The Champion Firm Pursues Novel Liability Theories to Recover $2 Million in Wrongful Death Case Involving Commercial Driver
The Champion Firm used novel liability theories to collect $2 million in policy limits for the families of two people who died in a wreck where a commercial driver fell asleep in his personal vehicle on his way home from work.
The case involved a multi-fatality wreck that took place on I-16 outside Savannah on June 21, 2016. Around 5:40 a.m., the other driver fell asleep and crossed a median, striking our client’s vehicle head-on. Both the driver and passenger in our vehicle died at the scene, as did the three occupants of the other driver’s vehicle.
While pursuing a settlement with the at-fault driver’s liability insurer, Darl Champion was doing research on the wreck when he came across a news article that included statements from the mother of a passenger in the other vehicle. The mother stated that her son and two co-workers had driven through the night to return home to Georgia after completing a moving job in Virginia. She stated that her son had called and stated that his co-worker was drowsy and was about to have an accident.
Based on this information, Darl filed a lawsuit against the moving company, Coastal Moving and Storage. The lawsuit alleged that the moving company was liable because its driver, though allegedly going home, was still in the course and scope of his employment because he was transporting co-workers. The lawsuit also alleged that, even if he was not course and scope at the time, Coastal was still liable because the on-duty hours of service violations proximately caused the off-duty wreck. Last, the lawsuit asserted that Coastal was liable for negligently hiring, training, and supervising its driver.
During discovery in the lawsuit, Darl was able to discover that the driver had been working 23 straight hours when he fell asleep at the wheel. Darl also uncovered numerous violations of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety regulations in the months leading up to the wreck. Using pay records and GPS logs, Darl was able to show that the driver frequently fabricated his logbooks, worked beyond the hours of service permitted under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, and would arrive back in Georgia well past midnight. In just the six months prior to the wreck, there were at least 26 examples of the driver violating federal regulations on hours of service.
After extensive discovery that involved multiple depositions and expert discovery, Coastal filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, asking the Court to enter judgment in its favor. Coastal claimed that it was not liable for its driver’s wreck because he was off duty at the time of the wreck while driving home in his personal vehicle.
In response, Darl and Eric Funt outlined the legal arguments and factual bases for holding the moving company liable. The response relied on the fact that the Coastal driver was responsible for finding and paying his own labor. Based on this fact, we argued that he was still on duty at the time of the wreck because transporting his labor home was part of his job responsibilities. We also argued that Coastal was liable for its driver’s on-duty negligence in being on duty for 23 hours straight. Based on the hours-of-service regulations, the Coastal driver was not permitted to drive past 8:30 p.m. the night prior to the wreck. The wreck that occurred the following morning, just minutes after getting in his personal vehicle, was the foreseeable consequence of that on-duty negligence in driving over his hours of service.
While the Motion was pending, the Defendant’s insurer agreed to pay the full policy limits of $1,000,000 per person, for a total of $2,000,000 for the families of our two deceased clients. This case demonstrates the importance of ensuring a thorough investigation, especially when serious injuries or a fatality is involved. This result all started with a news article that then led to extensive legal research, thorough discovery, and novel legal arguments. As a result, we were able to convert a routine policy limits settlement of $25,000 per person into a million-dollar settlement for each client.
For additional coverage of this case, you can read the Daily Report’s coverage of it here.
About The Champion Firm, Personal Injury Attorneys, P.C.
Started in 2014, The Champion Firm, Personal Injury Attorneys, P.C. is a top-rated, full-service Metro Atlanta personal injury firm specializing in motor vehicle accidents, premises liability, wrongful death, and medical malpractice. Led by Attorney Darl H. Champion Jr., The Champion Firm team has successfully litigated and settled over $100 million for clients all across Georgia. If you or someone you know was injured in Georgia as a result of someone else’s negligence, contact The Champion Firm, Personal Injury Attorneys, P.C. today for a free consultation.