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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.  


  1. Phyllis

    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!

  2. Robert

    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

  3. Jerry hopper

    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….

  4. Paul

    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….

  5. Tom Mariner

    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.

  6. R Miller

    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?

  7. JK

    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.

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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.