Florida Jury Issues a $1 Billion Dollar Verdict in Truck Accident Case

A jury in Nassau County, Florida returned a massive $1 Billion dollar verdict against two Motor Carriers that were found to be negligent in two 2017 truck accidents that occurred on the same exact night in a similar location. The two truck accidents occurred less that 3 hours apart on Interstate 95 near Jacksonville, Florida. Connor was an 18-year-old University of North Florida Freshman. 

In the first truck accident, dozens of motorists were involved and sought medical treatment. Then, in the second truck accident a mere 90 minutes later, an 18-year-old college student was fatally wounded. According to reports, the mother of the deceased became concerned when her son was late to return home and used the “find my phone” feature on his Apple iPhone to track his location. She rushed to the site, only to discover that the truck accident had killed her young son. The mother stated that it was ““Pure hell having to relive everything all over again. No parent should ever have to live this. Ever.” According to the investigative officers, Connor was driving south on I-95 on Labor Day weekend in 2017, when he had to stop for traffic due to a trucking accident ahead of him.

The civil case was tried in Nassau County, Florida over 5 days. After a brief period of deliberation, the jury came back with a verdict of $100 million dollars in wrongful death damages, and an additional $900 million dollars in punitive damages. The punitive damages were assessed against Defendant AJD Business Services, Inc. of Staten Island, New York. AJD was originally accused of being grossly negligent in hiring or continuing to employ a truck driver named Russel Rogatenko. Rogatenko caused the initial crash, did not have a commercial driver’s license at the time of the truck accident, was distracted by his cell phone and was driving well over the legal limit of hours permitted. In this truck accident, Rogatenko flipped his truck, blocking the entire highway and causing traffic to back up all the way down the interstate – which ultimately lead to the second fatality. The semi-driver, working for AJD Business Services, Inc was distracted by his cell phone. At the time, he was driving over the legal limits of trucking hours and did not have a commercial driver’s license when he caused the initial crash. This crash blocked the highway and caused a massive backup on the interstate. 

The Second Defendant in the case was a company called Kahkasan Carrier Inc. from Montreal, Canada. Their driver, Yadwinder Sangha, was found to be negligent in the fatal crash that occurred around 10:34 pm. Sangha was driving from Montreal, Canada to Miami, Florida when he hit and killed the 18-year-old victim. The jury determined that driver fatigue played a large role in the fatal truck accident as Sangha has been driving for over 25 hours prior to the collision. The victim, Connor Dzion, was on his was to college when he was stopped by the traffic jam caused in the first crash. While stuck in traffic, he was rear-ended by Sangha’s tractor-trailer. According to reports, Sangha was unable to read english, despite a requirement that all drivers on America’s roads be able to understand and comprehend all road signs. Connor Dzion graduated Magna Cum Laude from Creekside High School in Saint Johns in 2017.  The truck data recorder showed that the driver didn’t even attempt to brake until about one second before impact.

Upon review, the electronic recorder on the truck showed that Sangha had cruise control set at 70 mph when the truck rear-ended Dzion. The data recorder did not indicate that Sangha applied the brake prior to the truck accident. The jury deliberated for 4 hours before rendering this billion dollar verdict. A huge factor in the outcome of this case was that at least one of the truck drivers was distracted by his cellular phone. According to the rescue records from the scene of the truck accident, the driver admitted that he was looking down at his phone when he hit that car and caused it to explode into flames. 

Both trucking companies are still reportedly in business at this time of this article. After days of testimony, the jury awarded $100 million to Connor’s parents for the loss of their son and $900 million in punitive damages against AJD  for the negligent employment of a dangerous driver. The jury found that AJD had violated most of the trucking laws applicable to hiring safe drivers and did not do any investigation into the driver’s fitness for employment before hiring him. How does a trucking company satisfy such a huge award?

Florida as well as the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) have specific insurance requirements for commercial trucking companies. Under Florida law, the minimum amount of liability coverage depends on the type of cargo the trucks will carry. For example, household goods require $300,000 while general freight is $750,000. Oil transport is $1,000,000 while hazardous materials is $5,000,000. If the trucking company travels out of state, FMSCA requires limits of between $750,000 and $1,000,000. 

Also in Florida, the trucking company must carry Personal Injury Protection(PIP) which covers injury-related costs regardless of fault. It must also have property damage to cover the vehicle. Finally, it must carry bodily injury liability coverage for serious and permanent injuries or death due to others that are caused by the negligence of the truck driver. The insurance company also has to defend and pay up to the policy limits only. Any other compensation must come from the trucking company’s assets.

In Connor’s case, the trucking company can ask the trial court for a new trial. If the court agrees, a new jury will be sworn in and the case will be retried. It can also ask for a reduction of the award. A motion will need to be filed. The court will hear arguments and render a decision. If granted, the award will be reduced. Although there are no damages caps for personal  injuries, punitive damages are capped at 3X compensatory damages or $500,000 whichever is greater. The jury award can also be appealed. Finally, the trucking company can negotiate with the plaintiff’s counsel for settlement of the entire matter. The insurance company can pay the policy limits, leaving the trucking company liable for the balance. Finally, bankruptcy may be considered to protect the assets of the company. 

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