Our firm settled a wrongful death case that was set for trial on January 9th in Montgomery County Circuit Court. The case involved a 5-year-old child who died as the result of being run over by a large beer distributing truck. The case was brought by the parents against Bama Budweiser of Montgomery, Inc., a wholesale beer distributor of Anheuser-Busch. The vehicle involved was a tractor-trailer unit, which was being driven by a driver with only six months experience with a vehicle of this type. Before his employment by Bama Budweiser, the driver had never before driven a tractor-trailer rig. During discovery, we were surprised to learn that the company had no safety department, even though it had 30 tractor-trailer units and employed 30 drivers. Neither did the company have a safety director or safety officer. There were no regular meetings attended by the drivers where safety was even a subject of discussion. The only training of drivers was done by supervisors who rode with them for a time after the drivers were initially hired. While Anheuser-Busch required a periodic ride with the drivers by supervisors, it appeared this was primarly geared toward sales and marketing. The only written guidelines for the drivers and supervisors dealt with matters relating to the sale of beer.
The tragic incident occurred on April 5, 2005, at a convience store located on the Troy Highway within the city limits of Montgomery. The child, who was riding his bicycle, was hit by the vehicle in a drive around on the convenience store premises. The driver had been parked while unloading beer at the store. As he started off from a parked position, he was preoccupied with avoiding hitting the curb on his left as he drove off from his parked location. The driver was using one of his left side mirrors to watch the curb and was not keeping a proper lookout for persons out front in the vehicle’s path. The child was first hit when the vehicle was traveling between 2 and 5 miles per hour after traveling around 30 feet. The child and his bicycle were caught under the front bumper, then drug for at least 35 feet under the front of the vehicle before the child slipped loose. The child was then run over by the right rear outside trailer drive tire. According to the investigating officer, the truck then traveled for another 100 feet before coming to a complete stop. Had the driver been keeping a proper lookout at the outset, he would have seen the child and the vehicle could have been stopped in less than 10 feet. Even after hitting the child initially, the vehicle could have been stopped before the child was actually run over. Had the tractor-trailer been stopped at that point, the injuries substained would have been relatively minor and certainly not life-threatening. The child died on the scene from his injuries.
The case, which was to be tried before Circuit Judge Gene Reese, was settled for a confidental amount just before jury selection. The case was handled by Julie Beasley of our firm, who did an excellent job for the family. The fact that the beer delivery truck was very large and was used for deliveries at stores where people, including children, are expected to be makes training of drivers very important. In this case, we felt that there was a definite need for a structured training program. After the incident, the company made no changes in either its training or safety programs. I hope the company will put a good safety program, including better driver training, in place now that the case has been settled. I sincerely hope that it will do so.
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