HOUSTON, Texas —MAY 17, 2018 — A Harris County State District court jury found Werner Enterprises, negligent in a 2014 trucking collision that involved a student truck driver, Shiraz Ali, and the Blake family of Houston, Texas. It is the largest verdict against Werner in the history of the company. Jennifer Blake lost her 7-year-old son, Zack, in the crash. Brianna “Destiny” Blake, Jennifer’s 12-year-old daughter, suffered a traumatic brain injury that rendered her a quadriplegic. Both Jennifer and her older son, Nathan, suffered extensive brain injuries.
The Blake family is represented by Eric Penn and Kelley Peacock of The Penn Law Firm, Zollie Steakley of Harrison Davis Steakley Morrison Jones and Darrin Walker of Kingwood, Texas.
Zollie Steakley and Eric Penn argued that Werner, one of the largest trucking companies in the U.S., displayed a systematic disregard for basic safety policies across the organization and inadequately trained new student drivers. A company with over $2 billion in annual gross revenue, Werner hires approximately 4,000 new drivers each year with no prior truck driving experience. According to a February 2015 US DOT Compliance Review conducted less than two months after this crash, Werner reported to the federal government that its annual driver turnover rate was over 100%.
Penn and Steakley told the jury that Werner’s lack of basic safety systems and its inadequate training processes for student drivers – combined with its business model of assigning student drivers on expedited deliveries – created a highly dangerous and unsustainable dynamic on U.S. Highways.” In total, Werner drivers log over 950 million miles annually on public roadways in all 48 contiguous states.
“The public has spoken in this trial. Werner’s business model is deadly, dangerous, and absolutely must change. Werner is placing the lives of everyone who drives on U.S. roads at serious risk,” said Penn.
“The tragic losses the Blake family has endured since the crash are heart-breaking. Nothing will ever return what has been lost, but justice has been served” said Steakley. The jury verdict included almost $44 million for medical and rehabilitative care for the rest of Brianna’s life.
The collision occurred on I-20 near Midland, Texas during freezing rain and black ice conditions. Every state’s Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) manual instructs 18-wheeler drivers to slow to a crawl and get off the road during icy conditions. The Werner student driver in this case failed to follow these rules. Instead, he averaged speeds in excess of 60 mph for the 52 miles he was driving in icy conditions prior to the crash. The Werner 18 wheeler was traveling over 50 mph immediately prior to impact with pickup occupied by the Blake family.
At 4:26 a.m. the day of the collision, a full 12 hours prior to the collision, the National Weather Service issued a Winter Storm Warning stating that freezing rain would develop along I-20 in a large area in west Texas. Despite this National Weather Service Winter Storm Warning, Werner directed Ali to take the I-20 route through the icy conditions rather than a safer alternative route.
At 2:50 p.m., one hour and 40 minutes prior to the collision, the National Weather Service issued an updated Winter Storm Warning stating the freezing rain had developed. Yet Werner never communicated this update to its student driver. Evidence presented in court demonstrated Werner’s lack of basic safety systems and policies, which led to Ali driving Werner’s 18-wheeler in freezing rain and black ice conditions for approximately an hour leading up to the crash. Werner did not allow its driver to have access to basic safety equipment, such as an outside temperature gauge or the CB radio. Either of these would have alerted Ali to the dangerous road conditions at the time.
About Harrison Davis Steakley Morrison Jones P.C.
Established in 1999 with law offices in Waco and Beaumont, Texas, Harrison Davis Steakley Morrison Jones P.C. is a nationally recognized law firm committed to getting justice for clients in Texas and throughout the United States. The firm practices in the areas of fire and explosion, catastrophic accidents, pharmaceutical litigation, motor vehicle accidents, defective medical devices, condemnation and premises liability. To learn more, please visit thetriallawyers.com.