Kaderly v. Black Horse Carriers Inc., 2013 L 200 (Winnebago County)
On March 22, 2017, after an eight-day trial, a Rockford, Illinois jury awarded a plaintiff $15 million in a wrongful death case that arose out of a trucking accident. The verdict was comprised of $5 million for the loss of the decedent’s society to her two daughters and $10 million for the daughters’ grief, sorrow and mental suffering. Prior to the verdict, the parties entered into a high/low agreement with the range of $2 million and $7 million.
Plaintiff, Nikki Kaderly, filed suit against Rigoberto Vazquez, a freight truck driver for Black Horse Carriers, Inc., Black Horse Carriers, Inc. and another driver, Mexi Fiallos, after an accident killed her 64-year-old mother Jeanette Pivot.
On March 23, 2013, at approximately 4:45 p.m., Pivot’s car was stopped in traffic as a result of an earlier crash which was caused by Mexi Fiallos. Fiallos had lost control of her car, crossed the highway and struck the guardrail. It was alleged that Fiallos was under the influence of alcohol when she crashed. Approximately 12 minutes later, Vazquez was driving his freight truck on Illinois Route 20, Rockford, IL. He drove into the rear of Pivot’s car at an alleged speed of 60 miles per hour, and she was killed as a result of the impact. According to the Fourth Amended Complaint, which was filed a week before the trial began, plaintiff alleged that Vazquez was negligent in that he did not allow enough time or distance to safely stop, did not keep a proper lookout, drove too fast for conditions, operated his vehicle while fatigued, and did not apply his brakes.
Two dashboard cameras in the tractor provided footage that was used at trial. One forward facing camera caught the impact with the decedent’s vehicle and another camera faced the driver. Plaintiff’s counsel argued that the footage showed that the driver was fatigued and possibly falling asleep. Defense counsel argued that Vazquez was looking down checking his gauges at the time of the impact. Likewise, the defense called a human factors expert who testified that the position of the driver’s body indicated that he was checking his gauges. Those who attended the trial reported that during deliberations the jury inquired if they did not believe a witness, were they to disregard the witness’ entire testimony or just the specific testimony that they did not believe? Consistent with Illinois law, the jury was informed that they were to follow the jury instructions, which provide that the jury is the sole judge of the credibility of the witnesses. The concensus of those who observed the trial was that the jury questioned the credibility of the human factors expert called by the defense.
The jury deliberated for 4 ½ hours before rendering its $15 million verdict. It attributed 99% of the fault to Vazquez and his employer Black Horse and only 1% of the fault to Fiallos. The jury’s verdict appears rooted in a belief that Robert Vazquez was falling asleep (i.e., fatigued), and the defense was trying to hide the truth.