Earlier this month, a Texas jury issued an 89.6 million dollar verdict against Werner Enterprises, a Nebraska-based trucking company.
The case involved a 2014 crash that killed a 7-year-old, paralyzed a 12-year-old girl, and resulted in a traumatic brain injury for a teenager. The verdict has been controversial because of the unusual facts of the case.
A Werner driver was westbound on I-20. The pickup truck carrying the children was traveling eastbound, lost control, went through a grass median and into the westbound lanes. The Werner truck struck the pickup truck.
An attorney for the motor carrier issued a statement: Werner plans to appeal the jury verdict.
What did the jury know?
The fact is, we don’t know what the jurors know.
In 6 weeks of trial, those 12 citizens learned far more about this crash than you and I will ever know.
In a trial like this one, lawyers for both the plaintiff and defendant spend a lot of time investigating the circumstances of the crash. The plaintiff’s lawyers present their evidence and expert witnesses to the defense lawyers months, or in this case, probably years before the trial.
The Texas jurors saw all of the evidence. They heard from 50+ witnesses. They learned every minute detail of what happens on the day of the fatal crash.
In this case, they may have learned the following facts.
About Werner Enterprises:
- They had a 100% turnover rate of drivers last year: that’s a trucker mill.
- In a 2-year period, their drivers were involved in 960 collisions in 855 million miles: that is one of the worst crash rates in the entire U.S.
- Their annual gross revenue is over $200 billion.
About the day of the crash:
- There was a Winter Storm Warning issued by the National Weather Service that day.
- Icy roads, freezing rain, and black ice on the highway had caused hundreds of other crashes.
- The semi-truck was driven by a student: the trainer was asleep in the berth.
- He had passed by three other crashes.
- He was driving nearly 60 mph at the time of the crash, which was way too fast for conditions.
- Werner dictated the route to their new driver, despite the available alternatives.
Truck drivers are professionals.
They are held to a higher standard than regular drivers. They are trained to anticipate these types of the situations, and to have a plan to respond, at all times.
“Something’s got to change”
The jury issued an $89.6 million verdict, without punitive damages.
That means that every dollar of that jury verdict was for past and future medical bills, wage loss, and other costs of care.
We can’t know everything that the jurors learned during this 6-week trial. But the verdict tells us that the jury clearly saw that Werner needs to change their policies.