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Jury verdict against Werner for Texas fatal crash is the biggest in company history

Reading the two post-verdict recaps of an almost $90 million verdict handed down this week against Werner Enterprises, it’s clear the jury made its choice from two highly different views of the tragic events.

A jury in Harris County, Texas handed down a judgement just under that amount in connection with a collision in late 2014 in wintry conditions near Odessa in West Texas. A Werner official who spoke to Freightwaves said it was by far the biggest judgement that the company has ever had against it, and this website–though unverified–does quote figures of Werner-related settlements far less than the Texas case. This story from a few years ago about rising truck settlements quotes figures for other cases that indicate the Werner verdict is one of the biggest ones ever.

Werner’s primary post-verdict statement on the jury’s action came in an 8-K filing with the Securities & Exchange Commission, filed when a company has a material event that could affect its financial conditions. In the 8-K, Werner said its maximum liability for the accident is $10 million, with “premium-based coverage above this amount.” That $10 million will be accrued in its second quarter earnings. Werner’s net income in the first quarter was $27.8 million.

It also said it would appeal.

Here are some of the highlights of Werner’s recap of the crash, which took the life of a 7-year-old boy, left his 12-year-old sister with “catastrophic” brain injuries, and injured the childrens’ mother and another brother:

A Werner driver was westbound on interstate 20. The pickup truck carrying the family that suffered the fatal and non-fatal injuries was traveling eastbound–the mother was not the driver–lost control, went through a grassy median “and directly into the path of the Werner unit.” The pickup truck had turned around, so its rear was hit by the oncoming Werner truck. 

“Werner’s driver did not receive a citation, and the investigating officers placed no blame on the Werner driver,” the company said in its filing. “The Werner driver was traveling well below the posted speed limit, did not lose control of his tractor-trailer, and even brought the unit to a controlled stop after the impact.”

The recap from the Penn Law Firm, one of two firms representing the plaintiffs, paints a very different picture, not of the accident itself but of the conditions prior to the wreck. 

There apparently were differing views in the testimony about whether there were icy conditions, but clearly, the roads were not great. “Werner’s witnesses testified that Werner did not allow Ali, its student driver, to have access to basic safety equipment, such as an outside temperature gauge or the CB radio, either of which would have alerted him to the dangerous road conditions at the time,” the Penn statement said. A National Weather Service warning about the poor conditions was not communicated to the driver, according to Penn, “allowing (the driver) to average over 60 mph while driving unsupervised through the icy conditions because (the driver) was on a Just-In-Time (JIT) load, requiring delivery to California by the next day.”

“Ali averaged in excess of 60 mph for the 52 miles he was driving in icy conditions prior to the crash, and was traveling over 50 mph seconds prior to the collision,” Penn said. 

If the driver was traveling 50, that would support Werner’s contention that he was below the speed limit. The question then was how slow the truck should have been going given the conditions, and the jury sided with the plaintiffs.  

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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.

36 Comments

  1. So the east bound pickup was going to fast for road conditions and lost control and crossed over into the west bound traffic and was hit by semi that was going around 60 mph and the driver of semi got no tickets and truck inspection was in order and this so called jury put the blame on the company and it’s driver. What a bunch of idiots! Well drivers that goes to show what the general pubic thinks about us. WHAT A SHAME!

  2. This the new norm now. Lawyers are done chasing auto wrecks and solely focusing on semi trucks because the insurance policies have so much money in them that insurers will just settle the case instead of going to court. How can you blame a truck driver for a car coming across the medium out of control he can’t avoid hitting the vehicle and yet award a 90 million dollar judgment. Yes the crash was fatal and tragically a young life was lost but this is highway robbery. Too many people in SUVS 4×4 and all wheel drive cars feel they’re invincible but fail to realize that they have no more control on ice than anyone else. I feel bad for the families losses and little girl but that doesn’t give you the right to award money for a accident that unavoidable on the part of the truck driver.

  3. Wow what a bad rap for Werner and the driver that did nothing wrong this is solely The plaintiffs responsibility! My heart does go out to the family and maybe they could compensate a couple million or 5 million as a compassion settlement for the kids that are alive and other people but it is 100% the fault of the eastbound 4 wheeler truck that crossed the medium Werner has no skin in this game except that they just happened to be there very sad what our world is becoming.
    The wreck would have happened no matter what! The 4 wheeler truck was in over their heads due to the driving conditions/ability. I wonder what there driving record was prior to the event?

  4. That verdict & the attorney’s claims are bullshit. Werner trucks show the outside temperature on the control panel. Also, a Werner driver can just look through his windshield to see the weather conditions. Or he could look to his left or right at his side mirrors or radio antenna. Are they frozen? Then there is icy weather. There is no need for dispatch or Werner to send a Qualcomm message. We are professional drivers. – This is like blaming a cop for shooting an armed suspect. Or a tree that was hit for just being there. The driver of the pickup truck lost control & caused the accident. It didn’t provide the legal & necessary "cushion" to allow a semi truck to stop. That truck was on the wrong side of the road. It shouldn’t have been there. Why was it the only vehicle to slide off the road? Maybe its tires were bald or didn’t have the legal tread depth.

