AND THE VERDICT IS…
Women Allege Negligence for
Injuries from Truck Crash
By William F. Smith, Esq.
Verdict: Defense Verdict
Venue: Macon County, Alabama
Plaintiffs: Phyllis Goats & Nancy Rogers
Defendants: Tri-County Trucking and
Demand: $3.5 Million
On June 4, 2010, Heather Mar- ley, Phyllis Goats, Nancy Rog- ers and Patsey Burnett were traveling eastbound through
Macon County, Alabama, on Highway 80.
Goats, Rogers and Burnett were sisters.
Marley was Goats’ daughter. The four women had begun their trip from their home
town of Evadale, Texas, and were on their
way to Savannah, Ga., to visit another relative. Marley was operating the Chrysler 300.
Goats, Rogers and Burnett were passengers.
Traveling ahead of the Chrysler on Highway 80 was a tri-axle dump truck owned by
Tri-County Trucking, LLC and operated by
Joe Hasberry, an employee of the company.
There were two vehicles between the Chrysler and the dump truck. At some point,
Marley decided to pass all three vehicles by
overtaking them on the left. There was a dispute as to whether Marley began her passing
maneuver in a passing zone, but there was
no dispute that Marley eventually entered
a no-passing zone for eastbound vehicles
while she was still attempting the pass.
At the same time, Joe Hasberry turned
on his left turn blinker and slowed his
dump truck down in order to make a left
turn onto County Road 97 to pick up some
aggregate material from a pit in the Tyson-
ville area. Hasberry was checking his side
mirrors as he approached the intersection
of County Road 97. Once he reached the
intersection, he checked traffic in the west-
bound lane of Highway 80 and felt it was
safe to proceed with his left turn. Hasberry
began his turn and had almost completely
cleared the intersection when the front of
the Chrysler struck the right rear tire of the
dump truck. The force of the impact was
significant enough to swing the dump truck
around by 45 degrees. The Chrysler was in a
no-passing zone when the impact occurred.
Goats and Rogers suffered catastrophic
injuries. Goats was air-lifted to Jackson
Hospital in Montgomery. She suffered a
broken hand, broken foot, several broken
ribs and a collapsed lung. Rogers suffered
femur fractures in both legs and fractures
of her nose and cheek. She was also taken
to Jackson Hospital where she had to be
intubated. Both plaintiffs underwent surgeries at Jackson Hospital and were in the
hospital for more than 10 days before they
were able to return to Texas.
The plaintiffs brought claims of negligence and wantonness against Hasberry
and Tri-County Trucking, along with
claims of negligent entrustment and negligent supervision against Tri-County
Trucking. The plaintiffs’ theory of liability against Hasberry consisted in their assertion that Hasberry, as an operator of a
commercial vehicle, should have cleared
his left side mirror just before making his
left turn. Had he done so, he would have
been able to see the Chrysler attempting
to overtake him on the left and he would
have refrained from making his turn and
thereby avoided this collision.
Plaintiffs retained trucking expert Jon
Paul Dillard to testify that Hasberry failed
to fulfill his duties as an operator of a commercial dump truck. Furthermore, Dillard
testified that Tri-County Trucking was
not compliant with Federal Motor Carrier
Safety Regulations with regards to record
retention and safety protocols.
The defendants argued that Hasberry
was an excellent driver who had been op-
erating a commercial vehicle of some kind
for 28 years without so much as a speed-
ing ticket before this accident. He had an
exemplary employment record and he was
certainly competent to operate a com-
mercial vehicle. Secondly, the defendants
argued that the alleged duty of a commer-
cial truck driver to clear his left side mir-
ror the instant before he begins his turn is
not a rule of the road, nor is it spelled out
in any of the authoritative materials that
were relied upon by the plaintiffs’ expert.
Lastly, the defendants argued that the indi-
vidual responsible for causing the accident
was Heather Marley, who was violating the
rules of the road of Alabama by attempting
to pass vehicles in a no-passing zone when
the accident occurred.
Another important factor in the case
was that Goats and Rogers went back
to Texas after the accident and brought
claims against Marley for their bodily injuries resulting from the accident. Those
claims were settled by Marley’s insurance
company. The releases reflecting the terms
of those settlement agreements were introduced into evidence at trial.
At the close of plaintiffs’ case, the claim
for negligent entrustment was dismissed
as a matter of law. The remaining claims of
negligence, wantonness and negligent supervision were presented to the jury.
In closing arguments, the plaintiffs
asked the jury to return a verdict of compensatory damages for Phyllis Goats and
Nancy Rogers in the amount of $1.5 million each. They also asked for $500,000 in
punitive damages, for a total demand of
$3.5 million in damages. The defendants
asked the jury to bring back defendants’
verdicts on all counts.
The jury deliberated for about one hour
and 20 minutes and brought back verdicts
for the defendants on all claims presented.
Thereafter, the judge entered a consistent
judgment in the record.
William F. Smith, II, is the managing
attorney of the Birmingham, Ala., office
of Vernis & Bowling, LLC. He can be
reached at WSmith@Law-Alabama.com.
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