An Arizona jury awarded $36.5 million this week to the family of a man who was killed in a Kansas big rig crash. According to an article in the Arizona Republic, the four-week trial ended the way it did because the trucking company did not want to hand over driver logs that the company is required to maintain under federal regulations.
The verdict included more than $13.5 million in punitive damages. The logs, which Swift Transportation Co. said it could not produce, would have helped plaintiff’s attorneys and jurors determine whether the big rig driver was driving more hours than he was legally permitted or whether he was fatigued at the time of the crash. The jury not only considered the truck company’s attitude in this case but also the fact that the accident victim, 57-year-old Thomas Steven, was survived by his wife and eight children, ranging in age from 13 to 26, the newspaper reported. Steven was reportedly the owner of a plumbing supply business in Wichita.
The crash happened in April 2004 when the big rig driver did not slow down on a Kansas highway intersection. He reportedly cruised over three sets of rumble strips meant to caution drivers about an approaching stop sign. Then, he drove right through the stop sign and slammed into Steven’s Chevy Suburban, killing him. Steven’s two passengers suffered serious injuries. After the crash, the big rig driver, Kevin Jones, was not able to explain why he did not stop.
Every year, big rig crashes cause more than 5,000 deaths in the United States. Over the last five years big truck accidents have been steadily increasing. And experts have repeatedly found that the leading cause of big rig accidents, especially the ones caused by the driver, is fatigue.
Why do you think this trucking company could not “find” the logs they were supposed to keep by law? It doesn’t seem to be an accident or a coincidence that they lost those logs and we’re glad that these jurors saw through that. Many companies get cited for failing to keep these records or falsifying them to cut corners. While big rig drivers are to blame because they directly cause these crashes, their companies or the owners are equally to blame because they let it happen.
As for the victim’s family, this is certainly not a lottery winning. It’s money they need so badly to make their future just a little brighter. Of course, it will never replace their father. But it will help improve the quality of their lives. The jury verdict should serve a reminder for trucking companies to follow the law and do the right thing.