A jury in a civil case found Werner Enterprises negligent in a 2014 crash that k*lled a 7-year-old on Interstate 20 in Odessa, Texas. The Harris County jury awarded Jennifer Blake, of Houston, $89.7 million Thursday. Her 7-year-old son, Zach, died in the crash. The collision left her 12-year-old daughter, Brianna, paralyzed from the neck down. Jennifer and her other son, Nathan, suffered extensive brain injuries. “The public has spoken in this trial,” Eric Penn, the plaintiff’s attorney, said in a statement.
“Werner’s business model is d*adly, dangerous and absolutely must change.” The plaintiffs allege a Werner student driver, Shiraz Ali, was traveling 50 miles per hour seconds before the crash. They presented evidence of National Weather Service warnings for the area indicating freezing rain and icy conditions. “Despite this National Weather Service Winter Storm Warning, Werner directed Ali to take the I-20 route through the icy conditions rather than a safer alternative route,” the plaintiff’s attorneys said in a statement.
They said Ali was on an expedited delivery route to California, requiring arrival by the next day. Omaha-based Werner plans to appeal the judgement. Executive Vice President Nathan Meisgeier said in a statement the accident had “tragic results.” But the company contends it and its driver did nothing wrong, noting the Blake family was in a pick-up truck that lost control on the opposite side of a divided interstate, came through a grass median and ran into the truck. “The Werner driver was traveling well below the posted speed limit, did not lose control of his tractor-trailer, and even brought the unit to a controlled stop after the impact,”
said Meisgeier in the statement. “As a result, no other motorists were involved in a secondary accident. If an accident like this is the fault of the driver who was hit by the out of control vehicle, think about what that means for every motorist on the roads.”