$3 Million Jury Verdict for Catastrophic Injuries to a Rear-Seat Passenger in SUV-Car-Truck Crash

Chanttel Ortiz was 19 and seated in the rear passenger seat of a car driven by Luinis Sosa Rosa when an unidentified SUV allegedly cut off the car from the left. The driver, Sosa Rosa, veered to the right shoulder but saw a tanker truck parked ahead. Sosa Rosa braked, leaving about 90 feet of skid marks, but the left front of the car struck the tanker’s right rear corner.

The Sosa Rosa car was propelled across 40 feet of snow-covered grass and became wedged under the trailer of a second truck, which had stopped on a plant’s access road.

Ortiz suffered multiple injuries including injuries to her face that caused scarring and affected the function of her right eye. She also suffered a transverse process spinal fracture at C-5 and a fracture to her left, non-dominant wrist.

She underwent multiple surgeries, including surgery to repair damage to her eye area and an open reduction internal fixation of the fractured wrist.

At the time of the crash, Ortiz was preparing to start her second semester of college. She returned later the same year. After the collision, the police issued the driver of the tanker truck, Julio Alers, a summons for obstructing the second trucker’s view of traffic. Alers pleaded guilty to the charge.

Ortiz sued Alers and his employer, T.J. Transportation, claiming that Alers was negligent and had broken several federal motor carrier safety regulations in the process. Alers testified at trial that he traveled for about one mile with the brake alarm sounding before pulling onto the shoulder.

Ortiz’s trucking expert testified that Alers had violated federal regulations by choosing not to place emergency reflective triangles as soon as possible after he stopped on the shoulder of the road and choosing not to activate his emergency flashers during the 4-6 minutes he admitted to having parked on the shoulder. The plaintiff’s trucking expert also testified that a post-accident maintenance repair bill for T.J. Transportation’s truck showed eight mechanical problems with the air pressure braking system and the brakes, any of which would have been discovered if Alers had performed a competent pre-trip inspection. Lastly, plaintiff’s expert testified that Alers violated safe operating practices when he chose not to get off the highway sooner.

The driver of the second tractor-trailer testified that he had stopped his truck on the access road before merging because the tanker truck was blocking his view of traffic. This driver testified at trial that after the incident, he went over to the tanker and asked Alers what happened to which Alers replied, “I was tired.” The other trucker also testified that Alers had said nothing about an emergency brake pressure problem.

On the day of the collision, it was Alers’s first day of employment with T.J. Transportation. On cross-examination, Alers admitted that, although he obtained his commercial driver’s license in 2000, he had driven such vehicles for only three companies, six months for each company in the 11 years before this incident.

Ortiz also sued Sosa Rosa claiming that he negligent in veering into the tanker truck. In answers to interrogatories, Ortiz contended that Sosa Rosa was traveling at about 64-75 mph in a 55 mph zone and was weaving in and out of traffic. Ortiz did not recall seeing the SUV that Sosa Rosa described in his testimony.

Ortiz and her mother testified at trial about the ways in which Ortiz’s face scarring had impacted her life. Ortiz’s mother testified that Ortiz has gained 50 pounds, avoids family gatherings and did not want her college pictures taken. Ortiz also introduced before-and-after photos of herself for evidence of her disfigurement. These photographs were viewed by the jury.

Sosa Rosa testified that he did not see any emergency triangles or flashers and that, had he realized the truck was there, he would have taken the impact from the unidentified SUV, knowing that the right shoulder was not an option.

The trucking defendants argued that Alers was solely at fault because he was speeding and weaving in and out of traffic. They also argued that the second trucker did not have to stop at the access road because there was a dedicated 250-foot lane for traffic from the plant to merge onto the highway.

The jury’s verdict of $3 million was allocated at 70% to Alers and T.J. Transportation and 30% to Sosa Rosa. About $100,000 in unpaid medical bills, including $35,000 in future medical expenses will be added to the verdict in accordance to the parties’ pretrial agreement. The trucking defendants have filed a motion for a new trial or a reduction in the amount of the verdict.

The attorneys who represented Chanttel Ortiz were John R. Gorman and David Spevack. As mentioned, at trial, plaintiffs engaged an expert in tractor-trailer maintenance and truck operations. The defendants engaged an expert to testify about accident reconstruction.

Ortiz v. T.J. Transportation, No. Mid-L 5300-11 (N.J. Super. Ct. Middlesex County, Feb. 19, 2015).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling trucking accident cases and automobile accident cases for individuals and families who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of another for more than 38 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Bridgeview, Markham, Elmwood Park, Maywood, River Forest, River Grove, Franklin Park, Chicago (Pulaski Park, Bridgeport, Canaryville, Little Italy, Goose Island, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Irving Park, Albany Park), Naperville, Glencoe and Lincolnwood, Ill.

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