Watch Now

Update: Trucking company facing $900M-plus verdict didn’t take part in trial

AJD Business Services had been absent from case in Florida since 2019; collecting huge verdict seen as unlikely

Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves

(Further coverage of the truck wrecks that led to the billion-dollar verdict can be found here.)

A new record for nuclear verdicts against a trucking company may have been set with a $1 billion verdict handed down Tuesday by a Florida jury. But more than 90% of the verdict was against a trucking company that apparently no longer exists and had not participated in the proceedings for at least two years.

The $1 billion verdict came in a case involving a September 2017 crash that took the life of Connor Dzion, who had just begun classes as a freshman at the University of North Florida. The wreck occurred in Yulee, Florida, on Interstate 95. Yulee is in Nassau County, north of Jacksonville, and a Nassau County jury handed down the verdict.

The two companies involved in the latest case were Kahkashan Carriers, a Canadian company, and AJD Business Services, which records indicate was based in Staten Island, New York. 

The billion-dollar verdict was split as a $100 million payment to Dzion’s parents, who brought the suit, and a $900 million punitive damages verdict against AJD. The split on the $100 million payment was 90% against Kahkashan and its driver and 10% against AJD and its driver, according to court documents.

What had generally been believed to be the biggest nuclear verdict previously was the $411 million awarded last fall against a one-truck company that offered essentially no defense at trial. And that appears to be what happened here.Documents in the case show that the firm of Cole, Scott & Kissane asked to withdraw as legal representation for AJD and its driver in the wreck, Russel Rogatenko, in July 2019.

AJD was absent from all recent proceedings. A court default was entered against it on June 28, saying that AJD had failed to participate in the proceedings of the case since July 2019. That default is what led to AJD shouldering the punitive damages.

FMCSA data shows AJD as having its insurance canceled in July 2019. At the time of the accident, it was covered by Falls Lake National Insurance Co. FMCSA documents also show the status of AJD as inactive.

Kahkashan was represented by Sean McDonough of the firm of Wilson Elser. A call to him from FreightWaves had not been returned by publication time. 

Kahkashan Carrier is Quebec-based. Its DOT number, like AJD’s, is listed as inactive.

Even if no money is ever collected from AJD, that does not mean that case has no impact. By ratcheting up yet again what constitutes an acceptable verdict in a trucking case, it leaves attorneys representing trucking companies concerned.

“The $900 million punitive damage verdict is essentially only meaningful for the plaintiff and lawyer in the sense that they were told by the jury that this was egregious and we want to recognize that with this award,” Kristen Johnson, a partner with Florida-based Taylor & Associates, said. Her area of speciality is trucking and logistics.

The reality of trying to collect, she said, is that “there’s nothing there.”

Without knowing what happened with AJD’s insurer, Johnson said it is likely that the insurer paid off the maximum amount it covered soon after the accident, “and then they are out.”

But the public image of trucking takes another hit with the verdict, according to Johnson. “It continues to build the reputation that the plaintiff’s lawyers are trying to build about trucking, that it is a bunch of bad guys that have these distracted guys on the road,” she said. 

It also allows the plaintiff’s attorney, Pajcic & Pajcic, to accurately claim that it was a law firm that obtained a $1 billion verdict for a client in a case against a trucking company.

In a prepared statement released after the verdict was handed down Tuesday, Pajcic & Pajcic   gave its version of what happened on Labor Day weekend in 2017. 

“The semi-driver, working for AJD Business Services Inc. was distracted by his cell phone, driving over the legal limit of hours and did not even have a commercial driver’s license when he caused a crash and flipped his truck, blocking the highway and causing a massive backup on the interstate,” the statement from the law firm said. “More than an hour later, another distracted trucker, working for Kahkashan Carrier, Inc. of Canada, was traveling on cruise control at 70 miles an hour when he slammed into the line of stopped traffic, killing Connor [Dzion]. That truck’s data recorder showed he did not even attempt to brake until one second before the fatal crash.”

Jannie Steck, a partner with the trucking-focused law firm of Scopelitis Garvin Light Hanson & Feary, said the likely inability of the plaintiffs to collect the damages shouldn’t lead people to diminish the importance of the new high score in the nuclear verdict arena.

