$726,000 Jury Verdict in the Death of a Driver Who Rear-Ended a Stopped Flatbed Truck

On Oct. 29, 2008, Jonas Zigmantas was driving a flatbed truck for trucking company A.V., Inc. The truck was traveling northbound on Illinois Interstate 294 around 9:30 p.m. Zigmantas stopped his truck because he was involved in a minor property damage crash with a Honda Accord, which was driven by Michael Hawkins, near mile marker 2.

The Accord had sideswiped Zigmantas’s truck. Instead of pulling the flatbed semi-trailer over to the shoulder of the four-lane highway, Zigmantas stopped in the third lane of traffic, got out of his cab to check damage to his truck, walked to the shoulder to see if Hawkins was injured and told him to call the police.

After some time out of the truck, Zigmantas got back in, but he did not move the truck to the side of the road or put out any reflective hazard warning triangles or flares behind his parked flatbed trailer.

About 20 minutes after the first incident with Hawkins, a northbound van driven by Victor Rodriguez, rear-ended the stopped flatbed trailer at highway speed. There were no skid marks on the pavement at the scene and the police believed that Victor Rodriguez tried to swerve to avoid colliding with the flatbed trailer. The impact caused the flatbed to penetrate the occupant compartment of the van and pushed him into the back seat. Rodriguez was airlifted to Christ Hospital with blunt abdominal trauma.

Rodriguez, 45, received a blood transfusion before undergoing exploratory surgery, wherein the trauma team found that his mesentery, which lines the intestines and digestive tract, was shredded, he had massive internal bleeding and significant blood loss to the small intestine, which required resection of an 80-centimeter segment.

The surgical incision was not closed back up because Rodriguez’s condition was grave and another surgery would be imminent if he survived. However, he died at 9:14 a.m. on Oct. 30, 2008, the next morning. This was 11 hours after the crash. In the attempt to save Rodriguez’s life, there was $80,466 in medical expenses, although there was no lost time from work submitted at trial. Rodriguez was a missionary. He was also an immigrant from Ecuador, and his only surviving next-of-kin was his 18-year old daughter, who lived in Ecuador.

Rodriguez and his daughter had not lived together since she was 5 years old, and he had not seen her since she was 7, but they maintained a relationship through telephone calls. The daughter testified via deposition from Ecuador that she talked to her dad 2-3 times per week on the phone and that he sent her money every month.

The Victor Rodriguez estate brought this lawsuit claiming that the defendant, 45-year old Jonas Zigmantas, had falsified his trucker’s logbooks for the day before the incident. Zigmantas reportedly admitted to having been on-duty for almost 18 hours when the crash occurred, although the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Act prohibits truckers from working more than 14 hours in a day.

The attorney representing the Rodriguez family, Steven R. Saks, noted that Zigmantas, who is Lithuanian, could not speak enough English to testify at trial despite Code of Federal Regulations Section 391.11, which requires semi-truck drivers to be fluent in English enough to converse with the general public, respond to official inquiries and communicate with police.

The plaintiff’s human factors expert testified at the trial that the flatbed truck would have been very difficult to perceive as being stopped and it was likely too late by the time Rodriguez could recognize that it had stopped on the highway as he approached it.

The defendants maintained that Zigmantas had activated the truck’s hazard lights when he stopped. The flashing hazard lights were clearly visible from 1,000+ feet, the area was well lit and it was a long flat road, the truck driver’s conduct of getting out of the truck without moving it to the shoulder was reasonable because he wanted to check if the Hawkins’ vehicle occupants were injured and Rodriguez was contributory negligent for choosing not to stop, slow or steer around the truck when he had plenty of time to avoid the impact.

Hawkins, the Accord owner, was also sued and settled with Victor’s estate for his $25,000 insurance policy limit. The jury reportedly deliberated 3.5 hours before it reached its verdict. According to Mr. Saks, the estate of Victor Rodriguez’s attorney, the last demand to settle was $600,000 and the last offer by defendants was $200,000. According to the defendants’ attorney, the last demand to settle was the $1 million insurance policy limit and the last offer made by the defendants was $250,000.

The jury’s verdict of $1,210,466 was reduced by 40% due to the contributory negligence that the jury assigned to Victor Rodriguez’s conduct. That brought the jury’s verdict down to $726,280, which was against both of the defendants and was made up of the following damages:

• $162,000 for survival pain and suffering;
• $54,600 for loss of normal life;
• $48,280 for medical expenses;
• $279,600 for loss of society; and
• $181,800 for grief and sorrow.

Estate of Victor Rodriguez v. A.V., Inc., Jonas Zigmantas, No. 09 L 10437 (Cook County, Illinois).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling truck accident cases, car crash cases, nursing home abuse cases and medical negligence 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 Cicero, Des Plaines, Fox River Grove, Hinsdale, Joliet, Waukegan, St. Charles, Joliet, Bolingbrook, Round Lake Beach, Western Springs, Hinsdale, Glencoe, Lisle, Niles, Park Ridge, Chicago (Roscoe Village, Rogers Park, Printer’s Row, Pill Hill, South Shore, Koreatown, Hegewisch, Gold Coast, Forest Glen), Lemont and Evanston, Ill.

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