In an effort to avoid unnecessary emotional pain, Ronald Rodriguez asked that only the eldest child of five siblings, a 12-year-old, testify in his father’s wrongful death trial. And the Laredo lawyer only kept the child on the stand briefly and pointed out his siblings in the courtroom.

But the five children’s loss of their father, Carlos Aguilar—a loss that “could have been avoided”—Rodriguez said, must have registered deeply with the Dimmit County jury that on Dec. 5 issued a $281 million verdict in favor of the family.

Rodriguez’s client—Aguilar’s widow who was acting individually and as a representative for her husband’s estate and as next of kin for the five children—had filed an amended petition on Sept. 19 in the 293rd District Court in Dimmit County alleging a drive-shaft assembly from an 18-wheeler, owned by the corporate defendants and operated by its employee, broke off and crashed through the windshield of a pickup truck it was passing and in which Aguilar was a passenger. The flying truck part allegedly struck Aguilar in the face and neck, catastrophically injuring the father of five, who died after being transported by life-flight to a hospital, according to the petition.

In Aguilar v. Heckmann Water Resources, the widow named as defendants Heckmann Water Resources, a company that owned the vehicle; its subsidiaries; and its employee who was driving. The same petition cites as causes of action wrongful death, negligence and gross negligence. It seeks exemplary damages.

In an answer filed on Nov. 11, the defendants generally denied the allegations. Ricardo Reyna, a partner in Brock Person Guerra Reyna in San Antonio, who represents all of the defendants, did not return a call by press time.

The trial took place for 11 days with a break for Thanksgiving.

Rodriguez, of The Law Offices of Ronald Rodriguez in Laredo, showed the draft shaft to the jury to explain what its impact might be when traveling, as alleged, at 50 miles per hour before hitting Aguilar. Rodriguez said the evidence “was very compelling” that the shaft, if it had been properly fastened, would have prevented Aguilar’s death.

After four hours of deliberation, the jury issued a verdict that included damages awarded to each child for future mental anguish and $100 million in exemplary damages for alleged gross negligence against the defendants.

“This verdict will make the roads safer throughout South Texas,” said Rodriguez.