“It tells us something, that’s what they’ll do if you have a bad accident,” she said. The case had many of the “really new factors that we commonly see in nuclear verdicts,” Steck said, including improper use of cell phones and a driver’s poor safety record, which was alleged particularly against the AJD driver.

Alix Miller, the president of the Florida Trucking Association, said she was not familiar with the case beyond what she had read in media reports. But she indicated that the environment for trucking companies involved in litigation in the Sunshine State is getting tougher.

“The legal climate in Florida has been getting increasingly worse, with settlements and verdicts not reflective of evidence or the case,” she said in a statement to FreightWaves. “It is becoming difficult for trucking companies to do business in Florida — major insurance companies are no longer writing policies in the state, and rates can be 3-4x more per truck than other states. Safe and responsible trucking companies are facing moving out of Florida or going out of business as a direct result of a broken judicial system.”

More articles by John Kingston

CTA’s last hope to protect California trucking from AB5: US Supreme Court

Latest package of New Jersey laws further targets independent contractor status

DOL withdraws Trump administration letter on driver classification issues


  1. Freight Zippy

    Most likely a waste of time and heartache.

    I only have one question, why is it so difficult to sue Lawyers but easy to get $1 billion from a trucking company?

    In every case 1 lawyer loses????

  2. Debbie Ferrari

    What are the names of the principals, they hired someone without a license now they disappear in to the night they could turn right around and start another trucking company. The name of the firm is meaningless when it comes to unethical business practices. I’m surprised the name of the corporate owners is not in the article.

  3. Truck stops

    There’s a truck driver I think I can sue. This AARP who can I sue cellphone app says I can sue because he’s derogatory. Sue him for saying something bad about something.

  4. DT

    STUPID VERDICT. Not one penny will be collected. Make it a trillion dollars. Make it 10 trillion. What a waste of time and energy suing small companies with no assets to collect on except the insurance which is long gone to the lawyers. It’s just a headline.

    1. James+Stephens

      You hit the nail on the head. Other than the plaintiffs attorneys getting a reputation as “heavy hitters” these large verdicts are useless to everyone involved. Most small and even medium sized companies will file for bankruptcy if a verdict goes above their auto liability and, if they have any, excess coverage. On a positive note, these types of insane verdicts can move state lawmakers into action over tort reform, take Texas HB 19 as an example.

  5. John Z.

    Yes the verdict is quite large.
    However, as I have personally witnessed dozens and dozens of times, truckers weaving back and forth in traffic going outside the designated lane of travel.
    Each and every time I pull up along side the truck driver and look to his cab, he is TEXTING ON HIS DAMN CELL PHONE!!!
    This unsafe driving practice will stop when drivers and trucking company owners see the financial risk of unprofessional and UNSAFE driver practices, exceed the inconvenience of being legally prohibited from texting while at the wheel, then and only then will this unsafe driving BS stop.
    As I have in the past, been a dump truck driver, I didn’t seem to have a problem with pulling over to address emails or text messages or waiting until I was stopped to do it.
    Though again, I think the judgement is pretty eye watering financially, I think it is a useful tool to persuade much more professional behavior from trucking companies and drivers.
    One thing that comes to mind they is simple solution:
    Do you damn job and be safe out there like the rest of us drivers that take our jobs seriously you idiots.

Comments are closed.

John Kingston

John has an almost 40-year career covering commodities, most of the time at S&P Global Platts. He created the Dated Brent benchmark, now the world’s most important crude oil marker. He was Director of Oil, Director of News, the editor in chief of Platts Oilgram News and the “talking head” for Platts on numerous media outlets, including CNBC, Fox Business and Canada’s BNN. He covered metals before joining Platts and then spent a year running Platts’ metals business as well. He was awarded the International Association of Energy Economics Award for Excellence in Written Journalism in 2015. In 2010, he won two Corporate Achievement Awards from McGraw-Hill, an extremely rare accomplishment, one for steering coverage of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster and the other for the launch of a public affairs television show, Platts Energy Week.