, Kentucky. Janie had been riding Saddlebreds since she was 5 years old. Janie had asked her parents and they had initially said no, but in time, Janie convinced them to fly her to Louisville and allow her to ride back to Kansas City with Aimee and her family.
After the show, they headed back to Kansas City on a hot summer day in August. There were 5 people in the big pickup truck pulling a horse trailer; Janie, Aimee, her brother, mother and trainer. About 70 miles east of Kansas City, a truck driver headed east on Interstate 70 fell asleep at the wheel, crossed the grassy median and crashed head-on into the pickup truck in which Janie, Aimee and her family were riding. It was a fiery crash. The tractor trailer rig burned. Fuel spilled all over the roadway and grass. Everyone in the pickup perished. And coverage of the crash was all over the 6-O’Clock news that night in Kansas City.
THE LAWSUIT AND MEDIATION:
Brian McCallister’s sister was Janie’s Saddlebred riding instructor and had been for many years. Because of that relationship, Brian was referred the case by his sister and he was able to become involved in the investigation of the case very quickly, a very important step for the family to find justice. Early involvement by the lawyer is critical in heavy truck crash cases and the lawyer must be able to bring a team on board quickly for the investigation, including accident reconstructionists, private detectives and trucking industry experts. The trucking company always acts swiftly after a deadly crash, often to the disadvantage of the victim’s family who is unable to activate their lawyer as quickly. Only one day after the crash, Mr. McCallister was in a helicopter over the scene of the crash and the photographs that were taken would become crucial in the depositions that followed.
“TIRED TRUCKERS” AND THE FEDERAL RULES PROHIBITING TIRED TRUCKERS ON THE ROADWAYS
Shortly after the deadly crash, McCallister Law Firm filed the family’s lawsuit in Kansas City. During depositions, it was discovered that the truck driver was sick with the flu and a high temperature and was taking over-the-counter cold medication. The package of medicine he bought – Alka Seltzer Plus Cold® – had a warning: “DO NOT DRIVE, OPERATE MACHINERY.” The truck driver ignored the warning and in fact took a single dose of the medication only 1 hour before, 60 miles from the site of the crash. The chemical chlorpheniramine, an antihistamine, was in the medicine and is known to cause drowsiness, dizziness and blurred vision. The truck driver’s blood tested positive for chlorpheniramine. Section 392.3 and 392.4 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations – the FMCSR – prohibit drivers and their companies from operating, or allowing the operation of, a tractor trailer rig while too ill or fatigued to safely operate the machinery.
DRIVER’S LOGBOOKS FALSIFIED IN VIOLATION OF FEDERAL RULES
It was also discovered during depositions that, although the trucking company had a logbook auditing department, the logbook audits were merely a check of the truck drivers’ math, not a verification of when and where the truck drivers said they were. The trucking company subscribed with a trucking industry leader, Comdata®, a provider of an electronic type of debit card for the payroll and expenses of its drivers. The McCallister Law Firm tracked and recorded every transaction each time the truck driver had used the card in the months prior to the crash, showing the date, time and place it was used. From that data, a timeline was easily constructed which demonstrated how far from the truth the truck driver’s logbooks were. The week before the crash, the truck driver was nearly 10 hours over the federally-mandated on-duty hours allowed and the truck driver was well over hours in the weeks and months before the crash, a violation of Section 395.8 of the FMCSR. In many instances, it was shown the truck driver would have had to be driving over 100 miles per hour to reach the destinations he claimed to have reached in his logbooks, something his rig was incapable of doing. But the logbook audit department of the trucking company had failed to catch any of these false entries in the truck driver’s logbooks.
It was also discovered during depositions that the trucking company paid its drivers by the load, rather than by the hour, and it did not have a robust penalty system for drivers who falsified their logbooks. In the company’s world, the more loads delivered, the more money a driver made. This policy encouraged drivers to cheat on their logbooks to get more money and naturally, the trucking company made more money, too. The sham logbook audit department did nothing to verify the drivers’ truthfulness judged from the drivers’ logbooks, not even a comparison of the logbooks with popular services like Rand McNally® and MapQuest®, tools readily available to the public and the trucking industry.
The McCallister Law Firm scheduled mediation with the trucking company in the early fall of 2003. Deposition video clips were played at the mediation and the mediation room was filled with all of Janie’s ribbons and trophies, family photographs and many of Janie’s favorite things. Although early talks were not productive, the parties continued negotiating in the weeks that followed and in mid-November, the case was settled only one week from trial.
The trucking company agreed to pay Janie’s mother and father $9,500,000 to settle their case. In Missouri that year, this case was the 4th largest settlement reported by Missouri Lawyer’s Weekly®.
THE LIFELONG RELATIONSHIP
Janie’s mother and father are grateful for what Brian McCallister and The McCallister Law Firm did for their family. “Brian’s sister was like family to us for years before we ever met Brian. And Brian is more than just our lawyer; he is like our family now, too.”
Janie’s father, a former Yellow Pages® executive said, “In my line of work, I sold advertising to some pretty big plaintiffs’ law firms over the 19 years I worked there and I met a lot of plaintiffs’ lawyers, but Brian isn’t at all like some of them. Brian is different. He doesn’t ‘act’ like a lawyer, he’s more personal. And he always kept us in the loop with what was going on in the case at every turn. He respected how we felt. And that is the way it should be.”