Jury slaps Texas trucking company with $7.4 million verdict in bridge strike

A Texas jury recently awarded nearly $7.4 million to a man who was seriously injured when a truck driver hauling an oversized load veered off route and struck a bridge, sending metal debris into his vehicle.

On April 5, 2017, Ronnie Claxton, 72, of Del Valle, Texas, was on his way home from work as a dump truck driver when a 1997 Peterbilt truck driven by Dennis Rayner, who was hauling an oversized and overweight load, veered off course from his approved route and struck a bridge, sending a 25-pound metal turnbuckle, used to secure his load, through Claxton’s windshield.

According to court documents, Rayner, who drove for Even Better Logistics LLC of Killeen, Texas, had received a permit from the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles to haul an overweight and oversized load, but deviated from the state-permitted route.

Todd Kelly, attorney for Ronnie Claxton and his wife, Sandra, said the couple was willing to settle for $750,000. He claims that Michelle Cora Croom, owner of Even Better Logistics, and her insurance agency, were unwilling to settle.

“We were willing to settle for about one-tenth of the verdict, but they were unwilling to do so,” Kelly, a partner of the Carlson Law Firm, told FreightWaves. “The maximum amount they were were willing to offer us was around $150,000.”

While Even Better Logistics, which is no longer in operation, received the proper permit from the state to haul the oversized load, Kelly said Rayner veered off the permitted route for nearly 13 miles before striking the bridge on U.S. Highway 83 in Austin, Texas.

“I think the takeaway is the truck driver was not properly trained,” Kelly told FreightWaves. “He could have pulled over, called 9-1-1 and asked for an escort, turned around, but he did none of those things and kept driving until he hit the bridge.”

Kelly claims Even Better Logistics didn’t want to settle because of Claxton’s age.

“Claxton is a 72-year-old man, so he has some degenerative changes, but they were exacerbated to the point he couldn’t work anymore after he was forced to come to an abrupt stop that caused him to bump his head on the windshield,” he said.

Even Better Logistics did not respond to FreightWaves’ request for comment regarding the verdict. The company once had five trucks and three drivers before it shut down, Kelly said.

In court, Kelly said he heard the logistics company may appeal the verdict.

“There is a cap on the exemplary damages in this case, but we believe about $5 million is collectible,” Kelly said. “There was never any safety training conducted by this company, but motorists should expect that professional trucking companies safely train their drivers.”

Read more articles by FreightWaves’ Clarissa Hawes