Our firm had the privilege of representing Mrs. Annie Sanderson and her children in a wrongful death trial in Chilton County, Alabama. This case arose out of the death of Mrs. Sanderson’s husband, James Sanderson. At the conclusion of the trial, the jury returned a $3.5 million verdict against Ken Gorum Trucking and one of its employees, Gary Fruge.
Mr. Sanderson was killed when his work van was struck from behind by a log truck being driven by Gary Fruge who was working for Ken Gorum Trucking at the time. After being hit, Mr. Sanderson’s van was pushed into logs from another log truck that had stopped in front of Mr. Sanderson. Fruge was operating his truck in excess of the posted speed limit, although he claimed he was traveling under the speed limit. In addition to the speeding issue, the Gorum Trucking vehicle had inoperative and defective brakes. Testimony at trial revealed that Fruge had 1,000 feet in which to stop his truck but failed to do so. If he had been traveling at 45 mph, as he claimed, Fruge would have been able to stop his truck within 360 feet. Brian Buckner, an accident reconstruction expert, did an excellent job of reconstructing the accident sequence.
The only damages allowed in a wrongful death action in Alabama are punitive in nature and are awarded for the purpose of preserving precious human life and discouraging similar wrongful acts in the future. The Defendants argued that this wreck was a result of momentary inattentiveness on the part of Furge and, therefore, didn’t deserve any punishment. But, the evidence showed that there is an ongoing trend in the log trucking industry of violating Alabama Department of Transportation Safety Regulations. Our lawyers argued on behalf of the Sandersons that the verdict should be large enough to preserve human life and deter similar conduct in the future by others in the log trucking industry. The jury was courageous to stand up in this manner and we believe the verdict will have an impact for good on the trucking industry in Alabama and certainly for safety on our state’s highways.
Progressive Insurance Company, the liability insurance company for the Defendants, refused to settle the case prior to trial. Instead, the insurance company insisted that the Defendants conduct was just a mere “mistake” and that such conduct would never result in a large verdict. Apparently, Progressive hoped to continue with business as usual in the industry. Fortunately, the 12 citizens of Chilton County who served on this jury sent Progressive and the trucking industry a very different message. We are pleased to have had the opportunity of representing the Sanderson family. Ben Baker and Cole Portis from our firm represented this family and did an outstanding job, both in preparation and at trial, for them.
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