A Mobile jury recently delivered a verdict to a man who was paralyzed when the brakes failed on the 18-wheeler he was driving, sending the semi into the center median and rolling it. It was proven at trial that the truck had been negligently repaired, and the jury returned a verdict of $18.79 million to help compensate Colin Lacy for a lifetime in a wheelchair with a severed spine because of a repair company’s failures.
The accident occurred back on July 14, 2011. That morning, Mr. Lacy had gone to Empire Truck Sales to pick up his 2004 Freightliner Truck, where he had brought it a week earlier at the direction of his employer for repairs to the tractor-trailer’s antilock braking system (ABS). As he was about to drive off the lot, Mr. Lacy noticed that the ABS light on the dashboard had come on. He immediately called Empire and was told not to worry about the light and that it would go off on its own. Later that day, Mr. Lacy was on the road in Florida when it started to rain. As he attempted to engage the brakes, the truck shook and the brakes locked up, leading to the crash.
In the investigation into the cause of the accident, it was found that Empire had conducted a preventive maintenance inspection a month prior to the accident, during which time the company had failed to reattach the lateral control rod. It was during this inspection that a defect was also created in the truck’s braking system, a defect which was not properly repaired when the big rig was later brought in for service. To make matters worse, the seatbelt in the cab was also defective, causing Mr. Lacy to suffer more severe injuries than he would have otherwise. Although the seatbelt clicked when the driver buckled it, it did not actually latch.
Since the accident occurred in Florida, the Mobile County Circuit Court applied Florida law to find Empire Truck Sales 80% liable for Mr. Lacy’s injuries and Indiana Mills and Manufacturing, Inc., the seatbelt buckle manufacturer, 20% liable. Colin Lacy, who was 31 years old at the time of the accident, spent more than two months in the hospital after the crash and is expected to require the use of a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Yet by the time of trial, nearly four years after the accident, Mr. Lacy still did not have the money necessary to modify his home to make it wheelchair-friendly. His attorneys stressed this point when commenting on the jury verdict after the trial, stating, “this kid needs the money. He hasn’t taken a shower in his house since 2011.”