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Truck Accident from Sleeping Driver Results in $5M Punitive Damages Verdict

The sunrise along Highway 17 in Phoenix, Arizona was approaching. The driver of an 18-wheeler had been traveling all night. He was hauling massive concrete pavers and was struggling to stay awake. As he dozed off at the wheel, he collided with 22-year-old Paul Troupe’s SUV.

That morning, Paul and his wife of six months stopped behind a line of traffic. From out of nowhere, the 55,000-pound Freightliner careened into Paul’s silver Mercedes at 58 miles per hour. Shoved forward by the still-moving tractor-trailer, his car slammed into the pickup truck in front of him, fatally injuring its driver. Paul’s car ignited while being dragged nearly a hundred feet along the barrier. It eventually came to a stop in the number two lane. A good Samaritan pulled Paul and his wife from the inferno.

The truck’s data recorder later showed it took the driver a full 10 seconds after hitting Paul and his wife to hit the brakes.

First responders arrived and took the two to a nearby hospital. Tragically, Paul succumbed to his injuries. His wife survived the wreck, enduring minor neck and backaches, but was shattered by the death of her husband. When Paul’s parents were informed of their son’s death, they were overwhelmed with anguish.

Devastated, Paul’s parents sought to honor their son’s life by holding the driver and his company accountable. Two months after the crash, they called on Ryan Casey and Adam Shea of Panish Shea & Boyle LLP to help them in their pursuit of justice for their son’s senseless death.

Ryan and Adam discovered the Defendant admitted to falling asleep at the wheel. Importantly, he explained he was compelled to continue driving because he was paid for each delivery completed. Additionally, he confessed to the investigating police officers he had taken a prescription muscle relaxer, Soma, the night before. During a field sobriety test, the Defendant exhibited signs of intoxication such as slurred speech. However, because the officers needed a search warrant, they did not test the driver’s blood until four hours after the accident. The test returned negative and below cutoff levels.

The two attorneys vigorously prepared for trial. To understand the sequence of collisions, they demanded access to the Defendant’s event data recorder. Observing how long it took the driver to apply his brakes, they concluded the driver was so impaired by the Soma that even the loud crashes and turbulence were not enough to keep him awake.

While the Defense admitted liability early in the case, they disputed whether punitive damages were justified. They claimed that the Defendant was not under the influence because his drug test was negative. To show the severity of the Defendant’s impairment and warrant punitive damages, Ryan and Adam retained an accident reconstruction expert to work with DK Global. The team created an animation that simulated the sequence of collisions using information from the event data recorder and the expert’s direction.

The animation began with an early-morning overview of the Defendant approaching the traffic jam 2,500 feet away. As the large Freightliner traveled in the number three lane, the driver failed to notice the brake lights emitted from Paul Troupe’s vehicle. Then, disaster ensued. The tractor-trailer made no evasive maneuvers and smashed into Paul’s rear-end. Paul’s vehicle was propelled into the pickup in front of him, causing the truck to flip over and strike the vehicle ahead. Finally, Paul's silver SUV caught fire as it was dragged across the concrete barrier before the Defendant finally applied his brakes ten seconds later.

With an animation portraying expert-founded testimonies and information from the event data recorder, Ryan and Adam built a consensus of just how grossly negligent the Defendant was. The jury determined punitive damages were applicable and returned with a $5 million verdict in favor of Paul’s parents.

Panish Shea & Boyle LLP's founding partner, Adam Shea, is a nationally recognized trial lawyer with extensive experience and success representing his clients in catastrophic injury and wrongful death cases. Adam has a proven track record of helping those harmed by negligence, wrongdoings, and defective products. He has achieved over 200 settlements and multi-million-dollar jury verdicts.

Ryan Casey is a trial attorney at Panish Shea & Boyle LLP, focusing on large and complex personal injuries, wrongful death, and product defect cases. Since joining the firm, Ryan has obtained hundreds of millions of awards for his clients in lawsuits against negligent individuals, public entities, and corporations. For eight consecutive years, Ryan has been named a “Southern California Rising Star" by Super Lawyers, an honor awarded to the top 2.5% of attorneys.

"The animation that DK Global prepared of the collision sequence was an important factor in getting the verdict that we had."
Adam Shea - Panish Shea & Boyle LLP
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