A new record for nuclear verdicts against a trucking company may have been set with a $1 billion verdict handed down Tuesday by a Florida jury.
What had generally been viewed as the biggest nuclear verdict ever was the $411 million awarded last fall against a one-truck company that offered essentially no defense at trial.
The two companies involved in the latest case, according to local press reports, are Kahkashan Carriers, a Canadian company, and AJD Business Services. It is identified in media reports as U.S.-based but its location is unclear.
According to press reports, the crash occurred in early September 2017, taking the life of Connor Dzion, who had just begun classes as a freshman at the University of North Florida. The wreck occurred in Yulee, Florida, on Interstate 95. Yulee is in Nassau County, north of Jacksonville, and it was a Nassau County jury that handed down the verdict.
Dzion was stuck in a traffic jam created by a wreck that involved the truck operated by AJD. Reports say he had been there roughly an hour when the truck driven by a driver for Kahkashan Carrier slammed into his car at 70 mph.
The billion-dollar verdict was split as a $100 million payment to Dzion’s parents, who brought the suit, and a $900 million punitive damages verdict against AJD, according to media reports. The split on the $100 million payment was not spelled out in the statement on the verdict released by the plaintiff’s attorney.
AJD does not show up in internet searches in any way that suggests it is still in business. According to data in Carrier Lists, AJD’s status with the Department of Transportation is inactive.
Kahkashan Carrier is Quebec-based. Its DOT number is also listed as inactive.
The parents of Dzion were represented by the law firm of Pajcic & Pajcic. In a prepared statement released after the verdict was handed down Tuesday, it described its version of what happened on Labor Day weekend in 2017.
“The semi-driver, working for AJD Business Services Inc. was distracted by his cell phone, driving over the legal limit of hours and did not even have a commercial driver’s license when he caused a crash and flipped his truck, blocking the highway and causing a massive backup on the interstate,” the statement from the law firm said. “More than an hour later, another distracted trucker, working for Kahkashan Carrier, Inc. of Canada, was traveling on cruise control at 70 miles an hour when he slammed into the line of stopped traffic, killing Connor [Dzion]. That truck’s data recorder showed he did not even attempt to brake until one second before the fatal crash.”
Alix Miller, the president of the Florida Trucking Association, said she was not familiar with the case beyond what she had read in media reports. But she indicated that the environment for trucking companies involved in litigation in the Sunshine State is getting tougher.
“The legal climate in Florida has been getting increasingly worse, with settlements and verdicts not reflective of evidence or the case,” she said in a statement to FreightWaves. “It is becoming difficult for trucking companies to do business in Florida — major insurance companies are no longer writing policies in the state, and rates can be 3-4x more per truck than other states. Safe and responsible trucking companies are facing moving out of Florida or going out of business as a direct result of a broken judicial system.”