WTLA Past Presidents Fred Harrison and Rob Shively, along with their fellow Trial Lawyers College pal Andy Vickery from Houston, recently teamed up and won a $2.4 million plaintiffs verdict in U.S. District Court for Wyoming. Shively’s client (Alvin) and his fiancé, (Cindy), whose estate was represented by Harrison and Vickery, were driving on I-80 Westbound from Sinclair to Rawlins at night when they were rammed from behind by an 18-wheel semi rig owned by a Chicago trucking company (Aries Logistics) and driven by a 25-year-old Ukrainian national (Vasyl Zabiiaka) on cruise control with the radio blaring. The little pickup truck was knocked off the road and rolled 2.25 times. The semi driver kept on trucking until radiator damage forced him to stop in Rawlins.
During the opening statement the jury heard the astonishing 911 call made by a friend of one of the trucking company’s employees. She actually told the authorities that one of “her drivers” had hit a deer.
From this and other evidence it was argued that the driver called his boss and, in all probability, that they had concocted the “deer story” together. If the trucker hadn’t fractured his radiator he’d probably have kept on driving to his California destination. Meanwhile, passers-by on the Interstate saw the couple’s wounded dog Splashy up on the road and investigated. Alvin and Cindy may have lain there for up to 40 minutes before that. Cindy breathed her last just as the EMT arrived.
Law enforcement, called to the truck stop to investigate the report of a deer strike, made the connection between the green paint on the red semi’s front bumper and the little green pickup out in the field four miles back. The semi-driver was arrested and convicted of leaving the scene of the crash.
Cindy had two surviving siblings at the time of trial.
Shively asked the jury for $600,000 for Alvin but they allowed $800,000. They allowed $600,000 to Cindy’s brother and half-sister ($200,000 and $400,000 respectively) despite neither having seen their sister in nearly ten years. The jury then returned with a punitive damages verdict of $500,000 against the truck driver Zabiiaka and $500,000 against his employer Aries Logistics.
Before trial the plaintiffs had taken an assignment of all contractual and extra-contractual rights of Aries and the truck driver.
The case was hard-fought but well-tried. Each side only called one expert. There are some interesting and intriguing legal and factual twerks including (a) the exclusion of evidence concerning the broken seat belt in Cindy’s side of the pickup, (b) the corporate defendant’s “admission of vicarious liability,” (c) the defendants’ joint representation by one law firm, and (d) the defense’s tactical decision to tell the Jury about Zabiiaka’s criminal conviction.
Fred, Andy and Rob will be in Cody at this year’s WTLA Convention to speak. They emphasize that the discussion will be of lessons learned for the future and not merely to tell war stories.