A dispute over road conditions during a midday auto accident in the St. Louis area that left a woman unable to taste or smell has resulted in a defense verdict.
The firm of Roberts Perryman defended TMC Corporation in a federal lawsuit filed by Deborah Jennings, who was injured while riding in a Honda SUV driven by her husband, Allen Jennings, on Interstate 55. Allen Jennings apparently lost control of the vehicle on a frigid day in January 2014; the car bounced into the median, ricocheted back onto the highway and spun into the path of the defendant’s tractor-trailer, attorney Ted Perryman said.
The resulting brain damage to Deborah Jennings ap- parently eliminated her senses of smell and taste and caused possible personality changes and memory loss.
The extent of Jennings’ injury was not in much dis- pute, and eyewitnesses generally confirmed the sequence of events in the accident itself, Perryman said. The plain- tiff ’s claims that the SUV had encountered “black ice” was the main point of contention, he said.
“I think they were trying to show that the road con- ditions were such that (Allen Jennings) lost control due to no fault of his own,” Perryman said. “Then the con- tention was that if the road conditions were slippery and hazardous, the truck should have been going much slower and if the truck was going slower, the truck driver could have avoided the accident.”
The Honda SUV was traveling about 55 miles per hour, Perryman said. He said weather conditions that day did include subfreezing temperatures and intermittent snow, but accumulations were minor, and it was likely that the road had been treated by highway crews.
The plaintiff produced a weather expert who theo- rized that ice crystals could have gathered on the high- way, Perryman said.
“I think the real difference was whether or not the roads were slippery as a result of the ice crystals falling,” he said.
Two witnesses indicated the conditions were damp but not especially slick, a finding echoed by the responding police officer who noted snow and moisture but said the pavement was not particularly slippery or hazardous, Perryman said.
The plaintiff also introduced evidence contending that it takes longer for an empty tractor-trailer to stop than a truck hauling a load because the extra weight can help to prevent its wheels from locking into a skid. Perryman countered by arguing that the truck never skidded and that problems with stopping due to empty trailers are more rare than in the past, though many driving manuals based on older information may indicate otherwise.
“What’s happened is that the technology has improvedon trucks over the last 20 years,” he said. “All the manuals are based on stuff from probably 30 or 40 years ago. Now the trucks are equipped with ABS systems.”
Perryman said there were also contentions over whether to include billed or paid figures for medical ex- penses. He said the judge decided on the paid figure in accordance with recent legislative action.
“There was some issue in this case whether or not that statute should be applied to an accident that happened maybe four years earlier,” Perryman said.
The issue became made moot when the jury found for TMC.
“They just didn’t think our truck driver was driving at an excessive speed,” Perryman said.
Plaintiff ’s attorney Maurice Graham of Gray, Ritter & Graham declined to answer specific questions on the matter but did issue a brief statement.
“It was an extremely difficult case on liability, but the injuries were so serious we believed it had to be pur- sued,” he said.
John P. Heisserer of Rice, Spaeth, Summers and Heisserer, which also was listed as representing the plaintiff, did not respond to a request for comment.
MOTOR VEHICLE COLLISION
■ Venue: United States District Court for the Eastern District of Mis- souri
■ Case Number/Date: 4:16-CV-00821-SNLJ/Oct. 19, 2017
■ Judge: Stephen N. Limbaugh Jr.
■ Plaintiff’s Experts: Lee Branscome, Climatological Consulting Corp., Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, (weather); Thomas Green, Dy- namic Safety, Lake Zurich, Illinois, (accident reconstruction); Donald Hess, DLH Associates, Quincy, Illinois, (trucking); Dr. Brent Stromberg, Creve Coeur, (medical)
■ Defendant’s Experts: Tom Schaefer, Schaefer Engineering, Wentz- ville, (accident reconstruction)
■ Last Pretrial Demand: $1,075,000
■ Last Pretrial Offer: $25,000
■ Caption: Deborah Jennings v. TMC Corporation
■ Plaintiff’s Attorneys: Maurice Graham, Gray, Ritter & Graham, St. Louis, and John P. Heisserer, Rice, Spaeth, Summers & Heisserer, Cape Girardeau
As reported in Missouri Lawyers Weekly Volume 32, Number 11
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