Truck Crash Victim’s Family Awarded $2.2 Million in Pennsylvania Wrongful Death Case
By Dean I. Weitzman, Esq. on January 10th, 2014
As he drove his tractor-trailer on Interstate 78 in Lebanon County, Pa., early in the morning of Nov. 13, 2009, 36-year-old Eric Claxton’s rig struck another tractor-trailer that was entering the highway from the side of the road in the darkness. The force of the collision caused both vehicles to catch fire, killing Claxton at the scene and leaving his passenger in a fight for life that ended a month later.
Now Claxton’s family will receive a $2.2 million settlement in the case from the insurers for the Michigan driver who caused the fiery crash, Sukhwinder Singh, and his employer, California-based PVR Transport, according to a Jan. 9 story in The Legal Intelligencer.
Claxton’s widow, Kamilah Claxton, won summary judgment in the case in November after the defendants failed to file a brief opposing summary judgment, the story reported. The non-jury proceedings were held before a federal judge in the Middle District of Pennsylvania. The verdict also included $100,000 in punitive damages assessed against the owner of the trucking company, the story stated.
Singh’s employer was “grossly negligent in failing to maintain his vehicle in compliance with state and federal law, particularly with regard to having required safety inspections and correcting defects in its braking equipment,” U.S. District Judge William W. Caldwell of the Middle District of Pennsylvania wrote in his opinion that accompanied the verdict, the paper reported. “[The employer] was also grossly negligent in entrusting his vehicle to Sukhwinder Singh, an inexperienced truck driver who had failed the written test and driving test multiple times before finally earning his commercial driving license,” Caldwell wrote.
At the time of the incident, Singh’s slowly-moving truck, which he had driven from California on his way to Connecticut, was struck by Claxton’s vehicle on the edge of the road as Singh tried to guide it back onto the road, killing Claxton instantly, according to the story. His passenger, Eric Burks, of Memphis, Tenn., was severely burned and injured in the crash and died a month later . His family received a $2.4 million verdict in 2013, according to the story.
The judge in the case ruled that the plaintiffs “had succeeded with their claims for negligence, vicarious liability on the part of the employer, punitive damages and wrongful death,” the judge wrote in his ruling, according to the paper. “Plaintiffs may be entitled to punitive damages when a defendant acts with ‘reckless indifference’ and a ‘bad motive. Here, [the] plaintiff has shown that both defendants acted with wanton and reckless indifference toward decedent.”
Singh “operated the truck in a reckless manner that created a high probability of serious harm to decedent,” the judge said, according to The Legal Intelligencer. The judge said the trucking company “showed disregard for the health and safety of decedent by knowingly permitting an inexperienced driver to operate the truck.”
Singh had received his commercial driver’s license a month before the crash, according to a Nov. 13, 2013 story in The (Harrisburg) Patriot-News. Singh had missed his turnoff at the I-78/Interstate 81 junction in Union Township, pulled off to the side of the highway, and then “tried to re-enter I-78 without using his flashers or checking traffic,” according to The Patriot News report.. “The truck Claxton was driving, and in which Burks was riding, hit Singh’s rig from behind as Singh crept along at 17 mph.”
Singh is a native of India, who spoke no English, had lived in the United States for about a year before the accident and had been trained as a truck driver at a school that received an “F-rating” from the Better Business Bureau, according to briefs from the plaintiff’s attorney, the story reported. “The defendants in the case admitted that Singh’s negligence caused the crash,” the attorney reported.
The tragic deaths of Claxton and Burks could have been absolutely prevented with better driver training for the defendant. It also could have been avoided had Singh made the better decision to safely check for traffic before pulling his rig back on to the highway.
These kinds of cases occur every day when innocent victims are hurt or killed in vehicle accidents through no fault of their own due to the actions or indifference of others. That’s why it is critical to have a legal team on your side that uncovers every fact to bolster your case and maximize your damage award.
We here at MyPhillyLawyer stand ready to assist you with your legal case if you or a loved one is ever seriously injured in a vehicle incident or accident anywhere in the United States. We represent the families of victims who die in such tragedies as well, to ensure that their families receive every penny of damages that they are eligible to receive.
Call MyPhillyLawyer at 215-227-2727 or toll-free at 1-(866) 352-4572 anytime and our experienced, compassionate, aggressive team of attorneys and support staff will be there for you and your family every step of the way as we manage your case through the legal system.