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June 2018

Gordon & Rees Team Obtains Unanimous Defense Verdict In New York

Gordon Rees Scully Mansukhani partners Peter Siachos and Donald Derrico, along with associate Matt Gallo, obtained a unanimous defense verdict in Ulster County, New York after a week-long jury trial defending the largest refrigerated trucking company in the nation, along with its truck driver. The defendant truck driver was speeding on I-87 in New York when a co-defendant changed lanes, striking the truck’s steer tire, causing it to lose control. The truck, which contained tens of thousands of pounds of cucumbers and tomatoes, traveled across the median and was involved in a head-on collision with plaintiff’s vehicle, resulting in serious injuries.  The plaintiff, who was 49 years old at the time of the accident, claimed he could no longer work and was forced to immediately retire.  

Derrico and Siachos successfully moved to bifurcate liability and damages, and also were successful in their motions to exclude the truck driver’s criminal record and speeding infractions. They also were able to keep out prior instances of speeding, hard-braking, and truck load stability issues, all of which were maintained on the truck’s “black box.”  During the trial, the plaintiff’s engineering and human factor’s expert testified that, according to the black box data, the truck driver’s reaction time and braking were insufficient, and that had he been driving the speed limit, his truck would have stopped short of the oncoming traffic, avoiding the head-on collision with the plaintiff’s car.  Additionally, he testified that, given the rainy weather and slick roads, the truck driver should have been driving much slower - probably well below the speed limit.  

The defendants’ human factors and accident reconstruction experts testified that the plaintiff’s expert’s analysis of reaction time and braking was incorrect; the plaintiff’s expert failed to use the proper number of milliseconds from when a driver determines there is an emergency situation. Additionally, the defendants’ experts testified that the plaintiff’s expert failed to account for the slippery grass median and the curved trajectory of the truck, both of which affected the gravitational forces and friction coefficient after the car struck the truck’s steer tire. Finally, the defendants’ experts testified that even if the truck driver had been driving slower, that the elliptical trajectory of the truck and the sloped median still would have taken the truck into the oncoming traffic, just at a different angle. 

Importantly, under New York joint and several liability statutes, the plaintiff only needed to obtain one percent liability as to the firm’s clients (and 99 percent as to the co-defendant who struck the tire) for the firm’s clients to have 100 percent liability for any potential verdict.  Additionally, under New York law, defendants are barred from mentioning to the jury that one percent liability is effectively the same as 100 percent liability. Despite this plaintiff-friendly law and the inability to explain it to the jury, and in the face of a seven-figure settlement demand, Siachos and Derrico still were able to obtain a complete victory for the firm’s clients.  

Donald G. Derrico
Matthew P. Gallo
Peter G. Siachos