IADC Member David Rheney and Bill Young Complete Two Trials on Behalf of XPO Express
September 24, 2018 10:54 AM
IADC member David Rheney, Managing Partner at Gallivan White & Boyd, P.A., and Bill Young, Associate of Gallivan, White & Boyd, P.A., recently completed two separate two-week trials on behalf of XPO Express in federal court in Charleston, SC. Both cases arose from a five-fatality wreck on I-95 near Florence, SC in March 2015, in which the truck driver failed to see numerous vehicles stopped in his lane of traffic and hit the vehicles occupied by the decedents at approximately 70 mph. Liability on behalf of the XPO Express driver was admitted. However, separate direct claims for negligent hiring, retention, training and supervision were brought by the plaintiff’s against XPO Express and its parent company XPO Logistics. The defense of the driver was split from the defense of the companies.
The first case was tried in late April/early May. Claims for wrongful death were made on behalf of Jeremiah and Crystal Cross of Canada and their 7 month old son Graysen Cross, and claims for survival were made on behalf of Jeremiah and Graysen. The jury found the driver to be 70% at-fault and XPO Express and XPO Logistics to each be 15% at-fault under theories of negligent training and supervision, and returned verdicts for actual damages in favor of the beneficiaries of the decedents in the amounts of $5 million each for wrongful death, and for $1 million each in favor of Jeremiah and Grayson on their survival claims. The lowest demand made prior to trial was $48 million. The plaintiff’s attorneys were confident the jury would return significant awards for punitive damages based upon the alleged operation of the tractor by the driver while either intoxicated or under the influence of alcohol. The defendants disputed that claim, and the jury found that his conduct was not reckless, willful or wanton and thus refused to consider punitive damages. A high-low agreement of $40 million/$10 million was entered on the morning of closing statements.
During trial it became known that the Cross case was being closely monitored by at least one nationwide plaintiff’s trucking/transportation network. All settlement negotiations were handled by a member of the network from Minnesota. In addition, during a DRI seminar in Chicago being held during the trial, a plaintiff’s trucking lawyer from Atlanta who served as a speaker mentioned the case was being watched by, and assistance provided to plaintiff’s trial counsel by other plaintiff’s lawyers from around the country. It was widely anticipated by the plaintiff’s attorneys that the verdicts would be some of the biggest if not the biggest in South Carolina history, and would then be used to send a message to trucking companies in other trucking cases around the country.
The second trial, which took place in late August/early September, involved the death of 50-year old Jacqueline McCann of Pennsylvania, who was a passenger in the second vehicle hit by the XPO Express tractor in the accident. Claims for wrongful death and survival were made, and the plaintiff’s attorneys once again argued for an award of punitive damages. Plaintiff’s counsel asserted claims for negligent hiring, retention, training and supervision of the driver by XPO Express and XPO Logistics. The claims for negligent hiring and retention were again dismissed at the conclusion of evidence. Based upon post-trial research following the Cross case, in McCann a decision was made to split the defense of XPO Express and XPO Logistics, in hopes it would assist the jury in distinguishing between them for verdict purposes. At the conclusion of trial the jury found the driver 100% responsible for the accident, and returned a verdict on the wrongful death claim in the amount of $7 million actual damages. As in the Cross trial, the McCann jury declined to find his conduct was not reckless, willful or wanton. The jury also rejected the survival claim. The lowest demand made by the plaintiff was $12 million. A high-low agreement was discussed but not entered. The network involved in the Cross trial was not involved in the McCann case, which was tried by different plaintiff’s attorneys.
The wrongful death and survival claims of the driver of Ms. McCann’s vehicle were settled at mediation in 2017.