$3.75 Million Dollar Settlement to Children of Couple
$3.75 Million Dollar Settlement to Children of Couple This case is noteworthy in at least two respects. First, the settlement amount is extraordinary given the age of the deceased: Douglas Townsend, 64, and Beverly Townsend, 74. Second, the settlement amount for the age of the decedents is remarkable in that the venue of this case was Greene County, Missouri.
Additionally, the insurance coverage maintained by Omark Motor Lines was $2 million dollars per occurrence. Although the Federal government requires a minimum of $750,000 dollars in liability insurance for a commercial motor carrier and although this company maintained insurance in an amount in excess of the statutory minimum, they clearly were underinsured for the catastrophic nature of the loss. The under-insurance of motor carriers given the catastrophic nature of injuries produced in such accidents is prevalent throughout the country, and this case is an example of the exposure to motor carriers and in some cases the unwillingness of Plaintiffs to merely accept insurance coverage as part of a settlement. The settlement in this case was $1.75 million dollars in excess of their available insurance limits.
On November 9, 2006 at approximately 1:30 p.m., Douglas and Beverly Townsend were traveling eastbound on Interstate Highway 44 approaching the Kearney Street overpass in Springfield, Missouri. A tractor trailer owned by Omark Trucking Company, Inc. and driven by Driver Smith was also headed eastbound, following some distance behind the Townsend vehicle. As the vehicles approached the overpass a series of five signs warned motorists of a construction zone ahead. A lighted arrow sign and orange traffic cones warned of a left lane closure. The traffic on the overpass had slowed to a stop due to a minor traffic accident up ahead. Douglas Townsend, driving in the right lane, slowed his vehicle to come to a stop. Driver Smith drove his tractor-trailer into the rear of the Townsend vehicle. A fire immediately ensued. Douglas and Beverly Townsend perished in the fire. Douglas was 64 years old, Beverly was age 74.
The police investigation concluded that Driver Smith operated the truck in a careless and imprudent manner, failed to exercise the highest degree of care, failed to recognize a marked work zone, to see the orange traffic cones closing the left lane, failed to see the traffic in front of him until stopped, failed to recognize that he could not stop in time and failed to recognize the left lane was shut down.
Plaintiffs are the surviving children of Douglas and Beverly Townsend. Plaintiffs brought an action against Driver Smith and Omark Trucking Company, Inc. for the wrongful deaths of their parents.
In his deposition, Driver Smith testified that on November 8, the day before the crash, he arrived in Kansas City, Missouri at approximately 7:30 p.m. He parked at a truck stop and slept for approximately 2 hours. When he awoke, he walked to the casino next door to gamble, arriving at between 10:15 and 10:30 p.m. After gambling for 2 hours he returned to his truck about midnight and slept until 6:00 a.m. the next morning. He left Kansas City at approximately 6:30 a.m. and drove to Nevada, Missouri where he took a two-hour nap. He drove to Joplin, Missouri where he picked up a load for delivery to Springfield, Missouri.
The Qualcomm vehicle position history reports revealed that Driver Smith had driven from Norwich Ohio to Kansas City, Missouri, a distance of approximately 725 miles on November 8, 2006. He stopped his truck for the night at approximately 8:00 p.m. Plaintiffs obtained records from the casino documenting that Driver Smith’s first slot machine play began at 8:23 pm and his last slot machine play was at 1:35 a.m. on November 9th, contradicting Driver Smith’s testimony about having taken a nap before going to the casino and leaving the casino at midnight.
The safety director for Omark Trucking Company, Inc. while acknowledging that driver fatigue is the number one problem facing the trucking industry, testified that Omark Trucking Company, Inc. provided no specific training to its drivers on the subject of driver fatigue.
As part of the settlement, Omark Trucking Company, Inc. agreed to change its Policies and Procedures manual to include a provision to require and implement the training of its drivers on the subject of driver fatigue.
Attorneys for Plaintiffs Townsend, Hinckley & Barbieri:
Tim E. Dollar
Attorney for Third-Party Plaintiffs Richina and Mitrahina (Barbieri case)
Attorneys for Defendants: James Simpson, Memphis, TN