A man who was severely injured when he was hit on the side of the road by a commercial truck operated by a drunken driver has been awarded $15.5 million by a Philadelphia jury.
The jury in Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Linda Carpenter’s courtroom handed up the verdict to plaintiff Issac Espinoza on Tuesday afternoon after three hours of deliberation in the third week of trial.
Espinoza alleged that trucking company J.B. Hunt negligently hired outside contract driver Ricky Hatfield by not thoroughly checking into his background. According to Espinoza’s court papers, Hatfield, who is currently in prison after being convicted on charges stemming from the accident, had a history of DUI, fleeing from police and was once fired from a previous job for failing a drug test.
The jury found J.B. Hunt 40 percent negligent and Hatfield 60 percent negligent. The verdict was broken down into approximately $12.2 million for economic damages, along with pain and suffering, and $3.3 million for loss of consortium for Espinoza’s wife.
Espinoza was represented by Alan Feldman, Daniel Mann and Edward Goldis of Feldman Shepherd Wohlgelernter Tanner Weinstock Dodig in Philadelphia.
Feldman said his client suffered catastrophic injuries including a shredded diaphragm, a paralyzed right arm and other maladies that necessitate constant assistance to perform daily activities. He also said Espinoza attempted suicide twice since being injured.
As for the verdict, Feldman said, “We’re very pleased that this verdict will permit our client to have his medical treatment needs taken care of for the rest of his life. And we hope this verdict sends a message to the trucking industry about the urgent need to background check all drivers before they get behind the wheel of a tractor-trailer.”
Gary N. Stewart of Rawle & Henderson in Harrisburg represented J.B. Hunt and did not return a call seeking comment. Nor did Hatfield’s attorney, George McCool of Wright & O’Donnell in Conshohocken.
According to Hatfield’s court papers, his company’s insurance would pay for $1 million of Espinoza’s costs. But that offer, although supported by the plaintiffs, was shot down by the court.
J.B. Hunt argued that it had no liability for the accident because Hatfield was an independent contractor. It was the Hatfield company’s duty to make sure its drivers were up to par, according to J.B. Hunt’s court papers.
“At the time of the accident, neither Ricky Hatfield nor Hatfield trucking was hauling a load for J.B. Hunt,” J.B. Hunt claimed. “They were not on their way to pick up a load for J.B. Hunt. Rather, Ricky Hatfield testified that it was his day off.”
P.J. D’Annunzio can be contacted at 215-557-2315 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @PJDannunzioTLI.