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What a Nuclear Verdict Looks Like

| Feb 25, 2021 | Firm News

Jennifer Blake, Individually and as Next Friend for Brianna Blake and Nathan Blake, and as heir of the estate of Zachery Blake, Deceased v. Shiraz A. Ali and Werner Enterprises, Inc; 2018 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 29102

2015-36666

May 17, 2018

Headline: Suit: Improperly Trained Driver Responsible for Deadly Crash

Published Date: October 01, 2018

Topic: Worker/Workplace Negligence – Negligent Supervision – Worker/Workplace Negligence – Negligent Training – Motor Vehicle – Speeding – Motor Vehicle – Ice – Motor Vehicle – Weather Conditions – Motor Vehicle – Multiple Vehicle – Motor Vehicle – Passenger – Gross Negligence – Wrongful Death – Survival Damages

Injury: Contusion, Pulmonary, Headaches, Death, Traumatic Brain Injury, Pneumothorax, Contusion, Pulmonary, Subdural Hematoma, Fracture, Orbit, Fracture, Malleolus, Collapsed Lung, Pneumothorax, Concussion, Fracture, Scapula, Memory, Impairment, Fracture, Ankle, Collapsed Lung, Spleen, Laceration, Vision, Impairment, Fracture, Clavicle, Quadriplegia, Liver, Laceration, Fracture, Collarbone, Knee, Closed Head Injury, Hip, Scar And/or Disfigurement, Face, Head, Leg, Brain Damage, Scar Tissue, Pulmonary/respiratory, Thigh, Fracture, Facial Bone, Headaches, Fracture, Shoulder, Unconsciousness, Sprain, Cervical, Sprain, Lumbar, Strain, Cervical, Strain, Lumbar

Practice Area: Civil Procedure; Torts

State: Texas

Court: Harris County District Court, 127th

Plaintiff Counsel
Darrin M. Walker
Firm Name: Law Office of Darrin Walker
Address: Lufkin, TX
Plaintiff Name: (Brianna Blake, Brianna Blake, Estate of Zackery Blake, Estate of Zackery Blake, Jennifer Blake, Jennifer Blake, Nathan Blake, Nathan Blake)

Zollie C. Steakley
Firm Name: Harrison Davis Steakley Morrison Jones, P.C.
Address: Sweetwater, TX
Plaintiff Name: (Brianna Blake, Brianna Blake, Estate of Zackery Blake, Estate of Zackery Blake, Jennifer Blake, Jennifer Blake, Nathan Blake, Nathan Blake)

Eric T. Penn
Firm Name: The Richards Law Firm
Address: Jacksonville, TX
Plaintiff Name: (Brianna Blake, Estate of Zackery Blake, Jennifer Blake, Nathan Blake)

Kelley D. Peacock
Firm Name: The Penn Law Firm, P.C.
Address: Jacksonville, TX
Plaintiff Name: (Brianna Blake, Estate of Zackery Blake, Jennifer Blake, Nathan Blake)

Defendant Counsel
R. Russell Hollenbeck
Firm Name: Ramsey & Murray
Address: Houston, TX
Defendant Name: (1, Werner Enterprises Inc.)

Dale R. Mellencamp
Firm Name: Bair Hilty, P.C.
Address: Houston, TX
Defendant Name: (1, 1, Werner Enterprises Inc., Werner Enterprises Inc.)

Amanda S. Hilty
Firm Name: Bair Hilty, P.C.
Address: Houston, TX
Defendant Name: (1, Werner Enterprises Inc.)

Bill Sanford
Firm Name: Bair Hilty, P.C.
Address: Houston, TX
Defendant Name: (1, Werner Enterprises Inc.)

