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Truck Wreck Settlement $200k More than Insurance Policy

The Daily Report has highlighted MLN Law’s $950,000 settlement in a recent tractor trailer case.  To read the Daily Report’s article, click here.  The case was notable because the settlement was $200,000 more than the insurance policy limits.

The case arose out of a February 19, 2012 tractor trailer wreck at “spaghetti junction” and I-85 North. The case involved a California truck driver, Tao Wang, who had driven across the country to pick up a load at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Wang was the sole proprietor of WT Trucking, Inc.

Witnesses described Wang as driving erratically in the moments before the wreck, and they reported that Wang ran them off the road. Then, when Wang rounded the highway entrance ramp at a high rate of speed, he lost control of his tractor-trailer and jackknifed across three lanes of traffic. Two cars subsequently collided with the jackknifed trailer.

Michael Neff, Dwayne Adams, Shane Peagler and Susan Cremer of The Law Offices of Michael L. Neff, P.C. and Todd Henningsen of Henningsen Injury Attorneys, P.C. represented the Plaintiff whose car collided with the trailer. The client’s small Honda Civic wedged partially beneath the trailer, and he eventually needed back surgery at L4-5.

Suit was filed in April of 2012 after Global Hawk refused to settle the case. Todd Henningsen noted, “right away, it was obvious that Global Hawk would be finger pointing on liability. I am always looking for ways to maximize the results for my clients. As a result, I spoke with Mike Neff about litigating the matter.”

The Defendants – including the driver’s insurer, Global Hawk – were served with the Complaint and discovery in June 2012. However, the Defendants defaulted after they did not Answer the Complaint until September 2012. At the time when the Answer was filed, the Defendants were represented by George Connell of Dennis Cory Porter & Smith.

The Defendants initially argued that default should be opened because Wang could not read English – only Chinese. However, an inability to read English violates federal trucking safety regulations. Regardless, Plaintiff’s lawyers still had to fight off multiple motions to open default.

Team Neff fought for and eventually was able to depose the truck driver on the issue of punitive damages. Dwayne Adams took the deposition in Los Angeles at the Defendant’s insistence.  The deposition was notable because there were two Chinese to English translators. One was provided by the Plaintiff for the benefit of the Court Reporter. One was provided by the Defendant, ostensibly so that Defense counsel could communicate with Wang.

During the deposition, the truck driver testified that he used an “app” on his phone to translate English to Chinese. He admitted that after jackknifing his tractor trailer in Atlanta, he drove to Virginia and was involved in another wreck later that evening. The Virginia crash made the local papers.

After the truck driver’s deposition, the Defendants decided to retain new counsel. Stephanie Brown of the law firm McMickle, Kurey & Branch, LLP entered an appearance. Ms. Brown filed another motion to open default. While that motion was pending, she contacted Neff to make the first serious effort on behalf of the Defendants to address settling the matter.

The parties initially agreed to mediate the case with Nick Morataikis of Henning Mediation. However, the mediation was postponed when Neff learned that the defendant truck driver would not be attending.

Shortly thereafter, Neff communicated that the case could be resolved $950,000 but advised that the amount demanded would go up if the matter was not settled.   Neff noted, “I give a lot of credit to Stephanie Brown. She was put in a very difficult situation. From a factual and legal perspective, the case was very much against her client. She had to deal with unfavorable facts, an insistent plaintiff’s lawyer, and a new client. She had to recognize the situation, give her client the bad news, and persuade them to cut their losses. To her credit, the clients listened to her advice.”

Neff negotiated the excess settlement based on the truck driver’s strong claims from Global Hawk’s failure to provide a timely legal defense and its rejections of multiple offers to resolve the case for the policy limits.

Neff explained, “Insurance companies have a duty to their insureds to provide a timely and competent defense. They also need to consider the adverse consequences to their insured if they reject policy limits settlement offers. All too often, the choices made by insurance companies put their insureds at a substantial risk of an excess judgment.”

Todd Henningsen noted, “I am pleased that we were able to get an elite result for our client. Lawyers have a responsibility to always seek the best possible result for their clients.”