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Trucking company to pay $7.7 million in case of wheel coming loose, striking vehicle

Jury finds Lower Huron Chemical & Supply Co. failed to follow DOT regulations in 2018 incident

Michigan jury ordered Lower Huron Chemical and Supply Co. to pay $7.7 million. (Photo Credit: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

A Michigan jury recently awarded $7.7 million to a man who was seriously injured in 2018 when the wheel came loose from a box truck heading in the opposite direction, jumped the median and crashed into the front of his vehicle.

It took an eight-person jury less than two hours on Friday to find Lower Huron Chemical & Supply Co. of Wayne, Michigan, solely responsible for failing to follow the Department of Transportation’s regulations for the inspection, repair and maintenance of its commercial vehicles.

The jury award was announced following a 15-day civil trial in Oakland County, Michigan, Circuit Court.

What happened?

On Aug. 13, 2018, Vincent Doa of Brighton, Michigan, was driving eastbound on Interstate 96 near Wixom, Michigan, when the wheel of a 2005 International box truck driven by Nicholas Lopez of Garden City, Michigan, who was headed westbound, came loose, rolled over the median and slammed into the front of Doa’s car. 

According to court documents, Lopez drove for Lower Huron Chemical & Supply Co. of Wayne, Michigan. Attorneys said this was Lopez’s first job in the trucking industry.

“It was incredibly important to this jury that they heard from every trucking person, every maintenance trucking person, whether layman or expert, and they also heard from three different cops, who were involved in the investigation or accident reconstruction,” attorney Ven Johnson, who represented Doa, told FreightWaves. “These people talked about how fatal and how common [wheels coming off commercial vehicles] are and that 99.9% are preventable. It’s a maintenance inspection issue.”

Vincent Doa was severely injured when the wheel came off a truck heading in the opposite direction and struck his vehicle head-on. (Photo Credit: Ven Johnson Law)

Johnson said Doa, now 71, suffered a traumatic brain injury, spinal cord compression, rotator cuff tear and brachial plexopathy. Since the crash, he added that Doa, the owner of a Michigan-based construction company, suffers from PTSD and chronic pain.

Lower Huron, an intrastate trucking company that hauls paper products and chemicals, has five trucks and the same number of drivers, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Safety and Fitness Electronic Records (SAFER) website.

Company attorney Michael Edmunds of Gault Davison P.C. said Lower Huron had a training program for its drivers regarding pretrip inspections, which included looking for oil leaks.

“The company was not aware that it had an obligation to actually check the oil in the wheel hubs during the pretrip inspection,” Edmunds told FreightWaves. 

Instead, Lower Huron used CommFleet Inc., headquartered in Taylor, Michigan, to service its trucks for annual exams and other periodic repairs. CommFleet, which inspected the 2005 International truck in May 2018, three months before the crash, and again three months after the incident, was dismissed as a defendant in the lawsuit. 

The 2005 International box truck owned by Lower Huron Chemical and Supply Co. had over 380,000 miles on it before the wheel came off, striking Vincent Doa’s vehicle on Aug. 13, 2018. (Photo Credit: Ven Johnson Law PLC)

Lopez, who was new to the trucking industry, was also dismissed from the case before trial.

Outsourcing safety?

Edmunds said Lower Huron, a family-owned business since 1981, relied upon the CommFleet mechanic to “check and replace wheel hub oil.”

“Plaintiff argued that FMCSA required drivers to do so, but there is no explicit requirement in the CFR [code of federal regulations] to check wheel hub oil, just a general requirement to see that trucks are properly lubricated,” Edmunds said. “However, the owner’s manual for the truck recommended daily pretrip inspection of wheel hub oil, so [Lower Huron] has instituted a policy requiring that to be part of pretrip inspections.”

Johnson said the award was so high because the jurors “felt threatened by the conduct” of the company.

“The company admitted the wheel came off but did not admit negligence,” Johnson said. “The owner and employees of the company admit they don’t follow DOT regs, admit that they’ve never read them because they wouldn’t have time to run their business and admit they had no preventative maintenance program whatsoever.”

According to Johnson, Lower Huron had a document retention policy that after the stack got too high after two or three months, the company just tossed the paperwork. 

Lower Huron attorney Edmunds didn’t say whether the company planned to appeal the $7.7 million jury award to Doa. 

Despite Lower Huron’s efforts to show that Doa continued to work and run his construction business despite his injuries, Johnson said his client’s business suffered and he lost accounts stemming from the incident. 

“If he didn’t own the company, [Doa] wouldn’t have been able to work because of all the time he missed on appointments and physical therapy,” Johnson said. “He had three crappy years in a row following the crash, but then last year he had his best year in a long time.”

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  1. Good for him

    Too many companies actually ignore safety regulations because of the cost of them when they fail is outweighed by the costs of ignoring them. I’m glad for this amount awarded by the jury and hope this company pays every cent. Maybe more companies won’t just call it the price of business and actually take safety seriously. Let’s get more accountability.

