By TERESA TORISEVA
There is little that is factual in Sen. Vic Sprouse's recent diatribe against a jury verdict that found in favor of a man who lost his leg after being run over by an 18-wheel, semi-truck in a Go-Mart parking lot.
In the courtroom, attorneys must present their cases through hard facts-not speculation, lies or wishful thinking. There is no question that the plaintiff, Joe Meadows, was intoxicated the night of June 13. Sprouse got that part of the story right-but that is the only thing he got right. Here are the rest of the facts:
It was late at night. Like many convenience stores, Go Mart had locked its main doors to patrons as a safety precaution. Customers were paying for their gas and buying products at a service window. A J. T. Davenport truck arrived at this late hour to make a delivery-cigarettes, beer and other items. The driver parked his truck in a jack knife position near the service window, despite the proximity of the gas pumps, customers and their cars.
Go Mart testified that all of the other delivery trucks park on the opposite side of the store, away from the congestion. Go Mart routinely told other truckers where to park while making deliveries and admitted that Davenport was the only one who parked near the service window instead. Davenport has only one requirement for where its trucks are parked-that a truck be where the driver can see its rear door in order to protect the cargo from being stolen while the delivery is made. Despite the fact that the driver could have seen the rear of his truck had it been parked on the other side-which the company's safety manager admitted in court-and that it would be safer for Go Mart's customers had the truck been on the other side, the driver parked near the service window.
Perhaps the most egregious of Sprouse's fabricated facts was his belief that Meadows laid down under the truck while it was parked. THIS IS NOT TRUE! Video from the store's cameras showed that Meadows was not lying under the truck. He was standing near it. When the driver pulled out, the trailer hit Meadows, knocked him to the ground and Meadows' legs were run over by the rear tires on the driver's side. One leg had to be amputated; the other was severely injured.
The driver testified that he had seen an intoxicated person in the parking lot. Davenport's transportation manager testified that the company's drivers are told to take proper precautions should they notice an incapacitated individual near their trucks. Despite those facts-not to mention that the truck was parked in an area with other patrons and cars-the driver just got in his truck and pulled out. According to reports filed with the police and his company, the driver did not check his mirrors beforehand. Also, since he was parked in an area with pedestrian traffic, the federal Department of Transportation guidelines state that he should have walked around his truck to ensure that no people, cars or other obstacles were in the way. He didn't do that either. As a result, the driver didn't see Meadows standing there. Had he followed any of the prescribed precautions, the accident may have been avoided.
During the trial, it was also learned that Davenport had not trained its drivers on how to deal with "off tracking." Off tracking occurs when the cab of the truck is positioned at an angle in relation to the trailer. While the cab and the front axle follow one path as the truck pulls out, the rear axle moves along a different path as it is pulled forward. In other words, the front part of the truck moves in one direction and the back moves in another until both axles are again parallel with each other. The truck was parked at Go Mart in a jack-knifed position, with the cab at an angle-and had a driver who was not trained by the trucking company to know how to deal with the off tracking that began the moment he pulled out. His cab was turning to the left, but the trailer was being pulled in the direction of Meadows, who like several other customers was just feet from the truck. The company has a responsibility to ensure that its drivers know how to handle its rigs in any possible situation. It failed.
Two of the jurors had truck drivers in their families and one juror had a loved one killed by a drunk driver. The jurors heard the facts on both sides of this case. The jury weighed the evidence, and, after careful deliberation, found for the plaintiff. However, the jurors also took into account Mr. Meadows' intoxication as well. Our jury system has checks and balances in place, and if a plaintiff is found to be partially at fault the jury considers that evidence and deals with it accordingly. The jury in this case assessed one-third of the fault onto the plaintiff himself, and as a result Meadows will receive just two-thirds of the jury award. That is a major fact in this verdict that Sprouse recklessly chose to disregard.
It is shameful that Senator Sprouse is so blinded by his insatiable appetite to spew the U. S. Chamber's propaganda against juries that hold negligent corporations accountable that he can't even be bothered to tell the truth. Both Sprouse and West Virginia would be better served if he would follow the example set by his constituents and thousands of other American citizens who serve on juries every day-truth and justice are second to nothing, not even corporate profits.
Toriseva is president of the West Virginia Association for Justice.