Jury awards $12 million to dead trucker’s mother

posted on:
September 3, 2003

author:
Chanda Temple

A jury has awarded $12 million to the mother of a Mississippi man killed when a defective truck cab guard did not prevent a shifting load from crushing him to death.

The one-week trial ended Friday with Lamar County jurors siding with Donna Blair, of Monroe County, Miss., in her wrongful death and products liability suit against Washington-based Pro Tech Industries Inc., the maker of the guard.

A cab guard, or headache rack, is designed to prevent shifting cargo from entering the truck’s cab, said plaintiff’s attorney Ben Baker, of Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles of Montgomery. Had the cab guard been properly designed and manufactured it would have prevented the load from crushing the cab, and truck driver Tim Morgan would have walked away from the accident, Baker said.

Morgan, 37, was returning to Mississippi with a load of logs when his tractor-trailer left the road, overturned and the load shifted near the Alabama-Mississippi line in Mississippi, Baker said. A few logs came forward, broke the cab guard and crushed Morgan in the cab June 18, 2001. He died of internal injuries.

“Shockingly, Pro Tech claimed and advertised that its cab guard met the minimum federal standards and provided maximum protection, even though it did not,” said Baker. “The minimum standards require the cab guard to be able to withstand one-half of the load applied uniformly across the back of the guard. Pro Tech never tested the model cab guard on Tim’s truck.”

Efforts Tuesday to reach defense attorney Cooper Thurber of Mobile were unsuccessful.

Before deliberations, the judge determined the cab guard was defectively designed, leaving the jury to determine if the defect caused the death. And if the defect caused the death, the jury also had to assess damages.

The jury awarded Blair $6 million in compensatory damages and $6 million in punitive damages. The suit was filed and heard in Alabama’s state circuit court because the logs were loaded in the state, but Mississippi law was applied because that’s where the accident happened, said attorney Greg Allen, also of the Beasley firm.

Allen said the verdict sends a message to manufacturers of all products that safety must be a concern.

“Corporations cannot put their own profits over the safety of its customers,” said Allen, who also handled the case with attorney Clatus Junkin of Junkin and Harrison in Fayette. “We are demanding that Pro Tech recall these dangerous products and fix them before someone else is killed or severely injured.”

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