$18.79 Million Jury Verdict for Catastrophic Injury to Truck Driver

Colin Lacy was a truck driver for an oil recycling company. He took his Freightliner tanker truck to Empire Truck Sales for preventative maintenance. A mechanic at Empire replaced leaking oil seals on the truck’s rear differential but allegedly chose not to replace the lock nuts on the bolts of the lateral control rod.

A month later Lacy took the truck back to Empire complaining that it was vibrating at higher speeds and making grinding noises. The same mechanic test drove the truck but did not inspect the lateral control rod, which had loosened as a result of the earlier improper repair. The mechanic also allegedly found that the truck’s antilock braking system (ABS) was not working properly but chose not to correct it anyway.

When Lacy picked up the truck three days later and began driving it, the ABS warning light came on. He called Empire but was told that the braking system was fine. Later that day, while Lacy was driving in the rain, the truck began shaking. He applied the brakes, but the ABS system locked up. The truck went out of control, struck the median and rolled over.

Lacy, 27, suffered a severed spine at T9-10. He underwent emergency surgery, followed by rehabilitation and physical therapy, but the injury left Lacy a paraplegic. Lacy now uses a wheelchair, must self-catherize and struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, severe neuropathic pain, pressure sores and muscle spasms.

Lacy also suffers from cognitive deficits, including problems with memory and concentration. Various doctors have attributed his cognitive problems to either a head injury he sustained during the collision and rollover or to the medication he takes to control muscle spasms and constant pain.

Lacy’s past medical expenses totaled more than $800,000 and his future medical expenses and life-care costs are estimated to be about $1.7 million. He is permanently disabled.

Lacy sued Empire alleging that it was liable for its mechanic’s negligence in choosing not to properly reattach the truck’s lateral control rod during the first service visit and in failing to inspect, discover and repair the loose control rod and correct the ABS problem during the second visit.

It was also alleged in the lawsuit that Empire was negligent in assuring Lacy that the braking system was fine and that he could continue driving the truck. Finally, Lacy contended that Empire was directly liable for negligent hiring, supervision and retention because the company had warned the mechanic in the past about leaving off parts during repairs and about other repair issues.

Lacy also brought crashworthiness claims against Indiana Mills & Manufacturing Inc., which manufactured the truck’s seatbelts, and Daimler Trucks North America LLC, which manufactured the truck.

In the lawsuit, Lacy contended that the seatbelt was susceptible to a false latch condition, in which it appeared properly buckled, but was not. As a result, Lacy claimed the belt unlatched on impact, causing him to be thrown around inside the truck’s cab during the rollover.

In addition to past and future medical expenses, Lacy sought $167,000 for past lost earnings, $1.6 million for future lost earnings and $19 million for past and future pain and suffering. He also claimed punitive damages.

Indiana Mills and Daimler settled before trial for confidential amounts, and the case went to trial against Empire only.

Empire denied that the truck was negligently repaired and argued that Lacy had been advised of the problem with the ABS system when he picked up the truck after the second visit, but then he drove it anyway. The defendant also argued that Lacy changed his account of the incident and that he initially told several doctors and his girlfriend that the truck hydroplaned just before the crash.

During the jury trial, Lacy and counsel and Empire’s lawyer reached a high-low agreement with a high of $14 million and a low of $2 million.

The jury found that Empire was negligent and allocated the fault at 80% to the defendant Empire and 20% to Indiana Mills. It then entered a verdict of $18.79 million, which included $13.79 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages. The case was settled for $14 million based upon the high-low agreement.

The attorneys handling this matter for Lacy at trial were J. Greg Allen, Kendall Dunson, D. Michael Andrews, Stephanie Stephens Monplaisir and Charles J. Potts.

The plaintiff’s experts included a mechanical engineer, an accident reconstruction expert, a life-care planning expert and an economist. The defendant brought forth experts in trucking, meteorology, metallurgy, accident reconstruction and forensic analysis.

Lacy v. Empire Truck Sales, LLC, No. 02-CV-2012-902600 (Ala. Cir. Ct. Mobile County, March 20, 2015).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling truck accident cases, product liability cases, automotive defect cases, car accident cases, and bicycle accident cases for individuals and families who have been injured or killed by the negligence of another for more than 40 years, in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas including, Maywood, Park Ridge, Buffalo Grove, Palatine, Palos Park, Burr Ridge, Orland Park, Harvey, Dolton, Calumet City, South Holland, Blue Island, Crystal Lake, Grayslake, Gurnee, Bridgeview, Melrose Park, Chicago (Ukrainian Village, West Town, Little Italy, Roscoe Village, Irving Park, Albany Park, Sauganash, Portage Park, Andersonville, Uptown, Lakeview, Old Town, Goose Island, West Loop, Lincoln Square, Hyde Park, Pill Hill, Burnside), Calumet Park and Crestwood, Ill.

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