5 min Read

      Positioning Punitive Damages for a $26.2M Win

      Positioning Punitive Damages for a $26.2M Win

      While truck accidents represent a minority in overall auto accidents, they have an outsized impact on fatalities and severe injuries. They also create an opportunity for crafting a case focused on punitive damages to prevent future harm and hold gross negligence accountable. With the plethora of federal and state regulations on the trucking industry, it is more simple to find specific statutory regulations that were broken. 

      That doesn’t make trucking accidents simple. With heavyweight defense attorneys at their disposal, many trucking businesses will do everything possible to settle at a lower valuation. If Patrick’s story has one lesson it’s this: don’t let them. 

      Here’s how the team approached the case to win big. 

      The Accident 

      In slick weather conditions, Patrick had pulled over on the side of the road on Route 30 in Lancaster, PA to check his map for directions when a 80,000 pound tractor-trailer slammed into the back of his vehicle. The collision was severe. Patrick sustained injuries to his back and neck, suffering a concussion, post-concussive syndrome, and multiple herniated discs. He was recommended for multiple surgeries. 

      Turning Down $1.46M

      Patrick hired Morgan & Morgan attorneys Clancy Boylan and Hannah Molitoris, who took the case to mediation. When the defendants offered him $1.46 million to resolve the case, Patrick bravely declined. He knew his injuries, his suffering, and his lost future opportunities were worth more. 

      Having driven tractor trailers since 1992, Patrick had recently decided to open up his own trucking business. As an owner-operator, he had the freedom to make his own decisions about what loads to haul, which clients to work with, and how much work to take on. Outside of driving, he liked to play golf, shooting par or better on a regular basis. Those opportunities were gone on December 3rd, 2019. 

      Boylan and Molitoris agreed. 

      They took the case to court and fought over two and half weeks before a Philadelphia jury for what they believed he truly deserved. “This was a once in a lifetime opportunity for 12 strangers to come together and make this country safer. They had a job that they could say...when you drive on a highway with my mother, my grandmother,my brother, my sister, my best friend, you have to follow the regulations and you’ve got to be safe. I think they took their roles seriously, and in the end, I think their verdict spoke loudly, “ said Clancy Boylan. 

      The Facts of the Case: A Pattern of Recklessness 

      In the courtroom the facts of the case became evident. The recklessness was egregious. 

      Too Fast 

      The defendant, Randy Lehr, who was driving a tractor-trailer for ECORE International, Inc., left the lane of travel and rear-ended Patrick at a high speed. The GPS record showed that Lair had been traveling at 63 mph just before impact, in what is a 55-mile an hour speed limit zone. 

      Too Slippery 

      In addition, the weather conditions had been hazardous. The roads had been wet. There had been snow. According to regulations and recommended guidelines, Lehr should have reduced his speed by a third under such conditions. 

      Too Much History

      Trucks contain a wealth of data if obtained in time. Getting the right experts in, sending out spoliation letters as quickly as possible, and knowing where to look are essential. In this instance, Boylan and Molitoris got GPS data from Lair’s semi for the 30 days prior to the crash. It showed that he had routinely been driving five to fifteen miles an hour over the speed limit. 

      Too Little Education

      Under questioning by Boylan, the Safety Managerand corporate designee of ECORE admitted during deposition that his employee had never read the commercial driver license (CDL) manual. Boylan argued that if the defendant “didn’t know the rules,(he) could not have followed the rules.”

      The defense team countered that none of Clemmons’ allegations of fact established that Lehr’s conduct was reckless or warranted punitive damages. The jury disagreed.

      Case Evaluation: Punishing Punitive Damages

      The jury found that the defendant had failed to exercise caution while driving in a hazardous condition, in direct violation of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations and awarded Patrick a verdict of $26.2M. To demonstrate not only the significant impact the crash had on his life but also the recklessness of the defendant's actions, most of the amount awarded was in punitive damages – over 20 times the $1.2 million awarded to the plaintiff for compensatory damages. 

      With this verdict, the jury members, says Boylan, sent the strong message – not only to ECORE International but to every trucking company – that if you don't follow our rules, there will be consequences.