Jury Issues $1 Billion Verdict Against Two Carriers in Fatal Crash
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A Nassau County, Fla., jury on Aug. 20 issued a total of $1 billion in monetary damages against two motor carriers that were declared negligent for their role in a pair of 2017 crashes on the same night and near the same location.
The crashes, which occurred less than 90 minutes apart, took place on Interstate 95 approaching the intersection of SR 200, near Jacksonville, according to court documents. The second crash killed an 18-year-old college student and sent dozens of motorists stuck in a traffic jam from the first crash to the hospital.
After a five-day civil trial, the jury in the case issued a complex verdict, awarding $900 million in punitive damages against one of the defendants in the case, AJD Business Services Inc., of Staten Island, N.Y. AJD was accused of being “grossly negligent in hiring and employing” box truck driver Russel Rogatenko, the driver of the truck who caused the first crash.
Mellissa, Connor and David Zion. (Dzion Family/The Law Firm of Pajcic & Pajcic)
In addition, the jury added another $100 million in wrongful death damages against AJD and the second carrier, Kahkashan Carrier Inc. of Montreal.
At 9:10 p.m. on Sept. 4, 2017, Rogatenko’s box truck was involved in the first crash, which caused a large backup on I-95.
Prior to the crash, Rogatenko had already amassed a long list of moving violations, including running weigh stations, logbook violations, rear-end crashes, distracted driving, following too closely, and a speeding violation for traveling 95 mph on I-95, plaintiff attorney Curry Pajcic of Jacksonville told Transport Topics.
Rogatenko, who did not have a commercial driver license at the time of the crash, was distracted by his cellphone, and was driving over his legal limit of hours when he caused a crash and flipped his truck, blocking the highway and causing a massive backup on the interstate, Pajcic said in a statement.
The second defendant in the case, Kahkashan Carrier, and its driver, Yadwinder Sangha, were found to be negligent in connection with a second crash at the same location at 10:34 p.m. on the same night.
Before the crash, Sangha had been driving for 25 hours from Montreal en route to Miami, Pajcic said.
The second crash resulted in the death of Connor Dzion, whose mother, Mellissa Dzion, filed a wrongful death and emotional distress lawsuit in 2018. Connor Dzion, of Jacksonvlle, was en route to college when he was stopped in a traffic jam caused by the first crash. His car was rear-ended by Sangha’s tractor-trailer, according to court records.
Sangha had his cruise control set at 70 mph when his truck slammed into the line of stopped traffic, killing the college student. The truck’s data recorder showed he did not attempt to brake until one second before the fatal crash.
The jury took just four hours to reach a decision.
“It’s bad trucking companies like this that make life so hard for good trucking companies,” Pajcic said.
In his instructions to the jury, the trial judge found that Sangha was negligent in the operation of his truck on the night of the crash. The judge also deemed that Mellissa and Connor’s father, David Dzion, as “personal representatives of the estate of Connor Dzion,” were entitled to recover from Kahkashan Carrier for the loss, injury or damage related to the wrongful death of Connor Dzion.
The judge said that Rogatenko and AJD Business Services also were negligent and that this negligence was a legal cause of the death of Connor Dzion.
Kahkashan attorney Sean McDonough of Orlando did not return a phone message seeking comment.
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