In September 2013, Joshua Patterson (“Patterson”) was driving his pickup truck on US Highway 259 near Ore City, TX, when a tractor trailer operated by Bill Acker (“Acker”) and owned by FTS International Manufacturing (“FTS”) rear-ended Patterson’s truck at a high rate of speed. Patterson, after denying injury, subsequently sought chiropractic treatment and ultimately had back surgery. Patterson was unable to work due to his injuries. Post-collision drug testing revealed that Acker had marijuana and methamphetamines in his system at the time of the accident. Patterson filed suit seeking compensatory damages for personal injuries sustained as a result of the accident. Of note, Patterson also sought punitive damages.
The jury ultimately found both Acker and FTS liable and awarded $101 million dollars, $75 million of which was punitive. The verdict is the largest civil award ever in a motor vehicle accident involving a tractor-trailer, reflecting the magnitude of risk involved in the trucking and transportation industry.
The trial had less to do with Acker’s culpability in causing the accident than it did with FTS’s procedural failures in the hiring and training of its truck drivers. Specifically, an FTS policy dictated that if a prospective driver had three or more moving violations in the 36 months prior to the date and time of hire, the driver was ineligible for employment. Over the course of the trial it was revealed that Acker had been convicted of three moving violations within the 36 months prior to his hire date, which would have disqualified him from employment. Further, it was determined that FTS fabricated some of Acker’s prior drug test results and credited Acker with training he never completed. These facts, in conjunction with the presence of controlled substances in Acker’s system led to the jury award, which is the largest civil award ever in a motor vehicle accident involving a tractor-trailer.
This verdict is a reminder of the potential for “nuclear verdicts” in liability cases involving the trucking and transportation industry. The case serves as a reminder that policies and procedures alone are not sufficient to reduce liability exposure. Companies must be proactive and consistent in the enforcement of such policies and procedures. Companies providing services in the transportation industry should evaluate their internal policies relating to hiring, training, and supervising of drivers and other employees, as well as assess the consistency of implementation and enforcement of said policies.
For more information about this article, please contact Patrick F. Toohey at 410.230.1085 or firstname.lastname@example.org.