A Michigan jury recently awarded $7.7 million to a man who was seriously injured in 2018 when the wheel fell off an oncoming panel truck, skipped the median and crashed into the front of his vehicle.
It took an eight-member jury less than two hours Friday to find Wayne, Michigan-based Lower Huron Chemical & Supply Co. solely responsible for failing to comply with Department of Transportation regulations for the inspection, repair and maintenance of its vehicles.
The jury’s verdict came after a 15-day civil trial in the Oakland County, Michigan Circuit Court.
On August 13, 2018, Vincent Doa of Brighton, Michigan, was traveling eastbound on Interstate 96 near Wixom, Michigan when the wheel of a 2005 International panel van driven by Nicholas Lopez of Garden City, Michigan, came off Westbound, rolled over the median and crashed head-on into Doa’s car.
According to court documents, Lopez drove for the Lower Huron Chemical & Supply Co. of Wayne, Michigan. Lawyers said this is Lopez’s first job in the trucking industry.
“It was incredibly important for this jury to hear from everyone involved in the trucking business, from everyone involved in the trucking business, whether they are laypeople or experts, and they also heard from three different people Police officers include officers involved in the investigation or reconstruction of the accident,” attorney Ven Johnson, representing Doa, told FreightWaves. “These people were talking about how deadly it is and how common it is [el desprendimiento de las ruedas de los vehículos comerciales] and that 99.9% can be prevented. It’s a maintenance inspection issue.”
Johnson said Doa, now 71, suffered traumatic brain injury, spinal cord compression, rotator cuff tear and arm plexopathy. Since the accident, he added, Doa, the owner of a Michigan-based construction company, has been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain.
Lower Huron, a domestic trucking company that transports paper products and chemicals, has five trucks and the same number of drivers, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Safety and Fitness Electronic Records (SAFER) website.
Company lawyer Michael Edmunds of Gault Davison PC said Lower Huron had a training program for its drivers on pre-drive inspections that included looking for oil leaks.
“The company was unaware that the oil in the wheel hubs needed to be checked during the pre-ride inspection,” Edmunds told FreightWaves.
Instead, Lower Huron turned to Taylor, Michigan-based CommFleet Inc. to have its trucks serviced for annual inspections and other periodic repairs. CommFleet, which inspected the 2005 International truck in May 2018, three months before the accident and again three months after the incident, was dismissed as a defendant in the lawsuit.
Lopez, who was new to the trucking industry, was also dismissed from the case before trial.
Edmunds said Lower Huron, a family business since 1981, relied on the CommFleet mechanic to “check and replace the oil in the wheel hubs.”
“The plaintiff argued that the FMCSA requires drivers to do so, but there is no explicit requirement in the CFR [código de regulaciones federales] to check the oil in the wheel hubs is just a general requirement to make sure the trucks are properly lubricated,” Edmunds said. “However, the truck’s manual recommended a daily inspection of the wheel hub oil before driving, so [Lower Huron] has put in place a policy requiring this to be part of pre-trip inspections.”
Johnson said the award was so high because the jury “felt threatened by the company’s conduct.”
“The company admitted the wheel came loose, but did not admit negligence,” Johnson said. “The owner and employees of the company admit they don’t follow the DOT Rules, they admit they never read them because they didn’t have time to run their business, and they admit they don’t.” have a preventive maintenance program in place.”
According to Johnson, Lower Huron had a document retention policy whereby the company simply threw away the paperwork after the pile grew too tall after two or three months.
Lower Huron attorney Edmunds declined to say whether the company plans to appeal Doa’s $7.7 million jury award.
Despite Lower Huron’s efforts to prove that Doa continued to work and run her construction business despite her injuries, Johnson said her client’s business suffered and lost accounts as a result of the incident.
“If I didn’t own the company, [Doa] He couldn’t have worked because he missed so many appointments and physical therapy,” Johnson said. “He had three bad years in a row after the accident, but last year he had his best year in a long time.”
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