Man killed in traffic collision
From the August 29, 2005 Missouri Lawyers Weekly.
Trucking company settles wrongful death claim on 5th day of trial
$1.025 Million Settlement
Defendant trucking companies settled with family members and the estate of a deceased man who was killed in a collision near Boonville, Mo. The plaintiff’s were given just over $1 million as part of a settlement made on the fifth day of trial.
The trial involved wrongful death claims arising from a tractor-trailer collision which occurred on eastbound I-70 in the outside/right lane immediately east of the Missouri State Highway 87 overpass.
Terry D. Tanner, 46, a truck driver fro Hirschbach Trucking Company, died as a result of the collision when his tractor-trailer rear-ended Kopf’s tractor-trailer, which was in front of him. The plaintiff’s were the decedent’s surviving spouse, Vicki Tanner, 49, his mother, Shirley Tanner, 78, and his father, Dean Tanner who subsequently died from natural causes on November 24, 2004. The plaintiff’s all resided in Mitchell, South Dakota.
The collision was precipitated by another wreck that occurred in the median when another driver traveling West on I-70 fell asleep and crashed into a guardrail in the median. This activity caught the attention of eastbound traffic. An eastbound truck driver, Jesse Green, sent a CB announcement concerning the wreck in the median and then pulled his tractor-trailer onto the shoulder and stopped to provide assistance. When defendant Werner’s driver, James Midgley, approached the scene he also pulled his vehicle to the shoulder to stop and provide assistance.
Kopf’s driver, Nancy Kosier was behind Midgley’s tractor-trailer. She also heard the CB announcement and reduced her speed to 30 mph or less. She traveled one-half to one-quarter mile at that speed, but she failed to activate her hazard flashers. There was conflicting testimony as to why she reduced her speed and what actions she took as she approached the tractor-trailers on the shoulder.
According to Kosier, the Werner tractor-trailer had stopped on the shoulder with a portion of the trailer partially blocking the outside/right lane of eastbound traffic. Traffic prevented her from steering left in the passing lane, and she slowed to a near stop. Immediately thereafter, the vehicles crashed with the decedent Terry Tanner’s driver’s side corner of his tractor colliding with the passenger side rear of Kosier’s trailer.
According to Jesse Green, the Werner trailer was stopped completely on the shoulder and not blocking the lane of travel. Photographs corroborated Green’s testimony. He also testified seeing Kosier drive her tractor-trailer first onto the right hand shoulder and then turn left and drive back into the lane of travel in Tanner’s path. Kosier denied she did this.
The plaintiff’s claim against Werner was that Midgley stopped his tractor-trailer in a lane reserved for moving traffic in a manner below the standard of care for a professional truck driver and was negligent.
The plaintiff’s claim against Kopf was that Kosier was negligent for one or more of the following reasons: 1) She operated her tractor-trailer below forty miles per hour for more than 1,400 feet prior to the collision without operating the emergency flashers on her tractor-trailer; or 2) she drove her tractor-trailer to the right shoulder of I-70 and then drove her tractor-trailer back into the traveled lane of I-70 when it was not safe to do so.
The defendants claimed the collision was caused by the decedent for failure to keep a careful lookout and failing to reduce his speed in response to the previous accident in the median and other slowing traffic. Plaintiffs admitted that Tanner was negligent for not reducing his speed sooner.
Plaintiffs presented testimony from a human factor’s expert, Dr. Harry Snyder, on the difficulties of following traffic and visually detecting a slow moving tractor-trailer at high closing speed when the tractor-trailer operator does not activate hazard flashers.
The plaintiffs corroborated the testimony by showing scientific studies and referencing professional trucking manuals.
Plaintiffs pointed out Tanner had left 89 feet of pre-impact skid marks. All experts agreed Tanner perceived Kopf’s slow moving tractor-trailer three to four seconds before impact. According to Dr. Snyder, the skid marks and other facts were consistent with the results of reported scientific studies and Tanner’s actual perception/reaction time (1.45 to 2.5 seconds) was reasonable.
On the fifth day of trial just before closing arguments, defendant Kopf Trucking, Inc., agreed to pay its policy limits of $1,000,000. Defendant Werner Enterprises, Inc. also paid $25,000 pursuant to a high-low agreement that was reached prior to trial.
Type of Action: Wrongful death.
Type of Injuries: Death.
Court/Case No./Date: United States District Court, Western District, Missouri, Southern Division/03-3415-CV-RED/July 11, 2005
Caption: Tanner v. Werner Enterprises, Inc. and Kopf Trucking, Inc.
Judge, Jury or ADR: Jury
Name of Judge: Richard E. Dorr
Verdict or Settlement: Settlement: $1,025,000.00, consisting of Kopf Trucking Inc.’s $1,000,000 policy limits and $25,000 from Werner Enterprises.
Special Damages: Past and Future Loss of Earnings – 695,231; Past and Future Lost Household Contributions – $105,175
Allocation of Fault: N/A
Last Offer: N/A
Last Demand: N/A
Attorney for Plaintiffs: Michael Johnson, The Strong-Garner-Bauer, Springfield, Mo.
Insurance Carriers: Harco National Insurance Company (for Kopf Trucking)
Plaintiff’s Experts: Dr. Harry Snyder (Human Factors) Sunset Beach, N.C.; Dr. Bruno Schmidt (accident reconstructionist) Springfield, Mo.; Paul Paxton (truck safety) Pensacola, Fla.; Larry Cox (economist) Springfield, Mo.
Defendant’s Experts: Steve McKinzie (Kopf’s accident reconstructionist) Olathe, Kan.; William Kennedy (Werner’s accident reconstructionist) Wichita, Kan.; Brad Mathison (computer animation for Werner) Kansas City, Mo.