Judge: R. K. Sandill

Case Summary

On Dec. 30, 2014, plaintiff Jennifer Blake, 32, and her children, plaintiff Brianna Blake, 12, plaintiff Nathan Blake, 14, and plaintiffs’ decedent Zackery Blake, 7, were passengers in a 2003 Ford F-350 pickup truck driven by Zaragosa “Trey” Salinas. The pickup truck was traveling in the left eastbound lane of Interstate 20 in Ector County, near mile marker 107, approaching Odessa. The pickup truck went out of control, crossed the median and was struck by an 18-wheeler driven by Shiraz Ali. Ali, who was in the course and scope of his employment with Werner Enterprises Inc., had been driving the 18-wheeler westbound on Interstate 20 at 50 to 60 mph. Zackery was killed. Blake, Brianna and Nathan survived, but suffered severe injuries.

The Blakes sued Werner and Ali, alleging that Ali was negligent in the operation of the 18-wheeler.

The Blakes alleged that Ali failed to keep a proper lookout, failed to control his speed and was driving too fast for the icy conditions. The Blakes argued that the pickup truck’s driver lost control when he hit a patch of black ice and that Ali was traveling in the left westbound lane at the time of the accident. Icy conditions had been forecast and two winter-weather warnings had been issued for the area. The Blakes argued that Ali was therefore negligent in driving on the freeway at 50 to 60 mph in the left lane. If he had not been doing so, the Blakes asserted, the collision would have been far less severe or would not have occurred at all.

The Blakes also alleged negligence and gross negligence in Werner’s training and supervision of Ali, saying that he should have been told not to drive under such conditions and that he should have been notified when the weather warnings were issued. Werner had hired Ali earlier that month. Ali had a commercial driver’s license, but was a trainee at the time of the accident. The trainer was asleep in the sleeping berth. Their destination was in California. The Blakes argued that Ali had no experience and, at the time of the accident, had not yet completed his training, including training on how to drive in winter weather.

The defense denied negligence and contended that the pickup truck’s driver, designated by the defense as a responsible third party, was at fault for driving too fast to control his vehicle and failing to maintain control. The defense argued that the pickup truck went into Ali’s path and Ali could not avoid the accident. The defense also contended that the roads were merely damp, not icy, and that Ali was in the right lane, not the left. The defense also noted that the speed limit was 75 mph.

Injury Text:

Zackery died three days after the accident and was survived by his mother. Zackery’s injuries included a subdural hematoma, right pneumothorax and liver and spleen lacerations.

Jennifer Blake hit her head and lost consciousness in the accident. She claimed neck and back sprains and strains, a left orbital wall fracture and a concussion. She claimed she experienced severe headaches, memory loss and problems with depth perception. She also claimed right knee, hip and thigh pain and underwent surgery on her upper leg.

Blake sought damages for past and future physical pain and mental anguish and past and future physical impairment with regard to her own injuries, as well as past and future mental anguish related to Zackery’s death. She also sought past and future mental anguish as a bystander to her children’s injuries, plus punitive damages.

Nathan Blake claimed a left pulmonary contusion, pneumothorax and fractures of the left scapula and left clavicle. He underwent surgery for the collapsed lung. He also asserted that he had severe scars on his face, shortness of breath, severe headaches and left shoulder pain.

Nathan Blake sought damages for past and future physical pain and mental anguish, past and future physical impairment and past and future disfigurement. He also sought punitive damages.

Brianna Blake claimed an intraventricular hemorrhage, left pulmonary contusion and left malleolar fracture. She was diagnosed with a permanent brain injury and underwent multiple brain surgeries. Her injuries rendered her a quadriplegic, with the inability to walk. She was also unable or talk and was incontinent. She has difficulty swallowing and difficulty moving her extremities, reportedly experiences severe pain and muscle spasms and will require 24-hour care for the rest of her life.

Brianna Blake sought future medical expenses, past and future physical pain and mental anguish, past and future physical impairment and past and future disfigurement. She also sought punitive damages.

Jury Poll

10-2

Post Trial Status

Defense counsel has expressed an intention to move for a new trial.

