Canadian Carrier to Appeal Nuclear Verdict

Jury Verdict Was for $82 Million
Challenger Motor Freight
Challenger Motor Freight

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A Canadian motor carrier plans to file an appeal of an $82 million jury verdict in a 2018 fatal crash in Michigan for which it has admitted fault, on grounds primarily related to the amount awarded.

“Our legal team has carefully assessed our position and believes the amount awarded to be excessive and not in line with the evidence presented and was the result of numerous factors, including decisions made by the state court judge during trial,” the carrier, Challenger Motor Freight, said in a statement. “We are committed to pursuing a fair outcome based on the evidence presented and will navigate the legal proceedings diligently to ensure a comprehensive reflection of the circumstances surrounding this unfortunate and isolated incident.”

The carrier added, “We deeply understand the gravity of the situation and extend our heartfelt condolences to the entire Attianese family during this profoundly difficult time.”

Challenger has admitted responsibility for the crash, but its attorney, Brian Del Gatto, Phoenix managing partner at the law firm of Wilson Elser, said it was a “strategic decision” that will be “outlined in future court filings.”

Del Gatto

Del Gatto 

Del Gatto said the appeal cannot be filed until after the state judge files a formal judgment. From there, the carrier can ask the judge to reduce the amount of the verdict or order a new trial. The process could take months, according to Del Gatto.

Jude Attianese and his son Zachary, both of New Jersey, were killed when the SUV in which they were traveling was struck by a Challenger tractor-trailer after traffic slowed for a construction zone. The crash occurred along Interstate 75 in Wayne County, Mich., at 8:56 p.m. on June 15, 2018.

Since the carrier admitted responsibility, neither the driver nor company executives testified during the trial and the jury was only required to assess the amount of the verdict, Del Gatto said. The trial judge told the jury that both the driver, Jose Angel Nogueras, and the company were negligent in the case.

The verdict award is said to be the highest ever in a fatal trucking crash in the state. Since it exceeds $10 million, the award amount fits the American Transportation Research Institute definition of a “nuclear verdict.

The wrongful death civil lawsuit was filed on behalf of the family’s estate in Wayne County Circuit Court in February of 2019. Jude Attianese was in his late 50s and Zachary Attianese was 20. They were traveling to meet Natalie Attianese, Zachary’s mother, to attend a funeral in the Detroit area.


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“Jude Attianese was a small business owner, and Zachary was a college student with a promising baseball career: one of the highest-ranked left-handed pitching prospects in the country,” said a website post on behalf of the family’s attorney, Brian McKeen with McKeen & Associates. “At the time of his death, he had signed a letter of intent with Florida State University to attend and play baseball and had received interest from Major League baseball teams.”

McKeen did not return a message seeking comment.

Court records show that the jury verdict, announced on April 20, awarded the estate a total of $24 million for “fright and shock” before the accident occurred; $19 million for “mental anguish” and “conscious pain” caused by the accident; and hundreds of thousands of dollars annually through 2076.

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