ArticleCommercial trucking expert, Brooks Rugemer, was retained on behalf of the plaintiff in a case where a federal jury awarded nearly $3.5 million related to a fatal tractor-trailer accident. The victim in this case, a mechanic, was killed instantly when the tractor-trailer he was repairing lurched forward because the driver allegedly pressed the ignition button while it was still in gear
PDF of Verdict Summary is available in the Details section of this page.
Facts & Allegations
On Aug. 18, 2008, plaintiff’s decedent Jared Conlon, 26, a mobile mechanic, died while repairing a tractor-trailer that had been pulled over by state police, in Breezewood. The truck had failed a safety inspection by a state police officer, who cited fault with the vehicle’s braking system. The tractor-trailer was driven by Cornelius Carlos Hart and William Bradley McDaniels, who were driving in the course and scope of their employment with Trans National Trucking LLC.
Conlon’s widow alleged that, while her husband was performing brake repairs on the truck, Conlon raised the right rear corner of the vehicle up on a bottle jack and asked Hart to bleed out air from the brake lines by tapping on the brakes. Two hours later, after working on the vehicle, Conlon asked Hart to start the truck in order to get pressure back into the brake line. Conlon’s widow claimed that when Hart started the truck, he failed to ensure it was in neutral, thereby causing it to lurch forward five to six feet upon starting. This caused the tractor-trailer to fall from its bottle jack onto Conlon, who was under the rear wheels at the time and died instantly.
Conlon’s widow sued Hart, Trans National Trucking and McDaniels (who was voluntarily dismissed prior to jury selection), for wrongful death.
According to the plaintiffs’ trucking industry expert, commercial truck drivers are always trained to take a truck out of gear before starting it, and the accident was therefore entirely the result of Hart’s negligence.
The defendants denied the allegations and maintained that the plaintiff was comparatively negligent. The defense argued that Conlon remained in charge of the service and repair work, and he told Hart to get into the cab and start the engine during his post-repair inspection of the tractor. Knowing that he had instructed Hart to get into the cab and start the tractor, and at obvious and serious risk to himself, Conlon then immediately placed his own body underneath the frame of the tractor, at which time the tractor came off the bottle jack; as a result, Conlon was fatally struck by the frame of the tractor. Counsel asserted that Conlon did not chock the wheels, use jack stands, or otherwise safely secure the tractor for his repair work in the manner required by common sense and the recognized standards of his profession.
After 13 years and 1.5 million miles as a professional tractor-trailer driver, Brooks turned his attentions to trucking and warehousing safety. Brooks has been a Safety Manager and Director of Risk Management for several major trucking and ware¬housing firms, specializing in DOT/OSHA Compliance, training, and accident/injury investigations. Brooks has also held various other positions within the trucking in¬dustry including Terminal Manager and Regional Manager.