Jury orders Swift to pay owner-operator over $2.58 million in negligence suit

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line associate editor | 8/25/2015

An owner-operator sued Swift Transportation citing negligent maintenance practices as a contributing factor for injuries he received after a trailer ran over his foot. He has been awarded $2.58 million by a jury following a trial in federal court.

The plaintiff, Herbert Willoughby, of Virginia, initially sued Swift, The Home Depot and his co-driver, Jason Cribbs. Home Depot was not part of the settlement. The jury found Swift to be 49 percent at fault, Willoughby 43 percent at fault, and Cribbs 8 percent at fault.

The incident happened June 5, 2012, when Willoughby, a leased operator, and Cribbs, a driver trainee, were at a Home Depot warehouse in Harris County, Texas. According to the amended complaint filed by Willoughby in U.S. District Court in Houston, a defect on his Wabash trailer prevented him from being able to “slide the rails” without assistance, requiring him to have to physically hold the pin out to adjust the trailer’s rails.

Willoughby’s complaint alleged Cribbs failed, among other things, to take proper evasive action, to maintain a proper lookout, and to operate the vehicle in a reasonably attentive manner. The suit alleged that Swift had knowledge of the problems with Willoughby’s trailer and failed to adequately repair and maintain it.

Swift filed a countersuit, which was thrown out, alleging that Willoughby himself was negligent for failing to properly instruct his student driver, Cribbs, for failing to apply the trailer brakes before releasing the truck to Cribbs, and failing to properly communicate the procedure to him before attempting to move the tandem wheels. Court records in the counter-claim indicate that Willoughby had been a trainer for Swift since August 2005.

Among the damages awarded to Willoughby by the jury were $500,000 for physical pain and mental anguish, $500,000 for past physical impairment, and $450,000 for loss of earnings capacity.

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