PLAINTIFF NAME PROPERTY AWARD

Brianna Blake $ 68,187,994

Estate of Zackery Blake Jennifer Blake $ 18,810,000

Nathan Blake $ 5,000,000

Plaintiff Amounts:

(Brianna Blake)

$43,187,994 Personal Injury: Future Medical Cost

$3,750,000 Personal Injury: Past Physical Impairment

$7,500,000 Personal Injury: Future Physical Impairment

$1,250,000 Personal Injury: Past Disfigurement

$1,250,000 Personal Injury: Future Disfigurement

$3,750,000 Personal Injury: past physical pain and mental anguish

$7,500,000 Personal Injury: future physical pain and mental anguish

(Jennifer Blake)

$2,310,000 Personal Injury: Past Physical Impairment

$4,620,000 Personal Injury: Future Physical Impairment

$825,000 Personal Injury: future mental anguish as bystander

$2,310,000 Personal Injury: past physical pain and mental anguish for her injuries

$4,620,000 Personal Injury: future physical pain and mental anguish for her injuries

$825,000 Personal Injury: past mental anguish as bystander

$1,650,000 Wrongful Death: past mental anguish and loss of companionship and society

$1,650,000 Wrongful Death: future mental anguish and loss of companionship and society

(Nathan Blake)

$1,000,000 Personal Injury: Past Physical Impairment

$1,000,000 Personal Injury: Future Physical Impairment

$500,000 Personal Injury: Past Disfigurement

$500,000 Personal Injury: Future Disfigurement

$1,000,000 Personal Injury: past physical pain and mental anguish

$1,000,000 Personal Injury: future physical pain and mental anguish

Plaintiff Expert(s)

Gilbert Martinez, Ph.D.
Address: San Antonio, TX
Specialty: Neuropsychology
Affiliation: Kelley Peacock
Paul Heppner
Address: Marlton, NJ
Specialty: Weather Conditions
Affiliation: Zollie Steakley
James Crawford
Address: Grafton, OH
Specialty: Accident Reconstruction
Affiliation: Darrin Walker
Katy Britt-Sharp, Psy.D.
Address: Waco, TX
Specialty: School Psychology
Affiliation: Darrin Walker
Shelly N. Savant, M.D.
Address: New Iberia, LA
Specialty: Life Care Planning
Affiliation: Zollie Steakley
Robert W. Johnson
Address: Los Altos, CA
Specialty: Economics
Affiliation: Eric Penn, Zollie Steakley
Paul Heppner
Address: Marlton, NJ
Specialty: Weather Conditions
Affiliation: Eric Penn
Arthur Atkinson
Address: Surprise, AZ
Specialty: Trucking Industry
Affiliation: Zollie Steakley
Robert W. Johnson
Address: Los Altos, CA
Specialty: Economics
Affiliation: Kelley Peacock
Joseph Burton, M.D.
Address: Alpharetta, GA
Specialty: Pathology
Affiliation: Darrin Walker
Katy Britt-Sharp, Psy.D.
Address: Waco, TX
Specialty: School Psychology
Affiliation: Eric Penn, Zollie Steakley
Mark D. Herbst, M.D., Ph.D.
Address: St. Petersburg, FL
Specialty: Radiology
Affiliation: Eric Penn
Gilbert Martinez, Ph.D.
Address: San Antonio, TX
Specialty: Neuropsychology
Affiliation: Darrin Walker
Paul Heppner
Address: Marlton, NJ
Specialty: Weather Conditions
Affiliation: Darrin Walker
Shelly N. Savant, M.D.
Address: New Iberia, LA
Specialty: Life Care Planning
Affiliation: Eric Penn
James Crawford
Address: Grafton, OH
Specialty: Accident Reconstruction
Affiliation: Eric Penn
Gilbert Martinez, Ph.D.
Address: San Antonio, TX
Specialty: Neuropsychology
Affiliation: Zollie Steakley
Philip J. Smith
Address: St. Pete Beach, FL
Specialty: Accident Reconstruction
Affiliation: Darrin Walker
Mark D. Herbst, M.D., Ph.D.
Address: St. Petersburg, FL
Specialty: Radiology
Affiliation: Darrin Walker
Katy Britt-Sharp, Psy.D.
Address: Waco, TX
Specialty: School Psychology
Affiliation: Kelley Peacock
Arthur Atkinson
Address: Surprise, AZ
Specialty: Trucking Industry
Affiliation: Eric Penn
Shelly N. Savant, M.D.
Address: New Iberia, LA
Specialty: Life Care Planning
Affiliation: Kelley Peacock, Darrin Walker
Robert W. Johnson
Address: Los Altos, CA
Specialty: Economics
Affiliation: Darrin Walker
Paul Heppner
Address: Marlton, NJ
Specialty: Weather Conditions
Affiliation: Kelley Peacock
Philip J. Smith
Address: St. Pete Beach, FL
Specialty: Accident Reconstruction
Affiliation: Eric Penn, Zollie Steakley
James Crawford
Address: Grafton, OH
Specialty: Accident Reconstruction
Affiliation: Zollie Steakley
Joseph Burton, M.D.
Address: Alpharetta, GA
Specialty: Pathology
Affiliation: Eric Penn, Zollie Steakley
Philip J. Smith
Address: St. Pete Beach, FL
Specialty: Accident Reconstruction
Affiliation: Kelley Peacock
Gilbert Martinez, Ph.D.
Address: San Antonio, TX
Specialty: Neuropsychology
Affiliation: Eric Penn
Arthur Atkinson
Address: Surprise, AZ
Specialty: Trucking Industry
Affiliation: Kelley Peacock, Darrin Walker
Mark D. Herbst, M.D., Ph.D.
Address: St. Petersburg, FL
Specialty: Radiology
Affiliation: Zollie Steakley, Kelley Peacock
James Crawford
Address: Grafton, OH
Specialty: Accident Reconstruction
Affiliation: Kelley Peacock
Joseph Burton, M.D.
Address: Alpharetta, GA
Specialty: Pathology
Affiliation: Kelley Peacock

