COVID-19 UPDATE: We are open! Our team is working and offering consultations via phone, e-mail, and video conferencing. Learn More
Call For Your Free Consultation (919) 335-7005

Tanker truck wreck results in $9.45 million settlement

A company that was replacing highway reflectors on Interstate 95 has confidentially settled a lawsuit that alleged it had improperly allowed traffic to back up for more than 6 miles, resulting in a deadly tanker truck crash that killed an entire family.

Traffic information from cell phone data turned out to play a critical role in the case, said Kurt Dixon of Riddle & Brantley, one of the firms representing the plaintiffs.

Plaintiffs alleged that the highway construction company violated several N.C. DOT rules by working more slowly than required by the contract, failing to monitor the traffic backup; failing to get off the road to allow the backup to disperse and by failing to switch traffic controls in a work zone to a lane closure with cones and barrels.

As a result, plaintiffs argued, traffic backed up in a dangerous area along the highway, increasing the risk of a crash.

Killed in the crash were the 25-year-old husband, his wife, 31, and their two daughters, ages 3 and 1. “This is an extremely tragic case,” said David Kirby of Edwards Kirby in Raleigh, the other firm representing the family. “A young family was completely wiped out in an instant.”

The total settlement in the case was $9.45 million. That came from the company replacing the reflectors and from the insurance limits of the two trucks involved in the crash.

The wreck occurred when traffic slowed to a crawl on I-95, resulting in a lengthy backup. The driver of a tanker truck failed to notice the slow-down, and crashed into the family’s car, resulting in a fireball that killed the truck driver and the family. Another tractor trailer, which may have been blocking the view of the tanker driver, allegedly pulled out of the way just before the crash, leaving the tanker truck driver with nowhere to go. That company also settled a claim against it.

Once those claims were settled, discovery began regarding the company replacing the highway reflectors. The reflector replacement operation was a so-called “moving operation,” in which the work proceeded down the road using work trucks followed by trucks with arrow signs to direct traffic into the open travel lane. There were signs posted on the highway alerting motorists of work ahead, but the travel lane where work was performed was not closed. The alternative would have been to block traffic with a stationary lane closure, using cones and barrels.

An important issue was the cause of the traffic backup. The defendant company argued that it did not cause the backup. It pointed to a deputy sheriff who was at the operation who said traffic was flowing smoothly around the operation, and a company worker who drove through the traffic shortly before the wreck and testified there was not a significant backup. The slow-down at the site of the accident, which was 6 miles from where the reflector replacement trucks were working, was not caused by their work, the company argued.

Plaintiffs used cell phone data from an on-line search company to demonstrate that traffic was backed up – and sometimes stopped – throughout the six miles from the highway work to the site of the accident. “The cell phone data was crucial – it showed that the back-up started at the site where the reflector replacement was occurring and extended, uninterrupted, all the way to the site of the wreck,” Dixon said.

The company that provided the cell phone data fought subpoenas for its testimony, and plaintiffs ended up hiring an expert to interpret the Google data.

Plaintiffs contended that DOT regulations required the moving operation to travel at least 3 mph for safety reasons, although DOT supervisors said they would give such operations some leeway. Plaintiffs alleged that the company’s own records showed that the operation was moving at less than half the 3 mph speed. If the 3-mph safety requirement could not be met, the operation needed to get off the road and allow traffic to clear or switch to a lane closure with cones and barrels, plaintiffs’ experts said.

The company disputed all these claims. Additionally, it argued that causation was not established because the tanker driver had an unobstructed view for more than a third of a mile, yet never slowed down for the slow-moving traffic.

The case settled shortly before trial.

Settlement Report

  • Inner Circle of Advocates
    This is a rare and exclusive legal honor limited to the top 100 attorneys in the US, and we are proud to have John Edwards and David Kirby included.
  • Best Lawyers In America
    Four Edwards Kirby Attorneys Named to The Best Lawyers in America.
  • U.S. News Best Law Firm
    We are proud to be included in this prestigious list of law firms, selected for both quality of practice and extent of legal experience and skill.
  • SuperLawyers
    This rating service honors attorneys who have achieved a high level of professional achievement and peer recognition. Selected attorneys are included in Super Lawyers® magazine’s list.
  • AV Preeminent
    This highly prestigious honor is reserved for attorneys who are nominated by both clients and peers in a range of categories, including Quality of Service, Legal Experience, and more.
  • American Board of Trial Advocates
    This prestigious organization aims to continuously build upon a foundation of legal ethics and high technical standards for civil trial attorneys. We are proud to have membership in the American Board of Trial Advocates.
  • Legal Elite
    This honor, awarded by Business North Carolina magazine, recognizes the state’s top business and employment lawyers, as selected by their peers in a statewide ballot.
  • American College of Trial Lawyers
    Fellowship in the American College of Trial Lawyers is extended only to the top 1% of attorneys in a given state or providence. Our firm is proud to have members of this prestigious North American organization.
  • International Society of Barristers
    The International Society of Barristers aims to encourage fellowship, ethics, and advocacy excellence. We are proud to have attorneys who are Fellows of the Society, committed to the highest level of integrity and civility.
  • The National Trial Lawyers Top 100
    Attorney John Edwards has been included in this invitation only group of the premier trial lawyers in each state.
  • National Trial Lawyers Top 40 Under 40
    Attorneys Cate Edwards, Winston Kirby and Mary Kathryn Kurth were named "Top 40 Under 40" by the National Trial Lawyers.
  • Lawyers of Distinction
    Attorney Cate Edwards has been selected for this prestigious award after undergoing a stringent evaluation process based on peer recognition, past results, and reputation. Only the top 10% of attorneys in each state are selected to the final list.