Alabama Wrongful Death Case Results in $3.5 Million Jury Award to Dead Motorist’s Family
The recent decision by a Chilton County jury to award $3.5 million to the widow and three children of a Clanton, AL, man killed in a horrendous traffic accident has sent a message to log truck companies across the country. As a Birmingham personal injury attorney having represented clients from around Alabama who have been in similar circumstances, I must say that I am pleased by the outcome of this recent wrongful death lawsuit.
According to news reports, 56-year-old James Sanderson was killed in January 2008 at an Elmore County intersection. The man’s passenger van was rear-ended by a logging truck while waiting for traffic ahead to make a left turn. The driver of that truck, Gary Fruge, was named in the lawsuit along with Ken Gorum Trucking. The events of that day were covered in the trial and included the deadly details.
On that day, according to news reports, Sanderson was stopped behind two vehicles -- a passenger car and another log truck -- in the left-hand turn lane at the intersection of Highways 14 and 170 in Wetumpka. While waiting on the passenger car to turn left, Sanderson was struck from behind by Fruge’s log truck, sending his van into the back of the first log truck. As a result of the collision, one of the logs from the first log truck was forced through Sanderson’s windshield causing a traumatic head injury.
The plaintiff’s attorney showed that Fruge was speeding and that the truck had faulty brakes. Apparently proving that the trucking company had failed to properly maintain their vehicle, the jury fined both Fruge and the company for whom he was driving. The lawyer for the Sanderson family produced experts who testified that Fruge was traveling well in excess of the posted 50mph speed limit.
The Sandersons' attorney argued that Fruge had about one thousand feet in which to bring his truck to a full stop. From the evidence, experts testified that the truck must have been travelling around 65-75mph for Fruge to have applied the brakes and still strike the victim’s van with sufficient force to cause the resulting damage and fatal injuries. Experts showed that if Fruge been going 45mph, he would have been able to stop within 360 feet after first application of the truck's brakes. The jury apparently agreed and found Gruge and Ken Gorum Trucking liable for Sanderson’s death.
While other states across the nation have laws that instruct juries to consider the income and earning potential of a victim, Alabama law does not restrict an award based on these factors. Instead, our state asks juries to base their decisions on the gravity of the conduct, as well as using the award to discipline the defendant and send a message to others. The resulting $3.5 million award is an example of Alabama's approach to wrongful death cases such as this one.
Jury awards $3.5 million to family of man crushed by log trucks, clantonadvertiser.com, July 22, 2009