Complaints paint different pictures of I-64 wreck

By Kelly Holleran | Jan 28, 2010

HUNTINGTON –- At least two complaints and an amended lawsuit have been filed against a trucking company and one of its drivers after an accident on Interstate 64, but the complaints all tell different stories.

Originally, plaintiffs Beatrice Christenson, Cynthia Pertee and Tina Mullins filed a lawsuit in Wayne Circuit Court, naming J.B. Hunt Transport and minivan driver Heather Canterbury as defendants. However, the plaintiffs later amended the complaint to exclude Canterbury as a defendant.

Canterbury and her husband, David Canterbuy, later filed their own complaint against J.B. Hunt Transport and truck driver, Craig B. Scott.

In their original complaint filed Sept. 9 in Wayne Circuit Court, Pertee, Christenson and Mullins say they rode in a 1999 Toyota Sienna minivan Canterbury drove west on Interstate 64 in Huntington on Oct. 24, 2008. The plaintiffs had their infant children – Lonnie Noah Christenson, Nathaniel W. Christenson and Loreal Mullins – riding in the car with them at the time of the incident, according to the complaint.

Canterbury drove in the right-hand lane of the interstate while Scott B. Craig drove a tractor-trailer in the left-hand lane of the interstate when Canterbury suddenly decided to merge into the left-hand lane due to a lane closure, the original suit states.

"Heather Canterbury failed to maintain a proper lookout for traffic traveling in the left hand lane before merging, failed to ensure a sufficient distance between her vehicle and the vehicles in the left lane prior to merging, and was otherwise negligent," the original complaint says. "Scott B. Craig, as an employee, agent, and/or servant of defendant, J.B. Hunt, was traveling too fast for the circumstances then existing on I-64, failed to maintain a proper look out, failed to yield to merging traffic and was otherwise negligent."

However, Pertee, Christenson and Mullins later filed an amended complaint on Nov. 6, excluding Canterbury as a defendant, leaving only J.B. Hunt as the sole defendant.

In a letter to J.B. Hunt's insurance company, Canterbury's attorney weaves a slightly different tale of events.

"Mrs. Canterbury was traveling west on Interstate 64 when she slowed down to slowed or stopped traffic ahead for a prior automobile accident," the suit states. "Due to the accident, police were diverting traffic from the right lane to the left lane, and Mrs. Canterbury had thereupon properly moved to and occupied that lane. Your insured, Craig Scott, who was operating a tractor/trailer owned by J.B. Hunt, failed to slow and maintain control of his vehicle and thereupon struck the rear of Mrs. Canterbury's van."

J.B. Hunt says the plaintiffs in both cases are wrong, and defends Scott's actions, saying he did not perform any of the negligent acts the plaintiffs accuse him of.

Because of the accident, Pertee, Chistenson and Mullins say they have suffered pain of body and mind, incurred medical costs and suffered lost wages, an impaired earning capacity and a diminished ability to enjoy life.

Heather Canterbury says she sustained serious and permanent injuries to her chest, ribs, neck and back; incurred medical costs; and suffered mental anguish, aggravation, inconvenience, annoyance and loss of her enjoyment of life while her husband has lost her consortium.

Pertee, Christenson and Mullins seek compensatory damages, while the Canterburys seek a judgment not to exceed of $75,000.

J.B. Hunt contends Pertee, Christenson and Mullins should receive no damages and wants the complaint against it to be dismissed with prejudice.

At the time of the incident, J.B. Hunt denies that it owned the tractor as the plaintiffs allege in the complaint, but does admit it owned the trailer Craig drove. In addition, Craig worked for J.B. Hunt as an independent contractor, but could not be considered an employee of the company, it claims.

In addition, Pertee, Christenson and Mullins failed to include Canterbury as a defendant in the complaint as they should have, J.B. Hunt's response states.

J.B. Hunt removed both complaints to U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia on Dec. 14, saying the complaints belong there because the plaintiffs are residents of different states than the defendants and are seeking more than $75,000.

"Although the ad damnum clause of the Complaint purports to seek judgment up to $75,000, that clause may be amended at any time, even after judgment, to conform with the evidence," the removal for the Canterbury case states. "Accordingly, the Court could find that the true amount in controversy exceeds the jurisdictional minimum because the Plaintiffs, in addition to seeking compensatory damages for their injuries, also seek recovery for past and future pain and suffering, mental and physical aggravation, inconvenience, annoyance and loss of enjoyment of life and other serious and permanent injuries."

Michael C. Walker of Greene, Ketchum, Bailey, Walker, Farrell and Tweel and A.J. Ryan Jr. of Ryan and Ryan in Williamson will be representing the plaintiffs.

Charles D. Perfater of South Charleston will be representing the Canterburys.

Scott H. Kaminski of Balgo and Kaminski in Charleston will be representing J.B. Hunt Transport.

U.S. District Court case numbers: 3:09-cv-1320, 3:09-cv-1329

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