$3,209,206.35 Verdict in Wrongful Death Tractor Trailer Case
Monday, December 24, 2001
Wrongful Death - Auto Accident - Dropped Bag of Cement
By Virginia Lawyers Weekly
Published: December 24, 2001
Type of Action: Wrongful Death
Name of Case: Shelton v. Puryear and Slurry Pavers, Inc.
Court / Case No.: City of Richmond Circuit Court / LL-1756-4
Judge or Jury: Jury
Name of Judge: Melvin R. Hughes Jr.
Special Damages: Loss of services and income stipulated at $190,000 and medical and funeral expenses of $19,206.35
Damages Awarded / Settled: Awarded
Highest Offer: $1.75 million
Lowest Demand: $3.5 million
Insurance Carriers: Harleysville for Puryear; Zurich and AIG for Slurry Pavers
Attorneys for Plaintiff: Trent S. Kerns and P. Christopher Guedri, Richmond
Other Useful Information: On the morning of April 27, 1999, an employee of Slurry Pavers, Inc. was transporting two pallets of bagged cement from the company's headquarters in Richmond's West End to its stockpile in Henrico County's far east end.
The evidence showed that the Slurry employee selected a trailer without a back or rear restraint. Nevertheless, he placed the second pallet at the rear of the trailer, failing to strap the pallet to the trailer or the stacked bags of cement to the pallets themselves. Instead, a single strap was stretched from one side of the trailer to the other such that the strap was in contact with only three bags of cement per pallet. The evidence also showed that the trailer was so low and short that the driver was unable to monitor the status of the load with his mirrors.
While driving east on Interstate 64, the driver lost three bags of cement. After losing the first bag at the viaduct of I-64 and I-95, he noticed, while rounding a curve, that some of the bags had shifted and that a strap was flapping. He pulled to the side of the road, where he restacked and restrapped his load in the same way he had done initially. After reentering the highway, he dropped a second bag of cement while approaching the Mechanicsville Turnpike exit. He lost the third bag as he approached the highway's Nine Mile Road exit.
The evidence showed that the third bag was struck by an unknown motorist, creating a cloud of dense white dust described by three witnesses as a "white-out." The decedent's host driver, while following the motorist, entered the cloud and reduced her speed to about 15 mph.
The tractor-trailer operated by the Puryear Trucking employee three-four seconds behind the vehicle in which the plaintiff was a passenger removed his foot from the accelerator but did not apply his brakes before entering the dust cloud. The tractor-trailer struck the rear of the plaintiff's vehicle at about 45 mph, pushing it 300 feet down the highway. The plaintiff was taken to MCV, where it was quickly determined that she was brain dead. Her husband and four children gathered at the hospital, said their goodbyes and decided to have life support removed.
As the trial testimony confirmed, the plaintiff was a special woman who clearly touched the lives of all she encountered. By all accounts, she was a fine mother, wife and friend. She was survived by her husband of 35 years and four grown children.
During the trial, Slurry Pavers offered $1.25 million to settle the claim. Puryear Trucking offered an additional $500,000. The plaintiff's demand as the jury retired to deliberate was $3.5 million.
The jury deliberated for one hour before returning a verdict against Slurry Pavers only. The jury awarded the husband $2 million in general damages plus the stipulated value of the decedent's loss of services and income ($190,000). The jury awarded each of the four children the sum of $250,000 and awarded the estate $19,206.35 for medical, funeral and burial expenses. The total verdict was thus $3,209,206.35.
This verdict is believed to be the largest wrongful-death verdict in the history of the City of Richmond Circuit Court. It is believed to be the second-largest wrongful-death verdict in the state's history. Earlier this year, a Buena Vista jury awarded the family of Thelma Lomax the sum of $3,718,358.86.