VERDICT SEARCH REPORTS A $1,400,000 SETTLEMENT BY THE TYLER, TEXAS FIRM OF DERRYBERRY ZIPS WADE LAWHORN, PLLC IN AN 18 WHEELER CRASH

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Pictured from left to right: Tab E. Lawhorn, Daryl L. Derryberry, Guy I. Wade, III and Craig D. Zips “Keeping Your Community SAFE One Case At A Time”

On Feb. 17, 2016, plaintiff Wanda Huddleston, 79 and retired, was northbound in a Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck on U.S. Highway 69 near Lindale, Texas. Handrijono Oetomo (“Oetomo”), an employee of DAT Truck Lines Inc. (DAT”), was southbound in an 18-wheeler owned or leased by HNL Truck Lines Inc (“HNL”). It was early morning and dark, and traffic was heavy. Oetomo attempted a U-turn in an open intersection, and Huddleston struck the 18-wheeler. She sustained multiple injuries and later had multiple strokes, which caused her to become mentally incapacitated. The investigating officer gave Oetomo a ticket for failing to yield the right of way.

Huddleston’s son, on her behalf, sued Oetomo, DAT and HNL for Oetomo’s actions in negligently making an unsafe U-turn, failing to yield the right of way and failing to keep a proper lookout. He also sued DAT for violating numerous policies and procedures and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations by not giving Oetomo any driver training, not disciplining him for driver log violations, not suspending him after he was given a citation, and not making a determination of whether the accident was preventable. The plaintiff sued HNL on theories of vicarious liability, alleging that Oetomo was a statutory employee of HNL.

Oetomo took no responsibility for the wreck and blamed Huddleston, in part, because women have slower reflexes.

Plaintiff’s counsel argued that Oetomo was lost and unfamiliar with the area and that he was in a rush, and that he falsified his logs. The truck’s data recorder said the truck had been operating for more than 13 hours, but Oetomo’s handwritten logs said he had been driving for only 7.25 hours.

Plaintiff’s counsel further argued that, under FMCSA regulations, because Oetomo did not understand English well enough, he should not have been driving the vehicle at all.

The defense argued that Huddleston was contributorily negligent for driving too fast, not keeping a proper lookout, not controlling her speed, and not braking or turning in time to avoid the collision. The defense accident reconstruction expert opined that Huddleston should have been able to see the truck and stop before the impact. An eyewitness who was behind Huddleston was able to stop, the defense noted.

HNL further argued that the truck was not a listed vehicle under its insurance policy and that it therefore had no insurance coverage. (Plaintiff’s counsel argued that, because the policy had a particular endorsement, known as an MCS-90 endorsement, the carrier would have to pay any eventual judgment against  Oetomo and HNL.)

Huddleston sustained a leg fracture and a subdural hematoma. She claimed that the accident caused two to three debilitating strokes, as well.

She underwent open reduction and internal fixation (“ORIF”) of the fracture, with placement of pins and screws. For the subdural hematoma, she underwent a craniotomy.

As a result of the strokes, she required 24-hour care and had to move into a nursing home. Plaintiffs’ neurology expert opined that the strokes were related to the accident.

Huddleston sought past medical bills of about $315,000, as well as $918,000 for the present value of her life-care plan. She also claimed past and future physical pain, mental anguish, physical impairment and disfigurement.

The defense neurology expert opined that strokes resulted from pre-existing conditions, not from the accident.

 The case settled for a total of $1,400,000. DAT and Oetemo settled on Sept. 16, 2016, for their policy limit of $1 million, paid by their carrier. HNL settled at mediation on March 6, 2017, for $400,000, paid by HNL’s carrier. HNL’s policy limit under the MCS-90 endorsement was $750,000.

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What to do if you are involved in an accident, including car accidents and 18 wheeler accidents

Top 10 things to do if you are injured in an accident, including a car accident or 18 wheeler accident.

By Craig Zips, Member of Derryberry Zips Wade Lawhorn, PLLC

Accidents involving 18 wheelers can cause serious injuries because of the size and weight of the tractor and trailer.

  1. Immediately call the police or 911 to report the accident, do not leave the scene of the accident and attempt to ensure the other party also stays at the scene.
  2. Contact a lawyer immediately.   The insurance company for the at fault driver and your insurance company will act only to protect their respective financial interests.   The insurance companies only care about saving their money.  Do not sign any documents prior to consulting with an attorney.
  3. Attempt to identify any witnesses to the accident and write down their names, addresses and telephone numbers.  If possible, also write down their license plate numbers.
  4. Exchange the following information with the other driver; name, address and telephone number, make and model of the car or 18 wheeler, license plate number, the other driver’s employer, if applicable, if the driver does not own the car then obtain the name, address and telephone number of the owner of the car or 18 wheeler, obtain all insurance information, including the name of the insurance agent for the other driver.  Also, if the accident involves and 18 wheeler then write down the Unites States Department of Transportation (“US DOT”) number that is typically located somewhere on the tractor or trailer.
  5. Write down any statements that are made by the other driver that indicate the other driver is at fault.  These statements may be used against the other driver and/or their employer in settlement negotiations or   if a lawsuit is filed.  Conversely, do not make any statements to the other driver or witnesses in connection with the accident.  Please remember to make sure that any statements made to the police are truthful and accurate.  Do not guess or speculate about any answer to any question asked by the investigating officer.
  6. Take photographs of the property damage to your car and the other car(s) or 18 wheeler while you are at the scene of the accident.  Also take photos of the accident scene, including any visual obstructions, road signs, speed limits signs, and any skid marks made by any vehicle involved in the accident.
  7. Immediately seek medical treatment if you are even slightly injured.  Sometimes accident victims can sustain internal injuries without realizing he/she is injured.  Internal injuries can be fatal if not treated.    Do not be embarrassed to ask for an ambulance if you have been injured in any manner.  Please also make sure you attend all doctor and physical therapy appointments.  If you miss these appointments, then the insurance company will argue these missed appointments mean you are not really hurt.
  8. Do not give any written or recorded statements to any insurance company or insurance company representative without consulting with an attorney.
  9. Prepare a brief summary of the accident.   Our memories fade about the details of an accident as time passes.  These notes about the accident will be  helpful later in jogging your memory of the details of the accident.   Also, keep a daily diary of your medical visits, as well as a daily diary of the pain you are experiencing after the accident.
  10. Obtain a police report if one is available.

Craig Zips is one of the two founding members of the firm now known as Derryberry Zips Wade Lawhorn, PLLC. He is board certified in personal injury trial law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, and has been given the premier AV rating by Martindale Hubbell. Craig has represented numerous clients for over 15 years in a variety of litigation matters, from complex commercial matters, including business disputes and securities fraud, as well as the  representation of plaintiffs in serious injury cases.