Jury Renders $730 Million Verdict in Truck Accident Litigation Case

On February 21, 2016  an oversized cargo-truck operated by Landstar Ranger, Inc. hauled a 197,000-pound submarine propeller for a Navy nuclear submarine across a very narrow bridge located on Highway 271 in Titus County, Texas. The flatbed trailer was overloaded with the propeller that weighed over 200,000 pounds. The load was escorted by both front and back vehicles. The flatbed caused a crash near Mt. Pleasant, Texas.

As the truck driver approached the bridge in the northbound lane, the victim of the truck accident – Toni Combest –  began crossing in the southbound lane. The truck driver was able to swerve the cab out of the southbound lane, but was unable to move the load. The speed was determined to be about 65 miles per hour. After a horrific accident, Toni Combest died at the scene. She was a 73 year old grandmother at this time of her passing.

The family filed a complaint against Landstar Ranger, S&M Pilot Service and 2A Pilot Cars with a complaint centered around negligence theories. Landstar Ranger settled the lawsuit about a week before trial for $50 million dollars. According to publicly available information, Landstar Ranger, Inc. is one of the top ten largest trucking companies in the nation. Likewise S&M Pilot Service, the employer for the rear escort vehicle, settled the lawsuit for $1 million dollars. Because of these pretrial settlements, the trial proceeded only  against 2A Pilot Cars, who was the employer of the front escort vehicle. The front escort vehicle is reported to have ran the victim off the road just as she was rounding a blind curve.

Last Monday, the jury in the case awarded $730 million dollars to the deceased’s family. This massive jury verdict was composed of $440 million in compensatory damages and $250 in punitive damages. Punitive damages are given to  both punish the Defendants for outrageous conduct and to deter other Defendants from the same type of conduct.  It was one of the largest awards for wrongful-death verdicts  in the country. As indicated by the family’s lawyer, “When trucking companies are negligent, people die. The Defendants failed to maintain an effective outlook, failed to communicate with each other, and failed to ask for assistance from local and state law enforcement.”

Wrongful death cases are unfortunately fairly common in the United States, and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration numbers show truck-involved crashes resulted in an estimated 4,895 fatalities in 2020 alone. As truck accident lawyers, we know that money alone can never bring back a loved one. However, we are encouraged that results like this jury verdict sends a message to drivers everywhere that there are serious consequences for unsafe driving.

This jury verdict represents one of the single largest recorded awards for a wrongful death in U.S. history. Notably, it took nearly 6 years for the surviving family to obtain justice in the form of this verdict. Trial counsel was Brent Goudarzi of the Longview/Gilmer Texas based firm of Goudarzi & Young. To learn more about this case and view the docket, the case is captioned as Ramsey, et al. v. Landstar Ranger, Inc., et al. and was filed in the 76th/276th District Court of Texas.

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