  2. Joe garbocci

    What people don’t realize is the company is suppose to have a ten million dollar insurance policy in place for that reason and technically a rear end doesn’t have an inspection hole or window for a driver to check the oil just the steer axle and most tag axles and trailer axles

  3. Jesus was persecuted

    The hub oil does not hold the wheel on.duuh.the mechanic that bolted up the hub and or rim on a previous repair didnt torque bolt/nuts tight.alot of these mechanics been using battery operated impact gun/drills that dont have enough torque strength to tighten them nut bolts.and they are being lazy by not tightening the nut bolts by hand to torque tighten the nut should know something about something before you go judging.theres way to many judgers not knowing nothing.

  4. Captain Obvious

    Seriously? 7.7 million? And yet when my tire almost fell off after a dealership service center failed to torque the lugnuts correctly, I was asked if maybe someone in my neighborhood loosened them!

  5. Fred

    Had I been on that jury – and had the plaintiff’s lawyer presented evidence that substantiated the statements the author of the article reported about the incident – I would have made the same decision the jurors did. However, in regards to the damages… I would have assigned a maximum theoretical amount of, perhaps, five million dollars. That amount being for injuries that left an 18-year old (or younger) person permanently disabled and expected to be completely unable to have gainful employment for any significant length of time in his or her lifetime. That amount would be adjusted to reflect the actual amount of permanent disability the person did suffer. And then that amount would be the maximum point on a gradually decreasing line, such that the minimum amount would be reached at age 70. With that having been stated, there *would* be a minimum amount, to account for pain and suffering, trauma, mental anguish, et cetera – but that minimum would be, at most, one million dollars. In the end, I might have awarded the plaintiff something between $750K and $1M. Furthermore, I might – and probably would, in this case – have suggested to the DA that has jurisdiction that they consider pursuing criminal charges against the company and its owner(s). I don’t know how these things work, to be honest. But my thinking is that the plaintiff received a much higher damage award that was actually warranted because the jury wanted to punish the defendant. To me, that seems as unfair as awarding a much lower one than warranted… and that our civil court system is for redress of wrongs – not punishment, per se. The latter should be dealt with in criminal court, possibly with jail time, but more likely with some sort of monetary fine along with a requirement to have someone (perhaps someone assigned by the court) serve as some sort of “watchdog,” If you will, at that company for a period of time, to both ensure that something like this does not happen again in the short term, and to help (through training, etc.) set the company on a path of following proper maintenance procedures and in all other ways get – and stay – up to snuff, so to speak. This person’s salary should, of course, be a reasonable one for the duties/job, and be paid for by the company. After a minimum length of time (a year?), the owner might apply to be released from this burden. At which point, an independent third party, assigned by the court, would audit the company’s operations, interview both the owner and the watchdog, and maybe the employees – and then decide whether the watchdog need continue.

  6. Bob weir

    If a juror lost a wheel from their vehicle and caused another 3years of inconvieniance would they feel compelled to forgo any further inconvieniance be brought upon victim and simply ask where to sign document which immediatly collases your economic future and requires investment of untold recources to fund a legal war with insurance conglomerates unless having access to 7mìllion dollars to relieve excessive stress felt by victim.
    after judging responsibility after an intense multi week front row view to immerse themself in why and how the unimaginable event of a renegade tire leaping off your vehicle becomes a bullseye for certain jackpot payoff if hit, would they judge their own certain bleak future with such liberal accomodations for the inconvieniance or would suddenly they look to pass blame on to the target most likley to be judged responsible such as their trusted mechanic whom they built a relationship with over time and suddenly becomes a tail to pin the donkey on now forced to prepare for possiblly a massive legal defence investment to protect his future from complete failure if next jury decides to pass blame to him for a runaway tire that came off somebody else’s vehicle to fund a decision made by a jury who risks nothing but lost time in court who decides appropriate to award 7million dollars to one who only admitted being capable of working after being caught by a defence attorney who logicly thought such damming evidence would win trial yet jury overlooked such obvious ambulance chasing and decided to promote extortion and based their decision to become complicit to felony extortion not on blatant deception by the only witness whos testimony actualy matters but instead found a shocking justification to overlook complete deception to disguise actual harm to victim, and publicly announced their staggering decision was based on theur sudden fear of being struck by a Rouge flying tire. So apparently they felt compelled to place blame on somebody to hand out 7mil and despite not finding one to blame after weeks spent in search of. They finaly decided take the blame themselves for handing out 7mil.

  7. Bruce Herden

    Holder of a CDL for 46 years along with a graduate degree in safety / management.

    There’s this 100 year old adage, (and I’ve acty heard it fall from the lips of terminal managers.)

    “It’s always the drivers fault.” (Or in this case the carriers)

    What ever happened to the term, “Safety’s everyone’s job ”

    If you think that Safety’s expensive, wait until you see the cost of an accident.

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Clarissa Hawes

Clarissa has covered all aspects of the trucking industry for 14 years. She is an award-winning journalist known for her investigative and business reporting. Before joining FreightWaves, she wrote for Land Line Magazine and If you have a news tip or story idea, send her an email to [email protected]