The surviving relatives of a family of four who were all killed after a tanker truck crashed into the back of their car has reached a $9.45 million confidential settlement with two trucker drivers involved in the crash and the company that was replacing highway reflectors and had allowed highway traffic to back up for more than six miles at the time of the crash, the family’s attorneys report.
Kurt Dixon of Riddle & Brantley in Raleigh and David Kirby and Bill Bystrynski of Edwards Kirby in Raleigh said that many of the details of the 2017 crash were withheld pursuant to a confidentiality agreement, but the victims were a married couple and their two children. The husband and wife were 25 and 31, respectively, and their two daughters were 3 and 1. The driver of the tanker was also killed.
“This is an extremely tragic case,” Kirby said. “A young family was completely wiped out in an instant.”
The reflector replacement work was a “moving operation” in which workers proceeded down Interstate 95 on trucks, trailed by trucks with signage that directed traffic into an open travel lane. The plaintiffs, the husband’s and wife’s respective parents, alleged that North Carolina Department of Transportation regulations required the operation to move forward at no less than 3 mph for safety reasons, but the company’s own records showed that it was moving at less than half the required speed, the attorneys said.
By the time of the wreck, traffic had slowed to a crawl. The tanker’s driver failed to notice the slow-down and crashed into the family’s car from behind, “resulting in a fireball that killed the truck driver and the family,” Bystrynski said. A tractor-trailer, which may have been blocking the tanker driver’s view, had pulled out of the way just before they reached the backup, leaving the tanker driver with no way to avoid the impact.
The settlement was reached with the company replacing the reflectors and from the insurance limits of the two trucks involved in the crash.
If workers could not keep up the necessary speed, DOT regulations required the operation to either vacate the road and allow traffic to clear, or else switch to a lane closure with cones and barrels, but the operators did neither of these things, the plaintiffs’ experts said. Signs posted further back on the highway alerted motorists about the work ahead, but the travel lane where the work was being done remained open.
Traffic information from cell phone data played a crucial role in the settlement, Dixon said. It showed that traffic was backed up, and sometimes stopped, uninterrupted for six miles from the workers’ position to the site of the crash. The company that provided the cell phone data fought subpoenas for its testimony, and the plaintiffs ended up hiring an expert to interpret Google data, the attorneys said.
The company responsible for the road work disputed all of the claims against it and argued that causation hadn’t been established because the tanker driver had an unobstructed view for more than a third of a mile but never slowed down for the slow-moving traffic.
The names of the defendants and their counsel, and the location of the crash, were also withheld pursuant to the confidentiality agreement.
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SETTLEMENT REPORT — MOTOR VEHICLE CRASH
Injuries alleged: Four deaths
Case name: Confidential
Date of settlement: November 2019
Attorneys for plaintiff: Kurt Dixon of Riddle & Brantley in Raleigh and David Kirby and Bill Bystrynski of Edwards Kirby in Raleigh
Attorneys for defendant: Withheld