As a trucking trial attorney in Atlanta, Georgia, I occasionally have one of those “Perry Mason moments” when the defendant breaks down and confesses that his whole story was a pack of lies. Not often, but it does happen.
According to a report in the Dallas Morning News, this week in a courtroom in Cleburne, Texas, a truck driver for a drilling company made such a confession, leading to a $16 million settlement of a wrongful death case.
The family of Rhonda Kay Henson, 41, sued Pioneer Drilling and its driver for her death after two large pieces of gas well equipment fell from a Pioneer tractor-trailer. One piece, known as a spreader bar, struck Henson’s truck and killed her.
On the witness stand, the truck driver admitted:
– He and other Pioneer officials falsified and back dated documents in his employee file after the accident.
– He was not aware of safety laws and regulations about securing and transporting large loads. Motor carriers are required to instruct employees on the regulations and assure that they comply.
– He had a long history of driving infractions including tickets, accidents, license suspensions and a citation for driving under the influence by a minor.
– He testified that he didn’t know why he had lied to the court and jury.
After that testimony, court recessed and the parties entered into a settlement for $16 million.
The destruction of evidence and the lies do not surprise me. We see it all the time. The surprise is that he admitted it.
A while back, I was taking the deposition of a truck driver in Ohio who had killed a kid in Georgia. Eventually he confessed under oath that he had destroyed and backdated logs, and that he had been driving about double the legal hours at the time of the crash. I flew home thinking I was just the coolest lawyer since Perry Mason. When I called the client, I was told “we’ve been praying that if he had anything to get off his chest, he would.” The prayers apparently worked.
I wonder who was praying in Texas!
Ken Shigley is a trucking safety trial attorney representing seriously injured people in tractor trailer, big rig, intermodal container freight, cement truck, dump truck and bus accidents statewide in Georgia. He served as chair of the Southeastern Motor Carrier Litigation Institute in 2005, is a national board member of the Interstate Trucking Litigation Group of the American Association for Justice, and is on the National Advisory Board for the Association of Interstate Trucking Lawyers of America.
He has extensive experience representing parties in interstate trucking collision cases, and in the past two years has spoken at national interstate trucking litigation seminars in Chicago (trucking insurance), New Orleans (trial tactics and side underride issues), St. Louis (punitive damages), San Francisco (dealing with insolvent trucking companies), Atlanta (trucking insurance, closing argument), Nashville (use of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations), and Amelia Island (overview of trucking litigation).
A Certified Civil Trial Advocate of the National Board of Trial Advocacy, he has been listed as a “Super Lawyer” (Atlanta Magazine), among the “Legal Elite” (Georgia Trend Magazine), and in the Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers (Martindale). In addition to trucking litigation, he has broad experience in products liability, catastrophic personal injury, wrongful death, spinal cord injury, brain injury and burn injury cases. Currently he is Treasurer and a candidate for President-Elect of the 41,000 member State Bar of Georgia.This post is subject to our ethical disclaimer.