A jury verdict in a Texas court last week against an oil service company may have set the record for the largest civil penalty ever handed down in an accident involving a truck.
The $101 million verdict exceeds by about $10 million a penalty assessed against Werner Enterprises earlier this year. At the time of the Werner decision, that was generally seen as one of the largest verdicts ever awarded against a trucking company.
The main defendant in the $101 million case is not per se a trucking company. It is FTS International, an oil services company with a fleet of trucks that includes trucks carrying sand and other material needed to frack a well. John Hull, an attorney with the firm of Goudarzi & Young, which represented the victim in the collision, said the FTS truck was carrying frac sand.
FTS stock Monday was down almost 5% at 12:50 p.m. (NYSE: FTSI)
All of the award was levied against FTS except for $50,000 levied against William Acker, the driver of the FTS truck. Hull, whose firm specializes in truck-related litigation, said he had never heard of a nine-figure award in a trucking-related personal injury case. The awards touted on the Goudarzi & Young website are all significantly less than the FTS verdict.
According to Hull, the truck driven by FTS driver Acker plowed into the back of a full-size pickup driven by Joshua Patterson, who was returning home from church. Patterson survived the crash, and according to Snow Bush, the attorney for Acker, told the responding police officer he was not injured and continued on with his journey that day. However, Bush said Patterson undertook a regimen of chiropractic treatment and other medical procedures soon after, but ultimately had back surgery on discs in his neck. Following the surgery, according to Bush, Patterson, who had been a crane operator, was no longer able to work.
“FTS had strict policies, and they didn’t pay attention to any of them,” Hull said. He added that the company’s policies were that if a driver had three or more violations in 36 months prior to the date of hire, they would not be employed. Hull said FTS had outsourced that records check to a third-party vendor, “and if they had spent the $20 to get the DOT driving record for this particular driver, they would have discovered that he had clearly three in 36, and was not eligible to hired in the first place.”
Hull said Acker, the FTS driver, had been drug tested about three months prior to the September 2013 collision and had come back clean. But Hull said Acker testified in a deposition that he had been using marijuana and methamphetamine “pretty consistently”—Hull’s words—about three times a week. He had been off work for three days prior to the accident, according to Hull, and had smoked marijuana during that time. A drug test after the incident was positive for marijuana and methamphetamine. Additionally, there was testimony regarding Acker having signed documents attesting to having gone through various safety training that were not fully truthful.
Asked why the award was so enormous, Hull said he had “never had such egregious liability” in any earlier cases he litigated. “This company totally disregarded their policies,” Hull said. “They had so many chances to pull him off the road and they never did.” Bush, the attorney for Acker, told FreightWaves he agreed that the actions of FTS in its training and onboarding of Acker were the center of much of the testimony and interrogation at the trial.
FTS was represented by Squire Patton Boggs of Dallas. Attorneys for the firm had not responded to FreightWaves at presstime. Hull said there were failed attempts at mediation with FTS to avoid going to trial.
Of the $101 million, Hull said about $75 million were punitive damages levied against FTS. As far as whether it is the largest truck-related award ever, this 2017 blog post from a law firm that specializes in truck accident litigation lists what it says are the five biggest truck-related awards in history. All are smaller than the FTS award.