A Texas man who suffered a concussion, a traumatic brain injury and herniated discs when a tractor-trailer rear-ended him agreed to a $3,350,000 settlement with the trucking company. The Oakley Trucking driver’s cell phone allegedly distracted him at the time of the collision.
Plaintiff Thomas East, a 37-year-old customer service representative, was driving his pickup truck on Christmas Eve, 2014, in the San Antonio area when the collision occurred. Impact by David Henefield’s tractor-trailer caused East’s pickup to flip to its roof. East refused a medical transport at the scene but visited an urgent care facility later that night.
East and his wife, Laura East, sued Oakley Trucking and Henefield individually. The couple claimed East had slowed for traffic when Henefield failed to pay attention and control his speed. Plaintiffs’ attorney Ryan H. Zehl, a member of The National Trial Lawyers Top 100, argued that police investigators found Henefield’s inattention and distraction caused the collision. Oakley Trucking’s safety director agreed Henefield was distracted, and Henefield admitted he was following East too closely.
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East and his wife argued Henefield made five calls in the fifteen minutes before the collision.
The defense attempted to use accident reconstruction to demonstrate that East came to a sudden stop and Henefield’s collision was unavoidable. Defense counsel denied Henefield was distracted by the calls, which were either dropped or unanswered. The court disagreed and dismissed the defense’s defenses of unavoidable accident and sudden emergency in summary judgment prior to trial.
Federal regulations allow talking on hands-free devices, but multiple studies have found hands-free calling offers no safety benefits over conventional calls. The American Trucking Association recommends carriers prohibit the use of hands-free devices while driving. The plaintiffs argued that Oakley Trucking’s policies allow dispatchers to send drivers text messages while driving in violation of federal regulations.
East began physical therapy one month after the accident and continued to receive therapy for his cervical injury as of Summer, 2015. He underwent a lumbar fusion in November 2014. At trial, East’s biomechanics expert testified that head and neck injuries were a likely result of the kind of collision East was involved in. Other experts included East’s psychology and neuropsychiatry experts, who testified East suffered from ongoing post-concussion syndrome.
East’s symptoms include severe mood swings, insomnia, anxiety, chronic headaches, vertigo, and difficulty with concentration and executive functions. East has also been rendered unable to work.
The defense alleged East’s brain injury was pre-existing and the result of two previous incidences, a 1996 car accident and a 1998 fall when East struck his head.
The plaintiffs sought approximately $2.1 million for medical expenses, lost wages, lost household services, pain and suffering, and loss of consortium. Insurance policies with American International Group, Inc., XL Specialty Insurance, and Lexington Insurance Co. totaled more than $33 million. The parties settled for $3.35 million prior to trial.
The case is Thomas M. East and Laura A. East v. Oakley Trucking Inc. and David Henefield, No. 2013-CI-03238 in the 73rd Bexar County District Court in Bexar County, Texas.