Adair County Jury Returns $14.6 Million Verdict to Crash Victim
An Adair County jury returned a $14.6 million verdict in a civil case brought against the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) and MoDOT employee Larry Finley by the family of Ann Ferguson of Kirksville. The unanimous verdict, the largest recorded in the county, was handed down November 30, 2012.
The motor vehicle accident occurred in 2008 when Ferguson ran into an unflagged 25-foot log sticking out the back of a 16-foot MoDOT dump truck with the tailgate down on Missouri Route O near Novinger. The accident killed Ferguson’s 10-year-old daughter, Allison Pfeiffer, and permanently disabled Ferguson with traumatic brain injuries. She requires around-the-clock nursing care. Ferguson’s then 8-year-old son received moderate injuries in the crash.
MoDOT’s Finley had been cleaning debris left from recent flooding near the highway. It is against MoDOT safety regulations to leave the tailgate down on vehicles while operating them on the roadway. Failure to flag objects extending a certain distance beyond the bed of a vehicle is also in violation of Missouri and federal law. Ferguson’s father and court-appointed guardian and conservator, Don McCoy, and the attorneys for his daughter, contended that Ferguson’s injuries were caused when the nine feet of unflagged log extending beyond the truck bed crashed through the windshield of her GMC Safari mini van. MoDOT attorneys argued unsuccessfully that Ferguson ran into the tailgate itself rather than the log. Both sides agreed that Ferguson ran into the rear of the MoDOT vehicle. In delivering the verdict, the jury found Ferguson 25 percent responsible for the accident.
Jay Benson of The Benson Law Firm, served as local counsel on the victim’s three-man legal team consisting of Aaron Smith of Columbia, Mo., and Bradley Kuhlman of Kansas City.
“Had MoDOT not had the tailgate down and a 25-foot log in the 16-foot bed, injuries in this accident would have been far less severe,” Benson said. “Had Mr. Finley been observant of MoDOT’s own safety regulations and those required by Missouri and federal laws, this tragedy would have been avoided. A loving mother and vibrant, productive member of our community would still be capable of living an active life,” he said.
Plaintiffs’ experts: Bob Caldwell, Lafayette, Colorado (accident reconstruction), Marlusz Ziejewski, Fargo, North Dakota (biomechanics), Bill Paxton, Pensacola, Florida (trucking), Dr. Norbert Belz, Springfield, Missouri (life care planning), John Ward, Leawood, Kansas (economics)
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