On Monday, a jury awarded family members “one of the largest wrongful-death verdicts in the nation” following a 2016 crash involving an oversized load.
On November 22, 2021, a jury in Titus County, Texas, awarded the survivors of 73 year old Toni Combest $480 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damages.
The $730 million award was issued following a civil suit filed against Landstar Ranger, Inc. and pilot car companies.
On February 21, 2016, a truck driver attempted to haul a 197,000-pound Navy nuclear submarine propeller over a narrow bridge on U.S. Highway 271 in Titus County, Texas.
A news release from the legal team representing Combest describes the crash:
… Mrs. Toni Combest was killed on the White Oak bridge in Titus County, Texas near Mount Pleasant by a nearly 200,000-pound “Super-Load” that was being escorted by a front and back pilot escort vehicle. The lead pilot escort vehicle ran Mrs. Combest off of the roadway just as Mrs. Combest was rounding the blind curve that would take her onto the skinny bridge.
Upon entering the bridge, Mrs. Combest was faced with a tractor and load that was almost completely within her lane. The driver of the tractor was able to swerve his vehicle out of her lane, but he was not able to remove the 16’ wide load from her path before the load struck her vehicle and caused a violent explosion of debris. The entire event was captured by the dash camera located in the rear escort vehicle.
Combest was reportedly traveling at speeds of 65 m.p.h. at the time of the crash as she was traveling from one church service to another. She passed away at the scene.
The legal team representing Combest shared images from the rear pilot vehicle’s dash cam and photos of Combest’s vehicle after the crash.
Local outlet KETK reports that no criminal charges were filed against Landstar Ranger.
“When trucking companies are negligent, people die,” said plaintiff attorney Brent Goudarzi. “The defendants in this case failed to maintain an effective lookout, failed to communicate with each other, and failed to ask for assistance from local and state law enforcement. This part of Texas is full of narrow bridges, and yet they had no plan for navigating them. I hope today’s verdict will stop anything like this from happening again.”
Attorneys said that Landstar Ranger, Inc. settled less than one week prior to jury selection for $50 million. S&M Pilot Service, the employer of the rear escort driver, also settled just prior to trial for $1 million. The trial went forward against 2A Pilot Cars, the employer of the front escort vehicle.
Landstar Ranger issued the following statement on the verdict:
Yesterday, Monday, Nov. 22, 2021, a verdict in the amount of $730 million was rendered by a state court in eastern Texas in a wrongful death case involving the Estate of Mrs. Toni Combest and her four adult children. This was a tragic accident that has clearly caused great pain to the Combest family.
All claims against Landstar Ranger, Inc. relating to this matter were settled prior to trial. The trial proceeded as to claims that were not settled against the front escort vehicle leading the shipment along its route. The front escort vehicle was provided by an independent third-party company, 2 A Pilot Cars. The verdict rendered against 2 A Pilot Cars does not affect or impact the prior settlement reached between the Combest family and Landstar Ranger.
Landstar Ranger did not own the truck or any of the equipment involved in the crash, and did not employ the driver operating the truck. Rather, the load was being hauled under Landstar Ranger’s federal interstate operating authority and the truck and trailing equipment were leased to Landstar Ranger by the truck’s owner-operator under the federal leasing regulations.
The legal team representing the plaintiffs says that this is the largest settlement ever awarded for a case involving a single person.