Werner Enterprises Hit With Massive $40.5 MILLION “Wrongful Death” Verdict
Santa Fe, NM – A New Mexico jury has awarded the family of a woman killed in a 2017 crash with a Werner Enterprises driver more than $40 million in damages.
The verdict finding Omaha-based Werner Enterprises “negligent” in the “wrongful death” of 54-year-old Kathryn Armijo, of Demings, was handed down on Friday, October 11, in New Mexico state district court.
The crash occurred in February of 2017 along westbound Interstate 10 just west of Las Cruces.
According to investigators, Felipe Jose Ricardo Johnson, of Apopka, FL, was operating eastbound on I-10 when he lost control of the Werner-owned big rig.
The tractor-trailer crossed four lanes of traffic and a concrete median to collide head-on with Armijo, who was pronounced dead at the scene, according to court documents.
Johnson was a recent graduate of Roadmaster Drivers School, owned and operated by Werner.
The deadly crash occurred on Johnson’s eighth day of employment.
During the two-week trial, the counsel for the plaintiff argued that Werner, “through its own inadequate operations and training programs for its student drivers via Roadmaster Drivers School, had a systematic disregard for basic safety policies and training of new drivers.”
In a statement, Craig Sico, plaintiff co-counsel and founder and partner of Sico Hoelscher Harris, a Corpus Christi, TX firm, said Roadmaster Drivers School, “continues to fail to provide proper training to its student drivers, particularly in critical emergency avoidance maneuvers, similar to those that led to this tragic crash.”
Further, Sisco asserted, “The trial evidence shows Werner, and its truck driving school, are doing the bare minimum to prepare new employees to safely drive 18-wheeler trucks, which are typically carrying 80,000 pounds of freight. Werner’s consistent irresponsible approach to driver training has created a hazardous situation for U.S. roadways.”
Friday’s massive award is the latest in what has come to be known as “nuclear verdicts,” which are verdicts in which juries award more than $10 million.
“Nuclear verdicts” are becoming more common, much to the frustration of trucking stakeholders.
Last week at the American Trucking Associations (ATA) annual Management Conference & Exhibition (MC&E), ATA president Chris Spear blasted “nuclear verdicts.”
Werner Enterprises is a member of the ATA.
Representatives from Werner have not yet released a statement about the jury’s finding.