Our firm settled a wrongful death case on October 22nd after a week of trial in an Alabama State Court. We represented the child and mother of a truck driver who was killed when the 10 wheel straight line truck he was driving rolled over on a Mississippi highway. The driver was operating his vehicle well within the speed limit when two of his tires got off the road and the truck turned over. When the truck came to rest it was upside down. The roof of the cab failed and resulted in the driver being crushed by the structure. Since there are no NHTSA standards that apply to large trucks, in many cases, the manufacturers totally ignore the need for improvements in design that would make the vehicles safer. A prime example is in connection with weak roof structures.
The sad truth is that heavy truck cabs could very easily be made much stronger. The industry formed a Heavy Truck Task Force Committee several years ago. This committee hired an engineering firm to study real world rollovers to assist them with developing a recommended practice. During one of the meetings the engineering firm recommended that manufacturers increase roof strength by 200 to 300%. Instead of following this recommendation, the Task Force criticized the recommendation and instructed the engineering firm to remove it from the final report. The industry has also criticized any design changes that would have made roof structures safer, but would cost more money.
Another important suggestion was made to the Task Force. This time, Kim Parnell, an engineer with Finite Element Analysis, modeled a roll cage that would increase roof strength. In addition to modeling the cab, the engineer used a computer simulation to show how much stronger a roof is with a roll cage than would be without one. Roll cages, in use in Nascar and other arenas, have been around for many years. Again, instead of taking the opportunity to save lives, the Committee instructed this engineer to destroy his file on his roll cage. Rather than developing better roofs with current technology, the industry continues its policy of defending unreasonably weak cab roofs and allowing truck drivers to die needlessly. Mr. Parnell testified at our trial before the case settled and told the jury exactly what had happened.
The trial revealed evidence that most heavy trucks have totally inadequate roof structures. The study of heavy truck roof issues mentioned above was designed solely to hold off government regulation. The manufacturers actually dominated the work of the supposedly independent group doing the study. The purpose of the study was supposedly to recommend roof strength tests. The heavy truck engineers insisted, successfully, that evidence of alternative and stronger design recommendations be removed from the final report.
This crashworthiness case was a prime example of how manufacturers cut corners and ignore safety in order to increase corporate profits. The case was tried under Mississippi law which allows both compensatory and punitive damages in a wrongful death case. We were able to prove future economic losses as well as other types on non-economic damages at trial. Our experts in the case were: Dr. Charles Benedict – design; Dr. Joe Burton – biomechanics, occupant kinematics and injury causation; Mel Richardson – accident reconstruction; and Dr. Robert Hebert – economist. All of these experts testified at trial and each did a very good job.
Greg Allen and Kendall Dunson from our firm, along with Jock M. Smith from the Cochran firm, represented the widow and did an outstanding job for her and the family. We wanted the jury to have an opportunity to return a verdict in the case, but that didn’t happen. In any event, our client and her family are most pleased with the outcome. The amount of the settlement, the names of the parties and the make and model of the vehicle are all confidential at the request of the defendants.