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Truck Driver’s Inadequate Training Results in Shared Liability

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Jury awards $58.5 million to family, says truck driver not adequately trained

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor

The jury in a wrongful death lawsuit in Santa Fe, NM, has awarded the family of a crash victim $58.5 million, saying the driver of a tanker truck that made a left turn in the path of the victim’s oncoming vehicle did not have adequate training. The bulk of the responsibility for the crash lies with the management company that contracted with the trucking company, the jury said.

A special verdict from the jury holds management company Bergstein Enterprises of Lubbock, TX, 70 percent accountable for the March 2010 crash that killed Kevin Udy.

Twenty percent of the liability falls to oilfield trucking company Standard E&S, also of Lubbock, while the owner of the tanker truck, Zia Transport of Hobbs, NM, was 9 percent responsible, the jury said. The driver of the truck, Monte Lyons, was 1 percent responsible.

The award consists of $11.5 million in actual damages and $47 million in punitive damages to Santa Fe Trust, a fund set up for Udy’s family.

The attorney representing the trust said in a release that the evidence he presented demonstrated inadequate training of the truck driver and repeated violations of federal and state trucking regulations by management and trucking company.

“Today a Santa Fe jury sent a clear message to the trucking industry, and to the oil and gas industry in particular, that those companies who choose not to follow safety rules and who place profits over human life, will be held accountable for the harm that they cause,” personal injury lawyer Bill Robins of the Santa Fe firm Heard Robins Cloud & Black stated March 20.

A glimpse into the safety and compliance history for Standard E&S shows the company in alert status in the driver fitness and vehicle maintenance categories in the public database Compliance, Safety, Accountability, known as CSA.

Standard E&S operates 155 trucks and drives a total of 1.9 million miles a year, according to paperwork filed with FMCSA.

Over the course of the past two years, the company underwent 139 inspections, with 13 of those producing driver violations. Of those, five are attributed to “driver lacking valid license for type of vehicle being operated.” Each one came with an out-of-service order.

Standard E&S had one violation during that timeframe for “operating a CMV while fatigued,” and one violation for “requiring or permitting (a) driver to drive more than 11 hours.” Each of those carries enough weight to push the company into alert status in the driver fitness category, or BASIC.

In the vehicle maintenance BASIC, the 139 inspections produced a 37 percent out-of-service rate. The most serious violations consisted of one incident of defective leaf springs; one broken torsion bar; flat, underinflated or bald tires; three steering violations; and at least 33 incidents of defective or missing lights.

It must be noted that Standard E&S hauls oil, gas and water in the rugged oilfield sector, which may shed some light on the condition of the equipment.

In terms of hours-of-service compliance, the company had some form-and-manner violations but was within the compliance threshold in the HOS BASIC.

Not a lot has been made public outside of court about the truck driver or his background including his license, training or endorsements such as hazmat.

Attempts by Land Line to reach defense attorney Randal W. Roberts of the Albuquerque firm Simone Roberts & Weiss went unreturned as of press time on Thursday.

Judge Raymond Z. Ortiz presided over the case filed in 2011 in New Mexico 1st District Court.


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