A Catastrophic Crash
The plaintiff was a 52-year-old Illinois resident who worked as a truck driver. In August 2018, the plaintiff was hauling a load of freight via semi-truck across Wyoming to a recipient in Idaho.
As the plaintiff traveled down I-80 in Albany County, Wyoming, he encountered a construction zone. The plaintiff attempted to navigate the construction zone safely—and on any other day, he may have succeeded. That day, however, a Traffic Safety Services (TSS) pickup truck hauling a trailer of warning cones and signs veered across the traffic lanes suddenly. The plaintiff could not avoid a collision.
Emergency response teams transported the plaintiff to a nearby hospital for treatment of severe neck and back pain. Doctors continued to treat the injuries conservatively for nearly a year. When it became clear these treatments weren’t resolving the plaintiff’s injuries, however, surgery became necessary.
The plaintiff underwent a total of four surgeries between April 2019 and October 2020. They included three separate spinal fusion surgeries and one procedure to repair damage to the plaintiff’s right shoulder.
A Record-Setting Settlement
The case sought compensation from three defendants: Wyoming’s Traffic Safety Services office, the TSS worker driving the pickup truck, and Croell, Inc., a general contractor.
“Pursuant to industry customs and practices, there should have been at least two workers assisting with moving cones and signs on a project like this one,” said Martin D. Gould, a partner at Romanucci & Blandin. “There should also have been an experienced traffic control maintainer present rather than a seasonal laborer.”
Heavy, regular traffic on I-80 called for these industry-standard precautions, Gould said. Failing to use them resulted in foreseeable and preventable injuries.
The $4.5 million settlement is believed to be one of the largest personal injury settlements ever recorded in Wyoming, according to Hon. Gina A. DeBoni, a managing and senior partner at Romanucci & Blandin. One source estimates that the median award in Wyoming for neck and back injury cases is $662,500.
Both Gould and DeBoni represented the plaintiff in the case, along with Romanucci & Blandin attorneys Jason J. Friedl, Debra L. Thomas, and Valerie A. Letko. The plaintiff also received assistance from attorneys Chris Brennan and Gay Woodhouse at the law firm Woodhouse Roden Ames & Brennan.
Arguments were heard in the United States District Court for the District of Wyoming. The case focused on multiple questions, including liability, causation, and the type and extent of the plaintiff’s damages.
Key Takeaways for Attorneys
This case was ultimately fought on three fronts: liability, causation, and damages. The plaintiff’s attorneys found that all three issues shared common ground in questions about safety in highway construction zones.
“In discovery, we learned there was a race to the bottom when it came to hiring contractors, where the lowest priced vendor got the contract,” said Jason J. Friedl, a senior attorney at Romanucci & Blandin.
To offer lower prices than a competitor, a contractor has to reduce its own costs. In this case, the contractor involved in the crash cut costs by decreasing the number of workers involved in setting out traffic cones and signs. In doing so, the contractor exposed its own laborers and others on the road to the risk of serious injury.
For attorneys handling similar cases, a dive into standard safety practices may prove valuable. By examining industry standards and regulatory requirements, attorneys may discover that safety efforts in their client’s case fell short. Such a discovery bolsters arguments that an injury was foreseeable and preventable, aiding efforts to prove liability, causation, and damages.