COA affirms $2.13M award against trucking firm in crash

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A Tippecanoe County jury’s award of $2.13 million in damages to a woman permanently injured in a crash that killed her fiancé was affirmed Thursday by the Indiana Court of Appeals.

The appellate panel found no error in the jury’s determination that Sandberg Trucking and driver Kimiel Horn were 30 percent at fault, and therefore liable for that portion awarded to Brittany M. Johnson. A jury found that Johnson, who was 22 at the time of the crash on Interstate 65 in Tippecanoe County, sustained $7.1 million in damages for severe and in some cases permanent injuries resulting from the crash.

According to the record, Horn was driving a southbound tractor-trailer that struck a deer in the roadway one night in April 2008. He pulled his truck to the shoulder a short distance later to examine damage to the truck, but he didn’t immediately deploy emergency flashers or deflective triangles behind his truck or near the deer remains in the road. He activated his truck’s flashers about 90 seconds after coming to a stop on the shoulder.

Just a few seconds later, a southbound car driven by Johnson’s fiancé, Joshua Horne, swerved to avoid the deer, apparently overcorrected, then struck the back of the parked semi, killing Horne. After a three-day trial, the jury found Horne 70 percent at fault.

Judge Cale Bradford wrote for the panel that rejected all the trucking company’s arguments on appeal.

“Considering the extent and permanent nature of Johnson’s injuries, the jury’s total award of $7.1 million is not so outrageous that it should impress this court with its enormity,” Bradford wrote. “Appellants have failed to establish that the jury’s damages award cannot be explained on any reasonable ground.”

The COA also held that Section 392.22 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulations requiring drivers to immediately activate hazard warning flashers when a vehicle is stopped on a roadway or shoulder applies to intrastate commerce.

“We conclude that the trial court (1) did not err in finding that Horn had a duty of care to Joshua, Johnson, and his other fellow motorists; (2) did not allow the jury to engage in speculation; and (3) correctly concluded that Section [392.22] applies to intrastate commerce. We further conclude that Johnson produced sufficient evidence to sustain findings that (1) Horn’s actions (or inactions) were the proximate cause of her injuries and (2) she sustained $2.13 million in damages.”

The case is Sandberg Trucking, Inc., and Kimiel Horn v. Brittany M. Johnson, 79A04-1605-CT-1069.    

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