Werner Enterprises Inc. plans to appeal a jury verdict awarding the surviving members of a Texas family $89.7 million in connection with a December 2014 fatal crash. In the crash, a pickup truck crossed a median and collided with a Werner tractor-trailer on an icy interstate near Odessa, Texas, according to a statement by the motor carrier’s attorney.
The verdict, issued on May 17, came after a six-week civil trial in a Houston courtroom. In the case, a pickup truck driven by a family friend of plaintiff Jennifer Blake went out of control on black ice on Interstate 20, traveling into and through a grassy median, spinning out of control and ending up directly in the path of the Werner tractor.
“The facts of the crash sequence are not materially in dispute,” said Eric Penn, a Jacksonville, Texas, attorney representing Blake, a Houston-area woman who suffered a serious brain injury in the accident. Blake’s seven-year-old son was killed in the crash, her 12-year-old daughter suffered catastrophic brain injuries and her 14-year-old son also was injured.
Neither the driver of the pickup truck, Zaragoza Salinas, nor the Werner driver were cited by police for the accident. Despite the large sum attached to the verdict, the jury — which heard from 50-plus witnesses — did not award punitive damages.
“This accident unquestionably had tragic results, and the thoughts and prayers of Werner Enterprises and its associates continue to go out to the Blake family,” Werner’s Chief Legal Officer Nathan Meisgeier said in a statement. “However, Werner Enterprises maintains that its drivers and the company did nothing wrong. The Werner driver was traveling well below the posted speed limit, did not lose control of his tractor-trailer and even brought the unit to a controlled stop after the impact.”
Meisgeier added. “If an accident like this is the fault of the driver who was hit by the out of control vehicle, think about what that means for every motorist on the roads.”
However, Penn said that the case goes beyond the actual accident per se — that the driver, a trainee traveling with a trainer, should have pulled off the road in the dangerous weather. “The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning saying that there was going to be freezing rain making conditions on the highway extremely dangerous,” he said. “That was 12 hours before the crash, five hours before these guys were dispatched from Dallas.”
During the ice storm, the truck passed three accidents, according to Penn. “He’s been in the ice for 50 miles before the crash,” Penn said.