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ARTICLE ID 29130

$________ INCLUDING $________ PUNITIVE AWARD AND $________ COMPENSATORY AWARD - WRONGFUL DEATH ACTION - OVERLOADED COAL TRACTOR-TRAILER LOSES CONTROL AND FLIPS OVER SLIDING INTO DECEDENT'S VEHICLE AND KILLING HIM INSTANTLY.

Jefferson County, Alabama

This case involved an overloaded coal truck which collided into the plaintiff’s vehicle causing the death of the decedent. The plaintiff contended that the coal mining company knowingly overloaded the truck and permitted it to travel on the roadway in a condition in which it was legally not permitted to travel.

On July 8, ________, the decedent, a 53-year-old single male, was driving with his friend in the passenger seat east on Taylors Ferry Road in Northwest Jefferson County of Alabama. This is a rural area and the road that the decedent was traveling on was a two lane road with one lane of travel in each direction. The plaintiff maintained that the decedent’s car was struck head-on by the coal tractor-trailer when it lost control and tipped over, traveling into the decedent’s lane of travel. Prior to striking and killing the decedent, the truck ran another vehicle off the p 7 3 road, seriously injuring the occupants of that vehicle.

The plaintiff brought suit against the driver of the vehicle, his employer, Black Warrior Minerals, the mining company and Black Gold Trucking, the trucking company. There is a lot of coal mining in this area of Alabama. The defendant Black Warrior Minerals is a strip mining company. It had an exclusive contract with defendant Black Gold Trucking to transport its coal. The evidence revealed that when the defendant Black Gold Trucking had a lot of coal to haul, it would hire other trucking companies, such as the defendant driver and his employer, to transport coal directly out of Black Warrior Minerals’ pit. It was further revealed that drivers of coal trucks generally try to make four trips per day. The driver usually does not even get out of the truck and it is loaded by defendant Black Warrior Minerals at the pit. In this case, the defendant Black Warrior Minerals was solely responsible for loading the truck which killed the decedent. The driver of the truck was given a blank ticket, and the load of coal together with the tractor and trailer are then weighed at its destination. The load is dumped and the empty tractor and trailer are weighed again to determine the weight of the load of coal. This is recorded on the ticket which the driver holds for the day and turns in at the conclusion of the workday.

The defendant Black Warrior Minerals is paid by weight for the coal that it sells and pays the truckers by the amount of weight they haul each day.

The Alabama law requires that a coal truck weigh no more than ________ pounds, with a 10% differential included so the total weight of the tractor, trailer and load cannot exceed ________ pounds. This law was imposed for public safety reasons since overloading of a truck makes it more likely that it will tip and be uncontrollable in the event of an accident. If a truck is stopped and ticketed for being overweight, the summons goes to the driver with points that accumulate against his license.

On this day of the accident, the defendant driver did not take the normal route between the pit and the drop off point, a trip lasting approximately one hour and 15 minutes. Instead, he took another route since he had received word that police were stopping trucks and issuing summonses on the regular route. At that time of the collision, his truck was allegedly traveling at 67 mph in a 50 mph zone.

The plaintiff contended that the defendant’s truck was intentionally overloaded by the defendant Black Warrior Minerals, creating a dangerous and illegal situation. Further, the plaintiff alleged that the defendant driver was traveling on a rural road where it was not safe for him to be operating such a large truck and was further negligent in speeding on this two lane roadway. The plaintiff maintained that this negligence constituted a willful disregard of the law and safety procedures and resulted in the death of the decedent.

The defendants disputed that the truck was overweight. The defendant mineral company maintained that it was not responsible for the collision since it resulted solely from the fact that the driver was speeding. This defendant further contended that the driver was not its employee and it owed no duty to the plaintiff.

The plaintiff agreed that the driver of the truck was speeding. p 7 3 However, the plaintiff maintained that it was the combination of both the speeding and the overloading of the truck which caused it to tip over and collide into the decedent’s car.

The plaintiff settled with the driver of the truck and his employer prior to trial for the sum of $________. The case proceeded against the defendant mining company, which plaintiff maintained was solely responsible for the truck being overweight, a significant factor in the loss of control and the truck tipping over.

The plaintiff presented evidence at trial to demonstrate that 85% of the trucks leaving the defendant’s premises at the pit were approximately ________ pounds overweight. The judge permitted evidence that the defendant driver took an alternate route to avoid the police as an inference that the truck that the driver was operating at that time was, in fact, overweight.

The jury in this matter returned a verdict in the amount of $________ in punitive damages against the mining company.

Under Alabama law, all life is regarded as equal in value, so there are no compensatory damages allowed in a wrongful death case. Alabama is reported to be one of the last states to hold this position. The only damages that a jury may award are for punitive damages since the focus of the action is not to compensate the family of the deceased, but rather to punish the wrongdoer that caused the decedent’s death.

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