Karen Ann Whitaker was 60 when she started home from the church where she worked as a daycare teacher. Driving alone, she exited the church parking lot and turned onto the adjacent road. As she entered the northbound lane, southbound trucker Clarence Risher, who was driving a tractor-trailer while under the influence of methamphetamine, lost control of his truck.
The Risher truck jackknifed and crossed the center line. In doing so, the truck broadsided Whitaker’s car. She died on impact. She is survived by her husband, four adult children and five grandchildren.
Earlier on the day of this crash, Risher had delivered a load of chickens for House of Raeford Farms Inc., which had hired his employer, CRE Trucking LLC, as an independent contractor, to transport the chickens. Risher pleaded guilty to DUI involuntary manslaughter, reckless driving and operating without a valid driver’s license, among other serious criminal charges. He was also sentenced to 4 years in prison for this accident.
Soon after the crash, federal authorities shut down CRE Trucking, which was owned by Risher’s father, on the grounds that it posed imminent public safety hazard.
One of Whitaker’s daughters, on behalf of her estate, sued Risher and CRE Trucking, claiming that Risher was negligent and grossly negligent, from among other things, driving under the influence of drugs and losing control of the truck.
The Whitaker family was prepared to show that after making the delivery, Risher spent the next four hours shopping and taking methamphetamine.
Other evidence showed that police found alcohol and drugs in the truck after the crash. It was also revealed that Risher had not slept in the previous five days. He had a criminal record, which included suspension of his commercial driver’s license for committing two serious traffic violations within a 3-year period. The lawsuit against CRE Trucking alleged that it was liable both under respondeat superior and for negligent hiring and retention of Risher.
The Whitaker family also sued House of Raeford Farms, alleging that it had negligently hired CRE Trucking as an independent contractor, despite the fact that the company had a history of safety violations. The Whitaker family contended that because the CRE rig was a commercial vehicle regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), House of Raeford had a duty to use due diligence in checking CRE’s safety record.
The Whitaker family expert was prepared to testify that the FMCSA website provides free safety data on commercial carriers and that about 95% of shippers subscribe to services that monitor carrier safety data. Had House of Raeford checked the data, it would have discovered that CRE Trucking and its drivers were in the bottom 3% for drug testing compliance and drug and alcohol issues.
In addition to damages for loss of consortium and parental guidance, the Whitaker family sought unspecified damages for future lost earnings.
The Whitaker family settled with Risher and CRE Trucking after mediation for the combined insurance policy limits of $1 million.
House of Raeford moved for summary judgment at the trial court level arguing its actions were not a proximate cause of the collision because Risher had already completed his CRE Trucking contract at the time and had gone on a “four-hour frolic.” The trial court denied the motion based on the existing record that reserved the ability to rule on the same grounds as a motion to strike.
Soon after the summary judgment ruling, House of Raeford settled for $1.2 million bringing the total settlement for the Whitaker family to $2.2 million.
The attorneys handling the case for the Whitaker family were Jonathan E. Halperin and Andrew Lucchetti.
At trial, the Whitaker family attorneys presented experts in the trucking industry. The defendants presented an expert in FMCSA regulations.
Harris v. House of Raeford Farms, Inc., No. CL 14001885-00 (Va. Cir. Ct. Henrico County).
Kreisman Law Offices has been handling interstate truck accident cases, highway crash cases, wrongful death cases, car accidents, bicycle accidents, motorcycle accidents, bicycle accidents and premises liability cases for individuals and families who were injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of another for more than 40 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Northlake, Midlothian, LaGrange Park, Hoffman Estates, Homewood, Flossmoor, Inverness, Chicago Heights, Streamwood, Barrington, Bartlett, Arlington Heights, Alsip, Hanover Park, Palatine, Palos Heights, Palos Park, Park Forest, Park Ridge, Richton Park, Country Club Hills, Countryside, Deerfield, Des Plaines, Chicago (Gold Coast, Greek Town, Humboldt Park, Horner Park, Hyde Park, Kelvyn Park, Kenwood, Korea Town, Norwood Park, North Town, Near North Side, Mount Claire, Loyola Park, Wrigleyville, University of Chicago, Back of the Yards, Lincoln Park, Archer Heights), Cicero, Joliet, Fox River Grove and Geneva, Ill.
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