As a Marietta Trucking Lawyer, I’m always interested in significant Cobb County trials involving tractor trailer collisions. On Thursday I watched closing arguments in the case of Theresa Foster v. Landstar Ranger, Inc. et al. The case was filed by a Blakely, Georgia woman seeking to hold a Florida trucking company accountable for a 2007 collision that killed her husband, William Foster, killed a friend, Jay Demont, and caused her serious personal injuries. The evidence presented by the widow’s lawyers was compelling. As I left the Courthouse that evening, I felt fairly confident the jury would return a large eight figure verdict, but then you never know. On Friday the jury reached a verdict, awarding $40 million to Mrs. Foster, thought to be a record in a Georgia wrongful death case.
The driver of the Landstar 18-wheeler, Stephen Collins, ran a stop sign and collided with the Foster’s vehicle on February 11, 2007 while they were on a hunting trip in the southwest Georgia town of Blakely. Mrs. Foster’s lawyers presented evidence that Mr. Collins ignored 10 indications that he was approaching a stop sign, including rumble strips, lights, and signs. At the time of the accident, Collins was transporting a cargo of rubber pellets that caused the weight of his 18-wheeler to be over 77,000 pounds when it crashed into Mr. Foster’s 2002 Ford F-150. Both Foster and Demott were riding in the front seat of the truck, while Mrs. Foster who suffered broken ribs and a fractured vertebra was the lone back seat passenger.
In Georgia, if a trucking company kills someone, they are responsible for the value of that person’s life as well as the lost earning capacity of that person. Mr. Foster was a large wage earner and a successful businessman. Mrs. Foster’s lawyers presented a thorough economic analysis, supported by testimony of expert economists, accountants, and Mr. Foster’s business partners, that Mr. Foster’s lost earning capacity exceeded $43 million dollars. Landstar’s lawyers argued that the number was too high, but failed to present any evidence supporting a different number. From my point of view, it appeared the defense strategy was to sit back and rely on the reputation of Cobb County juries to deliver low verdicts.
At Church on Sunday I was asked a good question. “If a Florida corporation killed a Blakely, Georgia man in Blakely, why did the case get tried in Cobb County?” The answer surprised them, in Georgia cases are tried where the Defendant lives. Corporations “live” wherever they choose to have a registered agent. Ironically, Landstar Ranger, Inc. choose to set up their registered agent in Cobb County, because of our County’s reputation for very low verdicts. They figured if they ever killed anyone with a tractor-trailer they would get to pay less if the case was tried in Cobb County. However, from my experience as a Cobb County Personal Injury Lawyer, this perception is outdated. More often than not, Cobb County juries do the right thing and reach verdicts based on the evidence, whether that means a large or small verdict.
Over the course of the two-week trial, Mrs. Foster’s attorneys called 25 witnesses, with Landstar calling none. Landstar admitted the negligence of their driver caused the collision that killed two men and fractured Mrs. Foster’s spine. Landstar admitted the jury should award a verdict for the value of Mr. Foster’s life and for Mrs. Foster’s injuries, but failed to suggest a number. Plaintiff’s counsel suggested a verdict no less than $43 Million, the value reached by the economic experts.
It took the jury around 6 hours of deliberation to return the $40,175,000 verdict in favor of the Plaintiff. The three-page verdict form shows $28 million was awarded for the value of the life of Mr. Foster, $11 million to Mrs. Foster, and about $34,000 in medical and funeral expenses. Hopefully insurance companies will learn from Foster v. Landstar that Cobb County juries are capable of delivering significant verdicts when the evidence supports such a verdict.