Celadon agrees to $18.5 million settlement over I-94 crash

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line staff writer | 7/26/2013

Celadon Trucking Services Inc. has agreed to pay a total of $18.5 million to two Michigan families in a lawsuit stemming from a fatal crash on Interstate 94 near Portage, Ind., in 2011.

A jury sided with the families of the two men who were killed in a multiple vehicle collision involving a tractor-trailer driven by Earnest Johnson, an employee of Celadon.

The lawsuit alleged that the victims, 44-year-old Daniel Van Dyke, and his passenger, 47-year-old Richard Hannah, died as a result of negligent/reckless driving on the part of Johnson, who was driving too fast for conditions on an icy road.

Court documents show that the victims had stopped on the road when another vehicle in front of them was disabled and spun out of control due to the slick conditions. During the trial, it was shown that the EOBR on Johnson’s truck recorded his speed at 65 miles per hour on cruise control just before impact. Johnson was hauling 21 tons of crushed marble.

Celadon contended that Johnson could not have avoided the accident due to the presence of invisible ice, and that both Van Dyke and the other vehicle driver were contributorily negligent by failing to maintain proper control of their vehicles

Among the other findings in the case, according to court records:

  • Defendant Johnson was negligent and/or reckless by driving too fast for the conditions in violation of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulation Part 392.14;
  • Johnson was operating a tractor-trailer in an unreasonable manner and failing to exercise due care to avoid a collision;
  • He was failing to exercise extreme caution in the face of bad weather in violation of Part 392.14;
  • He was failing to discontinue operation or adjust his driving to the weather conditions; failing to adjust his speed to the weather and road conditions;
  • He was driving in a sleep deprived or fatigued condition; and failing to warn of an impending collision;
  • Defendant Celadon was found vicariously liable for what happened and negligent and/or reckless for failing to require Johnson to comply with driver regulations in violation of Part 390 of the FMCSRs;
  • Celadon was encouraging him to violate the FMCSRs in violation of Part 390 of the FMCSRs;
  • Celadon was failing to maintain the required records and documents; allowing him to drive a tractor-trailer whose condition was known to be substandard; and
  • Celadon failed to adequately train defendant Johnson, who had nine years of experience as a commercial truck driver.

The jury found Celadon 40 percent at fault and driver Johnson 60 percent at fault and awarded Van Dyke’s estate $7.5 million. Due to fault apportionment, defendant Celadon was responsible for $3 million and defendant Johnson was liable for $4.5 million. Hannah’s estate was awarded $11 million, with Celadon responsible for $4.4 million and Johnson $6.6 million. The estates, together, collected $18.5 million.

Hannah is survived by a wife and two minor sons, while Van Dyke is survived by his wife.

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