Yesterday a Texas jury settled on a nearly $90 million verdict against Werner Enterprises for a fatal crash in 2014 involving a student truck driver that occurred during icy weather conditions.
On Thursday, a Harris County jury awarded Jennifer Blake $89.6 million after a six week long trial in a civil suit against Werner.
Blake was represented by the Penn Law Firm, who argued that Werner demonstrated “systematic disregard for safety and training policies” in the wake of a pickup vs semi truck crash that happened on I-20 in Texas in 2014. The pickup driver lost control and crashed through the median into the oncoming lanes of the interstate, where it was hit by a Werner truck. The crash killed Blake’s seven year old son and left her 12 year old daughter a quadriplegic in need of 24 hour care. Blake and her another son also suffered brain injuries in the crash.
Lawyers from Penn Law Firm blame poor safety and training standards by Werner for the crash: “Werner’s lack of basic safety systems and its inadequate training processes for student drivers – combined with its business model of assigning student drivers on expedited deliveries – is creating a highly dangerous and unsustainable dynamic on U.S. Highway.”
From a news release from the Penn Law Firm:
“According to court documents, the collision occurred on I-20 in Texas during freezing rain and black ice conditions. Every state’s Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) manual instructs 18-wheeler drivers to slow to a crawl and get off the road during icy conditions. Shiraz Ali, the Werner student truck driver in this case, did not get off the interstate. Instead, Ali averaged in excess of 60 mph for the 52 miles he was driving in icy conditions prior to the crash, and was traveling over 50 mph seconds prior to the collision. It was undisputed that had Ali complied with the CDL manual the crash would not have occurred….
At 2:50 p.m., one hour and 40 minutes prior to the collision, the National Weather Service issued an updated Winter Storm Warning stating the freezing rain had developed. Yet Werner never communicated this update to its student driver, allowing Ali to average over 60 mph while driving unsupervised through the icy conditions because Ali was on a Just-In-Time (JIT) load, requiring delivery to California by the next day. A JIT delivery is one with an expedited delivery deadline. These are priority deliveries for which Werner expects its drivers to provide 100% on-time delivery.“
Werner says that they will appeal the verdict and argues that it was the pickup truck, not the semi truck, that lost control and caused the crash. Nathan Meisgeier, Werner’s executive Vice President, told the Omaha World-Herald, “The plaintiffs were in a pickup that lost control on its side of a divided Interstate, came through a grass median, and ran into the Werner truck. The Werner driver was traveling well below the posted speed limit, did not lose control of his tractor-trailer, and even brought the unit to a controlled stop after the impact”
The Penn Law Firm has issued a call for the public to contact Werner Enterprises to demand “that Werner take action to change its safety processes and training policies, change its JIT staffing policies, and improve its truck driver employee retention program.”