Defendant Expert(s)

James Scapellato
Address: Buckeye, AZ
Specialty: Trucking Industry
Affiliation: Dale Mellencamp
John E. Scarbrough, Ph.D.
Address: Ridgefield, CT
Specialty: Economics
Affiliation: Amanda Hilty
James Scapellato
Address: Buckeye, AZ
Specialty: Trucking Industry
Affiliation: R. Hollenbeck
John E. Scarbrough, Ph.D.
Address: Ridgefield, CT
Specialty: Economics
Affiliation: Dale Mellencamp
Andrew D. Irwin
Address: Dallas, TX
Specialty: Accident Reconstruction
Affiliation: R. Hollenbeck, Bill Sanford, Dale Mellencamp
James Scapellato
Address: Buckeye, AZ
Specialty: Trucking Industry
Affiliation: Amanda Hilty, Bill Sanford
John E. Scarbrough, Ph.D.
Address: Ridgefield, CT
Specialty: Economics
Affiliation: R. Hollenbeck, Bill Sanford
Andrew D. Irwin
Address: Dallas, TX
Specialty: Accident Reconstruction
Affiliation: Amanda Hilty

Award: $ 89,687,994

Award Details: The jury found negligence, but no gross negligence. They attributed 70 percent liability to Werner employees other than Ali, 14 percent liability to Ali and 16 percent liability to Salinas (designated by the defense as a responsible third party). The jury awarded the plaintiffs $89,687,994. Werner is jointly and severally liable for the entire amount. Ali is liable for 14 percent of the verdict.

The judgment, entered on July 30, 2018, states that the defendants are entitled to a settlement credit of $497,500, reducing the damages to $89,190,494.