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East Texas Jury Awards $730 Million Wrongful Death Verdict – Litigation, Mediation & Arbitration – United States – Mondaq News Alerts

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Houston, Texas (December 7, 2021) – Less than a month after we alerted you to the staggering nuclear verdict awarded in the Cruz matter out of Harris County, Texas (Houston), another Texas jury has returned an incredible nuclear verdict. This time, in the matter of Ramsey v. Landstar Ranger, Inc., et al., the verdict came out of Titus County, Texas, located in East Texas between Dallas and Shreveport, Louisiana. The case involved a single fatality of a 73-year-old great-grandmother. This verdict is yet another sobering reminder that now the entire state of Texas is a problematic venue for corporate transportation defendants that are inexperienced and ill-equipped to defend catastrophic personal injury and wrongful death claims under the Reptile Strategy.
On February 21, 2016, Toni Combest, a 73-year-old great-grandmother, was involved in an accident with a Landstar Ranger, Inc. truck that was hauling equipment for a U.S. Navy nuclear submarine, while being escorted by front (2A Pilot Cars) and rear (S&M Pilot Service) vehicles. The selected route involved traveling across a narrow bridge on Highway 271 in Titus County, Texas. The plaintiffs alleged that the semi-truck driver approached the bridge, left his authorized lane of travel, and crossed into Ms. Combest's lane of travel, striking her vehicle at approximately 65 miles per hour. Ms. Combest died at the scene.
Landstar Ranger settled for $50 million less than one week prior to jury selection in the matter. Similarly, S&M Pilot Service, the employer of the rear escort driver, also settled for $1 million prior to trial. The plaintiffs proceeded to trial against 2A Pilot Cars, the employer of the front escort driver.
At trial, the driver of the 2A Pilot Cars escort vehicle was impeached 14 times with her prior deposition testimony. She admitted that she violated best practices by centering her vehicle on both lanes and traveling closer than the recommended quarter of a mile in front of the load. She also admitted that she drove recklessly, essentially admitting exemplary damages.
On November 22, 2021, the Titus County jury awarded $730 million to Ms. Combest's family. More specifically, the jury awarded $480 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damages. You read that correctly: $480 million in compensatory damages for a 73-year-old who died at the scene rendered against 2A Pilot Cars, the employer of the front escort driver, let alone the outrageous $250 million punitive award.
So, what happened? While Lewis Brisbois was not in any way involved in the defense of this trial and our information is limited, it appears that the plaintiffs' attorneys used the classic Reptile Strategy and associated tactics from the outset of this matter. Their approach continued throughout discovery and trial, where they asked the jury to send a message to the industry with its verdict.
The Reptile Strategy is often used by plaintiffs' lawyers to change the “reasonable” legal standards or controlling statutes to a “safest possible” legal standard. This approach also often includes the creation of fictitious “industry standards” “or “best practices” concepts. As indicated above, it appears that the plaintiffs' counsel in this matter was permitted by the court and/or defense counsel to utilize these concepts or faulty legal standards, particularly with the defendant-driver during cross-examination.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.
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