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Erie County

This consolidated action arose from a 17 vehicle collision on Interstate 90 in Erie County involving four deaths. One plaintiff (Guest), a 38-year-old female at the time, suffered the deaths of both her parents and her grandmother in the accident (the Vaseks). Guest and her son, age four at the time, survived the accident with personal injuries. The Guest and Vasek cases, as well as the wrongful death action brought by the estate of the fourth victim, Siry, and the personal injury action brought by Siry’s wife, settled before trial. Two additional cases, McNeal and Herman, proceeded to a jury trial. These plaintiffs claimed to have sustained injuries while riding in vehicles positioned near the back of the pile-up. The case additionally involved numerous other parties with individual counterclaims and cross claims. The defendants maintained that the accident was unavoidable due to a "white out" and slippery road conditions.

The accident occurred at approximately 3:20 p.m. on February 11, ________, on westbound Interstate 90 (two lanes east and two lanes west) in Harbor Creek Township near the bottom of a gorge while it was snowing. The defendant Barhite testified that she saw a car in front of her hit its brakes and slide in front of her, whereupon she hit her brakes and slid off the left side of the highway into the median. The next vehicle, a tractor-trailer driven by the defendant Daniels and owned by the defendant Gunther’s Transport, Inc., attempted to brake, jack-knifed and came to rest with its cab near the Barhite vehicle and its trailer blocking both westbound lanes. Daniels testified that he had ________ feet of sight distance from the Barhite vehicle when he applied the truck brakes.

The Guest vehicle, containing Sharon Guest, her father (Vasek) who was driving, her mother (Vasek), her grandmother (Vasek) and her son pulled to the right to avoid impact with the Gunther’s trailer, did not clear the trailer and, within seconds, was struck from behind by the fourth vehicle, a flatbed tractor- trailer driven by the defendant Grieser and owned by the defendant Nucor Corporation. There was a dispute as to whether the Guest vehicle impacted the Gunther’s trailer before or after Guest was struck from behind by the Nucor truck.

Evidence showed that the Guest vehicle, a Ford Explorer, was turned sideways and crushed between the two defendants’ trucks to a diameter of only 18-inches at its center. Guest’s parents, both age 61, and her 90-year-old grandmother (Vasek) were killed in the accident. Guest’s husband, who was not in the vehicle at the time of the accident, claimed loss of the consortium of his wife.

Mrs. Guest claimed damages for a fractured skull requiring plate insertion, multiple facial fractures requiring reconstructive surgery, multiple orthopedic injuries and emotional trauma.

Guest’s minor son, who was riding in the back hatch portion of the vehicle, sustained post-concussive syndrome with a psychological overlay.

The fifth vehicle, a small blue Ford Tempo driven by the decedent Siry’s wife, managed to stop on the left side of the Nucor truck without hitting the stopped vehicles. However, a tractor-trailer (the sixth vehicle) driven by the defendant Randolph and owned by the defendant Parker Trucking Company then struck the Siry car and pushed it under the Nucor truck. Mr. Siry was killed in the accident. An accident reconstruction expert, retained by the defendant Nucor, opined that it was the impact of the Parker truck which pushed the Nucor truck into the Guest’s car and caused the deaths of the three people in the Guest vehicle. The plaintiff Guest’s accident reconstruction expert opined that the accident occurred as a result of the defendants’ trucks traveling too fast under the conditions of snow and reduced visibility.

A truck driven by the defendant George Thierry and owned by Builders Transport struck the guardrail and jack-knifed in front of the truck driven by the plaintiff, McNeal, near the rear of the pile-up. McNeal struck the Builder’s Transport truck, and another truck, driven by independent steel hauler Weaver, carrying a ________-pound steel coil then struck the rear of the McNeal truck. McNeal contended that the steel coil came off the Weaver truck and struck his vehicle. Weaver denied that the steel coil from his truck struck McNeal’s truck. The plaintiff, Herman, was driving a truck behind the Weaver truck and struck the Weaver truck causing another steel coil to come off Herman’s truck. McNeal sustained severe head injuries, was blinded in one eye and suffered severe leg injuries in the accident. McNeal was hospitalized for 17 days and spent two months in a rehabilitation center. The plaintiff Herman suffered a herniated lumbar disc requiring insertion of four screws and two rods. Herman claimed that the back injury prevented him from continuing his employment as a truck driver.

The Siry case settled for $________ paid by Parker Trucking (the truck which struck the rear of the Siry car). The Guest and Vasek cases settled for $________, $________ of which was paid by Parker Trucking; $________ from Barhite; $________ from Nucor and $________ from Gunther’s Transport. Parker Trucking was also reimbursed $________ on its crossclaim against Gunther’s Transport.

The remaining personal injury cases of McNeal and Herman were tried before a jury with awards of $________ to McNeal and $________ to Herman. Herman also settled with other defendants for $________ prior to trial. In the McNeal case, the jury apportioned Daniels/Gunther’s Transport 50% negligent; Thierry/Builders Transport 30% negligent and Gerald Weaver 20% negligent. In the Herman case, the jury found Daniels/Gunther’s Transport 65% negligent and Thierry/Builder’s Transport 35% negligent.

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