A Farmington, Missouri family received a $7 million verdict in their trucking accident lawsuit against defendant Dunaway Timber Company and its semi-truck driver, Morgan Quisenberry. Langdon & Emison attorney Kent Emison served as lead counsel on behalf of the Reagan family at trial.
Roger Reagan was killed when Morgan Quisenberry’s trailer went across the center line (off-tracked) while taking a curve in the roadway. Quisenberry’s trailer clipped a Jeep Cherokee; then Quisenberry’s tractor crossed the center line and struck a Kia head-on and veered directly into the cab of the semi-truck Roger Reagan was driving. Roger survived the initial collision forces, but was trapped inside the vehicle for a few minutes. In trying to escape, Reagan fell from his vehicle and was trapped under his vehicle in fiery conditions for twenty minutes until he could be pulled to a safety zone. Roger Reagan died from his injuries a little more than an hour after the collision. Roger is survived by his wife Teri, daughter Brandie, and son Corey.
“Roger Reagan would be alive today with his family if Dunaway Timber had never put Morgan Quisenberry on the road,” Emison told jurors during closing argument. “Dunaway Timber had the power to prevent this tragedy.”
The case, tried in the Federal District Court for the Western District of Arkansas primarily involved Quisenberry’s qualifications to drive a commercial vehicle and Dunaway Timber’s failure to appropriately screen its drivers, including Quisenberry. At trial, Emison introduced evidence that Quisenberry had lied on his application and had received two license revocations. Despite these infractions, Emison showed that Dunaway Timber Company could have easily discovered Quisenberry’s previous infractions and, if Dunaway had done so, Quisenberry never should have been permitted to drive a tractor trailer. Jurors were told that Dunaway Timber could have learned about Quisenberry’s license revocations with a simple background search that took only 15 minutes and cost $15.
This deadly crash occurred only 19 days after Quisenberry was hired by Dunaway Timber driving job.
Emison also argued that Dunaway Timber should never have assigned this trip to Quisenberry because it could not be completed within the maximum hours of service regulations. Dunaway Timber Company agreed that it had a duty to schedule driving routes that could be completed within the maximum hours of service. Moreover, Dunaway Timber agreed that exceeding hours of service would contribute to driver fatigue, a known problem within the trucking industry. Studies have shown that driver fatigue is just as dangerous as driving under the influence.
“We all expect trucking companies who send truck drivers out onto the public roads to do so with professional, competent people and then make sure the company trains them and monitors them,” said Emison. “But this was an example where a company hired someone who had no business driving a truck in the first place, and then blatantly ignored the regulations that govern the trucking industry.”
Here, the trucking company’s failure to investigate and train its driver had a tragic and fatal result. At trial, Emison elicited testimony that Dunaway Timber Company and Quisenberry violated numerous rules of the road and federal trucking regulations. Trucking industry expert, Phil Smith, testified:
· Quisenberry never should have been permitted to drive because he had received two license revocations for substance abuse, which disqualified Quisenberry from driving a commercial vehicle.
· At the time of the crash, Quisenberry lacked adequate knowledge and experienced to driver a tractor trailer.
· Dunaway Timber Company failed to have a training system in place to educate and train truck drivers who lacked experience before putting them on the road.
· Dunaway Timber Company violated federal trucking regulation FMCSR § 395, by assigning Quisenberry a trip that Quisenberry could not complete within the maximum allowable hours of service.
· Quisenberry was in violation of the maximum hours of service regulations at the time of the fatal crash.
· Quisenberry falsified his log book to cover up his hours of service violation.
· Dunaway Timber Company failed to monitor Quisenberry and other truck drivers to ensure compliance with hours of service regulations.
· Quisenberry violated a fundamental rule, FMCSR § 383.113, by permitting his trailer to cross the center line when negotiating a curve in the roadway, which caused the fatal collision.
During closing argument, Emison told the jury this was “a recipe for disaster”, pointing to Quisenberry’s two license revocations; his prior accidents; inadequate training; inadequate experience; no monitoring by Dunaway Timber Company; and Quisenberry’s hours of service violations. Emison said the evidence established that Quisenberry was fatigued from exceeding the maximum hours of driving permitted and that Quisenberry never should have been on the road in the first place.
Emison, a Fellow in the prestigious International Academy of Trial Lawyers and past-president of the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys, is a veteran attorney in commercial vehicle lawsuits. Over the past 30 years Langdon & Emison has represented real people in lawsuits against some of the largest corporations in the world, including the United States Supreme Court case Baker v. General Motors.
“We are pleased to help offer some degree of relief and closure to this family,” Emison said. “Hopefully, this result will send a message to the trucking industry and prevent other families from suffering a similar loss.”