  5. Now I see why there are full sized billboards with lawyers soliciting people who have been involved in truck accidents.

    It’s time the DOT to create stronger requirements and training for car drivers.

  6. Pick up truck loses control crossed the center median into the path of the Werner Driver and was hit. Werner company was the one sued. Not right. Scumbag lawyers like this should be fined and disbarred for life. How about people learn to drive according to weather conditions.

  7. While I consider Werner drivers some of the worst on the road, only slightly better than US Express and Roadtex (the absolute worst), this wasn’t their fault by any stretch of the imagination. Vehicle loses control, spins, crosses a median strip and strikes their truck, how was it their fault? Apparently the Warner driver was absolutely legal, A CB or an outside temperature gage would not have mattered a damn bit. They got hosed on this one. But this is only the opinion of a 35 year, 4,000,000 mile driver.

  8. I feel terrible for the families involved, but how crazy has our justice system become when a pickup truck crosses the median in front of a legally driven big rig, and the big rig company gets fined!

  9. This are the same type juries that let cops that kill unarmed black men go free

    1. Bobby, you talkin about the black men that are resisting, or running, dis-obeying orders in some way, and are part of a huge group that have conditioned the cops by their own illegal behavior? Is that who your talking about, dear racist Bobby, who just has to inject race into this conversation? Go listen to sounded smart black men like Larry Elders and Thomas Sowell and then come back and maybe we’ll talk.

  10. Wow, truckers always pay the consequences. The jury or judge doesn’t know if a law suit this big goes through, it can deteriorate a company as big as Werner, taking at least 1000 jobs with it.

  11. This is so wrong. Truckers always at fault when the four wheeler clearly caused the accident

  12. Ok, one of the driver’s lost control and caused a wreck, and one never lost control but was hit by the other. The way I see it, maybe the trucking company might donate the money they should receive for their damaged vehicle as a donation to the family that lost their family members/ or not.

  13. If these are the true facts of the case, Werners lawyers did a half ass job. The truck driver was supposedly a student, which implies he had a driver trainer, as an inexperienced truck driver he supposedly maintained control of a tractor trailer at a speed od 60 mph. On ice covered roads, submitted evidence shows he had exercised his own judgement, and slowed to 50 mph just prior to the crash, most probably because that was when the road actually became slick. The police, in a state that rarely miss an opportunity to write a trucker a ticket, found no fault on his part. This is a glaring example of how a jury threw out the law, and rendered their verdict based on sympathy for plaintiffs. Not only should Werner appeal, but they, and their driver should counter sue.

  14. Werner drivers speed is not and has nothing to do with this accident type. The driver who crossed center median driving a pick up truck known for light rear end becasie engines of pick up trucks sit in front weighting down front wheels and leaving rear very light and suceptable to coming around on wet roads and icy roads is completely at fault for driving to fast for conditions. She caused the wreck not werner. She killed her kid and maimed her kids. The same questions brought up by the ladies attorney apply to her, she didn’t have an outside thermometer or a cb radio and she was driving to fast as evidenced by her loss of control and failure to maintain her lane if traffic. She also didn’t check weather conditions on her phone or computer before taking to the hwy. in addition she takes no responsibility at all for her actions by suing werner. She should have been ticketed and arrested and charged with involuntary homicide and child endangerment at minimum. Why didn’t police charge her in accident she clearly caused. Why isn’t state bar looking st ambulance chasing lawyer she hired. This is what’s wrong with our courts frivolous lawsuits. Anyone who crosses onto incoming traffic for no good reason like she was cut off is the party at fault, period. On appeal I hope court awards all attorney fees back to werner that they’ve incurred defending suck a frivolous lawsuit in the first place.

  15. I have to agree with the majority here. Don’t see how Werner was at fault. Sounds like a jury of truck haters.

  16. To Werner : Hire some Representation for the appeal because apparently whatever you used for this trial "never showed up"

  17. This verdict is a travesty and the judge and all attorneys involved should be disbarred and jailed.

  18. I call horsemonkeys! That’s slang for…yes you guessed it. Werner representatives did a sloppy job. So let me get this straight. The pickup lost control, crossed the median, and into the path of the incoming Werner truck but somehow how this is Werner’s fault. My heart goes out to the family of the pickup truck but the Werner driver was in control of his truck the whole time. I agree maybe a donation should be setup for the family but Werner should not be held responsible for a tragedy that was clear not their fault

  19. The ambulance chasers that represented this poor woman and her kids used The Reptile Theory’s smoke and mirrors to bamboozle the jury into ignoring the rules and common sense in this case and instead rule based solely on sympathy. The lawyers will strut and preen until there is no one left who is willing to haul freight into Texas – or any of the states where run-away verdicts that defy common sense are the norm. Then they’ll move off to big pharma lawsuits.

  20. With all due respect, get the facts straight before passing judgment on the lawyers, judge, jury, and the justice system.

