Columbus attorney Scott Elliott Smith was one of two attorneys who secured a $10,988,793.11 verdict on behalf of a truck driver who was severely injured after swerving off the road to avoid a collision with a Schwan's home delivery truck that failed to yield at a stop sign.
The driver who was found negligent, Debra Roberts, did not possess a Commercial Driver's License, Smith said. The Schwan's home delivery truck she was driving had a 26,000-pound rating, which is one pound under the legal requirement where drivers must possess a CDL. All of the trucks in the Schwan's fleet have the same rating. That means the more than 6,000 Schwan's drivers who deliver frozen food nationwide every day are not required to possess a CDL.
The injured truck driver, Douglas Dyer, was represented by Smith and fellow attorney Michael Leizerman.
On the night of Dec. 17, 2007, Dyer was driving a semi-tractor on Route 68 in rural Logan County, Ohio. Roberts was driving the Schwan's truck on Route 274 westbound and was required to stop for traffic where Route 274 intersects Route 68. The intersection forms an "X" configuration, which created a 50-degree angle for Roberts to see to her right.
Roberts pulled up to go directly across Route 274, instead of angling perpendicular to Route 68 to get a clear view. Due to her angle to the intersection, she was forced to look to her right and back over her shoulder to see oncoming southbound traffic - and she was unable to see Dyer's truck.
"Roberts was neither experienced nor trained by Schwan's to take into consideration the limited visibility from inside the truck cab looking out an angled intersection," Smith explained.
According to Smith, the design of a Schwan's truck has no rear windshield, which means it has limited visibility for traffic to the right. The truck must be angled properly to the intersecting roadway for a clear line of sight.
"When Ms. Roberts looked to her right, she saw no southbound traffic," Smith said. "She saw no lights - nothing but darkness. So she started to blindly pull into the intersection. This caused Mr. Dyer to swerve to avoid a collision to potentially save both her life and his life."
According to Smith, Roberts did not possess a Commercial Driver's License (CDL) and had only been driving a Schwan's refrigerated box truck for seven weeks prior to the incident.
Smith noted that the trucks in the Schwan's fleet all have a 26,000-pound weight rating, which is one pound under the legal CDL requirement.
"This means more than 6,000 Schwan's drivers who deliver frozen food to our neighborhoods every day are not required to possess a CDL," Smith said. "Operating these frozen food trucks safely requires a level of training and experience that Schwan's has not provided simply because the trucks are one pound under the legal limit - and that puts every other driver on the road at risk."
Dyer's injuries were severe. He suffered permanent injuries resulting in five neck surgeries, including several spinal fusions of the vertebrae. This created substantial and permanent deformity of his spine.
Smith said Dyer tried to return to work, but complications from the surgeries affected his spinal cord and forced him to stop driving trucks.
Because the verdict included a finding of "permanent and substantial," Smith and Leizerman were allowed to overcome statutory caps on non-economic damages. These types of damages go beyond wage loss and medical expenses and may include pain and suffering, emotional distress and other losses that are not attached to a specific dollar amount.
The jury returned the nearly $11 million verdict on June 2. (Dyer v Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation et.al., Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, Case No. 09CVC-12-18581).
"We hope the verdict will result in Schwan's developing a better driver training program to fully educate their drivers on the unique characteristics and safe operation of their thousands of trucks," Smith said. "By taking this critical step, they can prevent similar collisions in the future."