After almost five weeks in trial, Paul Wickens and Kyle Roehler obtained a unanimous defense verdict from a Circuit Court of Jackson County, Missouri jury for Duane Adams, a truck driver for ABF Freight Systems, Inc. The case arose out of a January 16, 2010 accident in Franklin County, Kansas on southbound Interstate 35. Localized heavy fog and black ice resulted in a series of collisions, including the plaintiffs’ collision with Mr. Adams’ tractor trailer.
In response to an earlier slide off and subsequent collisions with a tow truck, emergency responders closed the right lane of the highway and were channeling traffic to the left lane. Mr. Adams stopped when he reached the lane closure as he was unable to merge with faster traffic in the left lane. As he began moving to merge into the left lane, his trailer was struck by a Rav4 and he stopped in the roadway to render aid. While he was out of his tractor assessing the damage to his truck and rendering aid, another tractor-trailer struck Mr. Adams’ trailer a second time and stopped in the left hand lane. As a result, both lanes of traffic were blocked. Shortly thereafter, the plaintiffs’ vehicle hit black ice and slid into the back of Mr. Adams’ stopped tractor-trailer. Several other vehicles ran into the median and were involved in other collisions.
The plaintiffs, Ricardo Nicolas, Everilda Nicolas, and Maria Sebastian asserted claims for negligence and sought punitive damages for their personal injuries. Everilda Nicolas also asserted a claim for wrongful death arising out of the death of her 3½ year old son, Ivan Nicolas. Ricardo Nicolas sustained multiple crush injuries in both legs below the knee resulting in surgical removal of part of his kneecap and internal fixations in his feet. Everilda Nicolas sustained massive internal injuries, including injury to her mesenteric artery resulting in the devitalization and removal of nearly 3 feet of her small intestine. Maria Sebastian sustained multiple facial fractures and permanent scarring.
Plaintiffs claimed Mr. Adams’ failure to discontinue operation of his tractor-trailer in light of the weather conditions, and his decision to stop on the roadway demonstrated conscious disregard for the safety of others. Mr. Wickens and Mr. Roehler successfully convinced the jury that the sudden severe weather conditions were the cause of the accident; that upon encountering the adverse conditions Mr. Adams had no safe place to cease operation; and that Mr. Adams’ decision to stop and immediately render aid to the occupants of the Rav4 demonstrated genuine concern for the safety of others. The jury deliberated for a little over an hour before rendering its verdict. The case caption is Everilda Sebastian Nicolas, et al. v. ABF Freight System, Inc. et al., Case No. 1116-CV09670.