Celadon changes cruise control policy after $18.5 million award

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line staff writer | 8/12/2013

For drivers at Celadon Trucking Services Inc., it’s no longer an option to use the cruise control during inclement weather conditions. The company announced recently it’s the policy to make sure that function is turned off.

Celadon vice president of risk management Ken Core told The Associated Press that the company now trains its drivers not to use cruise control during inclement weather.

A Celadon representative could not be reached for comment Monday.

The policy change comes on the heels of a massive wrongful-death judgment that was awarded last month to the families of two men. They were killed when a Celadon truck driver who was using cruise control in icy conditions rear-ended the victims’ vehicle.

An Indiana jury ordered the company 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.

The 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 suit argued 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.

The two victims, who had stopped on the road when another vehicle in front of them was disabled and spun out of control due to the slick conditions, were fatally struck by a Johnson’s tractor-trailer. 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

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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