With apologies to my friends in the legal profession, I am writing today about a recent absurd jury verdict, which points toward, in my opinion, the long-overdue need for serious tort reform. I know you guys don't like "non-legal" minds infringing on your province, but the folks just gotta hear this one.
Tort reform, by the way, refers to proposed modifications to the civil justice system aiming to limit the ability of victims to file lawsuits or to reduce the damages that can be received.
In 2014, a truck driver for Werner Enterprises, one of the largest trucking companies in the world, happened to be traveling west across Interstate 20 near Odessa, a city in far western Texas. The weather conditions were poor, including freezing rain, so the driver was safely biding his time, far below the posted speed limit. Truckers travel in bad weather regularly in order to make delivery appointments on-time.
Tragically, a pickup truck driven by Zaragoza Salinas, a friend of the owner of the pickup, Jennifer Blake, traveling east, lost control of the vehicle when it hit black ice. The pickup traveled wildly across a grassy median and slammed into the path of the oncoming Werner truck. Ms. Blake and her daughter suffered serious brain injuries, one son died, and another was injured.
Ms. Blake's attorney, Eric Penn, is quoted as saying "the facts of the crash sequence are not materially in dispute." In other words, the pickup lost control, went across the median, and hit a tractor-trailer who was not doing anything wrong.
About now, you are wondering, "why have I read this far?" Stay with me.
Other than the ridiculous verdict, which I will get to shortly, my first inclination that something was amiss, was the place of the trial - Houston TX. I'm not sure where the truck-driver is from, but Werner is based in Omaha NE. The crash happened near Odessa TX, yet the trial was held in Houston, on the other side of the state...and heavily liberal. This is where those in the legal profession will pounce on me for being ignorant of the law, but I am just deferring to common sense.
Although not said, it appears Ms. Blake resides somewhere near Houston as her lawyer is based in Jacksonville TX. Anybody that knows anything about jury trials knows that the accused doesn't stand a chance in the Houston area - just get ready to fork over a large chunk of cash.
And that is exactly what is now expected of Werner. Because their employee just happened to be driving down the interstate at the time Mr. Salinas was veering across lanes, Werner this past week has been slapped with a verdict of $89.7 million. That is 8-9-7 and five zero's folks...for doing nothing wrong. In my non-legal mind, how would that accident been any different had Mr. Salinas lost control in Omaha NE and crashed into Werner's headquarters, suffering the same results? In either case, what did Werner do wrong? How can one possibly protect themselves from this type situation?
What Werner did wrong, evidently, is have the audacity to have become a large and successful business enterprise, with insurance coverage and deep pockets. And in the mind of most liberals, being a successful business is evil and needs to be "brought down a peg." And the lawyer, he'll probably get about 33% of that verdict, or about $30 million, if he can defeat Werner's appeal.
I'm not trying to be insensitive to the plight of the Blake family. What that family suffered is absolutely horrible and I feel for them. Perhaps it is her insurance company that should step up to the plate to cover the costs she incurred. But they should pay the costs, and the costs only. Should it be the job of twelve jury members to then decide on a absurd amount of money to fork over?
There is nothing right about this verdict, and it has become all too commonplace. These types of outlandish awards drive up insurance and medical costs, which are then passed on to we, the consumer. This award did not have any punitive damages - in other words, the jury did not believe Werner did anything wrong either, but still awarded the plaintiffs a unreasonable amount of money.
Attorney Penn puffed his chest and declared afterwards that Werner should have known to pull off the highway due to the inclement weather. Strangely enough, he didn't mention why Salinas and Blake had not pulled over.
And get this, Texas is a tort reform state!