Wrongful death of truck driver when fuel tanks explode. $12M. Los Angeles County.
Truck driver survives initial crash but is burned to death when fuel tanks explode.
- Case Name: Courtney v. Daimler Trucks North America LLC
- Court and Case Number: Los Angeles Superior Court / BC615223
- Date of Verdict or Judgment: Tuesday, November 12, 2019
- Date Action was Filed: Tuesday, March 29, 2016
- Type of Action: Products Liability, Wrongful Death
- Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Michael Vicencia
- Plaintiffs: Shanisha Courtney, Raymond Courtney, Jr., and Martel Courtney (Adult children of decedennt.)
- Defendants: Daimler Trucks North America LLC
- Type of Result: Jury Verdict
- Gross Verdict or Award: $12,000,000
- Award as to each Defendant:
100% fault attributed to defendant Daimler Trucks North America LLC. The jury found both that defendant Daimler Trucks North America’s design was defective and that defendant was negligent in its design. Plaintiffs were awarded a total of $12 million in general wrongful death damages ($4 million to each adult child).
- Non-Economic Damages:
Past and future non-economic loss, including loss of love, companionship, comfort, care, assistance, protection, affection, society, and moral support: $12,000,000
- Punitive Damages:
- Trial or Arbitration Time: 10 days.
- Attorney for the Plaintiff:
The Homampour Law Firm by Arash Homampour, Corey Arzoumanian and Nareen M. Touloumdjian, Sherman Oaks.
Law Offices of David H. Greenberg by David H. Greenberg and Emily A. Ruby, Los Angeles.
- Attorney for the Defendant:
Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP by Philip R. Cosgrove and Ryan E. Cosgrove, Torrance.
- Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):
Robert Caldwell, P.E., accident reconstruction, Westminster, CO.
Joseph Romig, Ph.D., fire cause and origin, Westminster, CO.
Mark Pozzi, safety consulting.
James William Jones, Ph.D., mechanical engineering.
- Defendant's Technical Expert(s):
Gregory Stephens, accident reconstruction.
Anthony Moore, design and development.
Jonathan Arden, M.D., pathology.
Robert Banta, fire cause and origin.
Richard Watson, engineering.
Facts and Background
- Facts and Background:
On August 1, 2014, Cornelia Marie Wilson (a 51-year-old truck driver for Swift Transportation) was driving defendant’s 2009 Freightliner Columbia tractor trailer equipped with two 100-gallon side-mounted diesel fuel tanks when, for reasons unknown, she veered off the I-710 just south of Imperial and collided with a tree.
It was later determined that decedent survived the initial impact with no broken bones, fractures, or blunt force trauma. Autopsy detected no drugs, alcohol, or serious medical condition. However, the exposed side-mounted fuel tank on the driver’s side was pierced by the truck’s axle during the impact, causing diesel fuel to spray out of the tank and erupt into flames. An eyewitness saw the cab of the truck intact, then a small glow under the cab, and then suddenly, within a few seconds, saw a 20-plus foot fireball engulf the cab. Decedent burned to death in an otherwise survivable crash due to the post-collision, fuel-fed fire.
Plaintiffs/Ms. Wilson’s three adult children (Shanisha, age 38; Raymond, age 33; Martel, age 31) brought this product liability wrongful death action against defendant Daimler Trucks North America, LLC.
- Plaintiff's Contentions:
That the subject truck and its fuel system were defective in design due to the exposed side-mounted fuel tanks which are extremely vulnerable and easily susceptible to piercing by other components of the truck. Plaintiffs proposed safer alternative designs of the truck and its fuel system, namely moving the fuel tank behind the cab where it is much less exposed and vulnerable.
Plaintiffs contended that Wilson would have survived but for the post-collision diesel fire.
- Defendant's Contentions:
That the subject truck’s side-mounted fuel tank system is the safest possible design and that plaintiffs’ proposed safer alternative designs could not/would not work for a variety of reasons. Further, that Wilson was negligent in veering off the highway and colliding with the tree.
Injuries and Other Damages
- Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:
Wrongful death of plaintiffs' deceased mother, Cornelia Marie Wilson.
Demands and Offers
- Plaintiff §998 Demand: $5,100,000
- Defendant Final Offer before Trial: $650,000