Mesa, Ariz. — An Arizona state court jury slammed Landstar System Inc. with a $19.25 million verdict on Friday, finding the trucking company is responsible for the death of a driver who lost control of his car following a tire blowout and collided with a tractor-trailer parked on the side of an interstate highway.
Michael Bruno died in 2011 after the right front tire on the Chevrolet Silverado he was driving failed due to a tread separation, and he crashed into the back of a Landstar tractor-trailer that had stopped alongside U.S. Route 93. Three other passengers in the car suffered severe injuries, including Bruno’s wife and daughter, according to the family’s complaint.
The Brunos and Desiree Sierra, another passenger in the Silverado, sued Jacksonville, Fla.-based Landstar in 2013, claiming the truck’s driver, Willard Gray, was negligent by failing to move his vehicle as far from the roadway as feasibly possible after stopping. As a result, Bruno had no time to avoid the fatal collision, attorneys for his family argued.
“Mr. Gray parked his tractor-trailer 12 feet from the roadway, eliminating any ‘recovery zone’ for Mr. Bruno,” their complaint states.
The jury deliberated for a single day following a one-week trial. Attorneys for the plaintiffs asked jurors to award between $12 and $25 million in compensatory damages, according to Guy Watts of the Texas-based firm Watts Guerra LLP, which represented the Brunos.
Landstar disclosed in a regulatory filing on Monday that it reached an agreement with the plaintiffs during the trial limiting the company's liability to $4.5 million in the event of an adverse verdict with both sides waiving all rights to an appeal.
Attorney Brett Slavicek, who represented Sierra, told Courtroom View Network the verdict sends a warning to Landstar and other trucking companies about the safety consequences of parking an 80,000-pound vehicle too close to a busy highway.
“The jury found as it did because it obviously sent a message that Michael Bruno did not do anything wrong,” Slavicek said. “The truck driver had other, safer places to park and violated his company policy not to be a sitting duck.”
A spokeswoman for Landstar declined to comment.
The suit initially included product liability claims against Michelin North America Inc. and Hyundai Translead Inc. related to the tire failure and the allegedly defective design of the truck’s rear impact guard, but both companies were dismissed from the case after reaching settlements with the plaintiffs, according to court records.
Friday’s verdict is the second multi-million loss this year for Landstar at a trial over an accident involving the company’s trucks. In January a California state court jury awarded $34.5 million to a bicycle rider who had his leg amputated after being hit by a Landstar tractor-trailer.
The Arizona trial took place before Judge David Udall, and gavel-to-gavel video of the proceedings was recorded by CVN.
The Brunos are represented by Guy Watts, Shalimar Wallis and Will Mailberger Jr. of Watts Guerra LLP and by Alan Wilson and Mark Wilson of The Wilson Law Firm.
Desiree Sierra is represented by Brett Slavicek, James Fucetola and Meredith Vivona of The Slavicek Firm.
Landstar is represented by Philip Stanfield and Jeremy Johnson of Jones Skelton & Hochuli PLC.
The case is Kathy Bruno, et al. v. Landstar System Inc., case number CV2013-094384, in the Superior Court of Arizona in Maricopa County.
David Siegel can be reached at [email protected]