    1. It’s a sad world when people like Robert, and obviously many others, have been convinced by lawyer-reasoning, that someone bears culpability for damages that occurred solely because of the failings of others. Find someone else to blame for your own failings. Shift the blame as far as you can. Hell, like someone else said, with this thinking surely the Dept of Trans and the police are culpable as well! Just 50 years ago people did not think like this. It’s sick……and my son is a Manhattan corporate lawyer.

  21. Here is what the jury heard at the trial: the Werner truck averaged 60 mph traveling westward from Dallas to Odessa. Ice started forming on I-20 on the 100 mile stretch west of Odessa that the Werner truck went through. There were many, many other accidents on that same stretch. An identical accident occurred before the Werner truck (passenger vehicle lost control, went through the medium, collided with 18-wheeler) but no injuries because the 35-year veteran truck driver had slowed down to 5-10 mph because of the ice. The rookie Werner truck passed by many of the other accidents. He was not allowed to use the outside temperature gauge or CB radio (trainer driver was asleep in the berth but testified the rookie driver hadn’t earned the right to use those tools). The rookie driver and company denied there was ice on the road, despite 14 witnesses who testified otherwise. The company refused to acknowledge that the company or the driver made any mistakes, despite the fact that it made a conscious decision, with full knowledge of the national weather winter (ice) advisory, to take I-20 instead of another route with no icy conditions. The Werner truck should have been off the road like many of the other truckers, or going at a crawl for the safety of passenger cars, who are much more prone to losing control on ice. The passenger vehicle in this case hit black ice on the western edge of the ice storm, without warning (unlike the Werner truck that had passed through 2 hours of ice). The driver of the passenger vehicle was also found to be negligent and had already settled with the family, who were passengers but not related to the driver. The jury heard evidence that the Werner driver had slowed down to 50 mph due to a slower moving vehicle in his lane, but then was in the process of speeding back up when the collision occurred. If the Werner truck had slowed down or gotten off the road altogether then the injuries would have been minor or non-existent.

  22. Look They are stating this, It wasa rookie driver with his trainer ASLEEP, on a Just in Time load, Werners fault on that. Two, the driver drove through 200 miles of Ice and snow and should have known to SHUT IT DOWN, Three, The Werner driver had advanced knowledge of the conditions that the pick up didnt, Werner was more worried about the freight than the driver of their truck who had no experience. Four, the other trucks out there were doing 35-40, Werner was doing 50-60 and passing everyone in bad conditions, Driver failed to adjust speed for conditions because they we’re in a hurry to be in Cali by the next morning. Jury found Werner at fault for they way they do business and operate their drivers.

  23. This is a terrible judgement to place blame on Werner. Why was the family out? I understand why Werner was out. This country has to move freight – hundreds of millions of people depend on this. Did this family have to be out? Why is the driver of the vehicle that lost control not accountable? If this was a private citizen and not a corporation things would be turned the other way. Its blatant double standards. Do not take your family out onto dangerous roads. The end.

  24. Where does it say other trucks were doing 35-40? If anyone should take the blame, it should have been the state troopers. They should have closed down the highways if it were not safe to travel. The family put their own selves at risk and need to take most of the blame. They made a decision to put themselves at risk. They could have stayed where they were at. People need to stop blaming others for their very own poor judgment. Should I blame and Sue you for me getting upset that you wrote a comment I didn’t like?

  25. C’Mon — this is Texas — the slip and fall lawyer’s paradise.

    Although my favorite was the Texas attorney who won a $10 billion judgment against Texaco (a Pennsylvania company) because they bid higher than Pennzoil (A Texas company) for Getty. The half-million dollar non-repayed loan he Jamail made to the judge in the case was "no harm no foul" — no really.

    If you do business with any company or person that has any connection to Texas, you’re foolish.

  26. Werner needs a lot better lawyer, no damn way should they be responsible for paying a dime.
    How are we as operators going to servive if we are going to be held responsible for the bad driving of other on the road, he’ll they should sue the state of Texas for letting snow and ice lay on the road ways or for not putting up concrete center dividers between north and south bound lanes. Yeah it’s that kind of stupid….

  27. Okay if i understand this, the vehicle that was hit, by the semi, was the one who lost control, crossed the median and into the lane of travel of the semi, so its not the semis fault, and the semi was not cited.. Warner should appeal this decision, no jury in their right mind would award a judgement against another vehicle like this in any case, it makes no sense,,, this is just another case of the public trying to blame big trucks…. It doesnt matter if the semi was doing 50 or 70,, the semi was not the one who lost control, crossed the median and caused the accident… I would not pay them this is a joke and those jurors need to go to common sense school….

  28. If you are driving a Commercial vehicle and can 99% not at fault but that 1% you will be at fault and you must be under 5 mile per hour the posted limit. If it 55 then you must be 50 for normal weather conditions but if it bad weather you must drop even lower

  29. I agree that Werner wasn’t at fault but the problem is a jury ruled in the plaintiff’s favor. It’s call "deep pockets". I work in the insurance industry and see claims paid like this all the time. It doesn’t make sense and it’s infuriating but if a jury is involved they will often award nonsensical verdicts because they feel sorry for the plaintiff and believe the trucking company has so much money and insurance it doesn’t hurt them. It hurts every trucker on the road!

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