Court of Appeals Upholds Dekalb County Jury’s Award – Makes Defiant Dump Truck Driver Pay $5.5 Million Penalty

When we consider the tiny facts that insurance company lawyers sometimes use in their attempts to get verdicts overturned, we roll our eyes. We might even be amused if these frivolous appeals did not threaten to disrupt the lives of already injured, hapless victims.

When, for example, a DeKalb County jury found that a worker killed when a dump truck driver backed over him was the victim of wrongful death, they awarded the decedent’s survivors $5,470,000.

The defendants appealed to the State of Georgia’s Court of Appeals saying that the trial court judge should not have allowed plaintiff’s attorney to cross examine the driver of the truck in order to present evidence of inconsistencies in the her testimony regarding her questionable driving experience.

Several claims were made in the original complaint. One, the wrongful hiring and retention portion of the original law suit was dismissed prior to going to court, The defendant’ in A & G Trucking, Inc. v. Pitts 306 Ga. App. 718 (2010) insisted upon appeal that questions challenging the driver’s employment history were inadmissible.

This case is one of a construction worker who was employed at organizing and directing arriving dump trucks at a construction site. When one truck bypasses waiting trucks and attempts position her truck for immediate dumping, the decedent flags the truck to stop. The female driving the truck does stop momentarily, but then proceeds to back up at “a good rate of speed,” according to witnesses.

The other truck drivers present could see that the driver was about to back over the decedent began to honk their horns in warning. The woman replied with an obscene hand gesture.

When the decedent turned to see what was happening, he tried to run, but was too late. He was hit by the truck and died as a result of his injuries.

During the course of the trial, the driver of the truck did not deny that she had violated a number of safety rules before she struck and killed the decedent. She testified that her actions that day were consistent with her ordinary truck driving behavior. She also testified that her current employment with the defendant trucking firm was her first truck driving job. (In spite of her employment application claim that she was an experienced driver.)

Attorneys for the plaintiff attempted to impeach the witness by introducing the woman’s employment application which clearly stated that she was an experienced truck driver. Defense counsel objected, but the judge overruled the objection believing the matter of experience to be relevant to the jury. (The driver claimed that she had never seen nor signed the application she was shown. Plaintiff’s counsel abandoned the questioning on that subject immediately

Nevertheless it was upon this brief questioning that Defendant’s counsel appealed the jury’s verdict.

Fortunately for the cause of justice, the Georgia Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s verdict and the award for damages. The Appellate judge held that the driver’s testimony concerning her driving experience was, indeed, relevant and useful for the jury.

It appears at times that Insurance Companies have bottomless pockets. Interestingly, they seem eager to spend their glut of money on appealing verdicts rather than simply paying the victims what the jury deems to be their due.

Going into the courtroom battlefield with big insurance companies is no picnic. It can be time consuming and costly because ‘not paying money to claimants’ seems to be what insurance companies do best. They will fight to the bitter end which sometimes makes victims suffer even more.