A jury in Texas has awarded a man about $101 million for a crash with a tractor-trailer in 2013. The indictment, which names both the trucking company and its driver, claims both were responsible since a drug test revealed drugs in the trucker’s system, suggesting the company was negligent in hiring the driver in the first place.
On July 19, the jury in a case against Frac Tech Services International in the district court in Upshur County, Texas, awarded Joshua Patterson about $101 million. Although the jury found the trucker to be 70 percent at fault and FTS 30 percent responsible for the crash, the big payout came when the jury calculated Frac Tech’s negligence at $75 million.
At around 1 p.m. on Sept. 15, 2013, Patterson was driving his 2010 Ford F-150 on U.S. Highway 259 southbound in Upshur County. FTS driver Bill Acker was driving behind Patterson in a 2012 Mack tractor-trailer. According to the indictment, Acker “failed to control the speed” of his Mack truck and rear-ended Patterson’s F-150. Post-crash drug tests discovered marijuana and methamphetamines in Acker’s system.
The lawsuit claims that Acker was driving under the influence of drugs before and at the time of the collision. Patterson’s attorneys also claimed that despite FTS knowing about several policies that prohibited Acker from driving, the company hired him anyway. Furthermore, the lawsuit alleges that Frac Tech was negligent in its training, supervision and instruction. Essentially, the case was based around the idea that FTS should have never “recklessly employed” Acker, let alone entrusted him in driving a truck.
Patterson’s attorneys pointed out to a FTS policy that prohibits drivers whose motor vehicle record demonstrated a pattern of risky behavior. More specifically, “risky behavior” was defined as a record consisting of three moving violation convictions within a 36-month period. An applicant would not be hired with such a record.
Acker was convicted of three moving violations the two-and-a-half years prior to applying with Frac Tech Services, according to the complaint. Therefore, FTS should never had hired him based on his motor vehicle record alone. The lawsuit cited testimony from a FTS manager that acknowledges that if company had followed its own policy, Acker would not have been hired.
In addition to Acker’s motor vehicle record prior to being hired, Acker was on probation with FTS at the time of the crash for past driving performance with the company. Acker’s driving privileges had been suspended at least twice before the crash.
Attorneys for the plaintiff contended that Ackers had lied about his driving record on his application by omitting two of the three moving violations. According to FTS policy, lying on an application is grounds for termination. Because FTS had acquired Acker’s motor vehicle record, the complaint argues that FTS had the ability to know about the inaccurate claims in the application.
Despite all the red flags, the lawsuit claims that FTS wanted to promote Acker to be a trainer.
The issues with Acker was not necessarily an isolated incident with FTS. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration had downgraded FTS’s carrier status to “conditional” after discovering critical violations of the Controlled Substances and Alcohol Use and Testing regulation. A request to upgrade its status was denied due to insufficient corrective action.
According to court records of the deposition, Karen Thornton, FTS head of human resources, defended the company’s decision to hire Acker by pointing out his CDL was valid. Thornton was asked whether or not she was suggesting that Acker was a safe driver.
“No, sir,” Thornton replied. “I’m saying, according to the Department of Transportation, he was a safe driver because he had a valid CDL at that time.”
When attorneys brought up the motor vehicle record revealing three convictions in a 36-month period, Thornton pointed out that they were not within the 36-month period prior to when the company ran the report.
Although Thornton defended the hiring of Acker, the deposition records state she did say that, based on what she now knows, Acker should have been fired.
FTS could not be reached for comment.
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