We are pleased to announce that 4 attorneys from Clark, Fountain, La Vista, Prather & Littky-Rubin were recently featured in an article for the Daily Business Review. The feature highlights the lawyers success in a recent case they took on that resulted in their client being awarded $15.5 Million.
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About the Case
In May, a Broward jury found that the National Truck Center was 95% at fault for an accident that caused the death of Werner K. Letterman, a 41-year-old plumber.
After going through what can only be described as an emotional trial, the jury in the case came to the conclusion that Letterman’s mother, Susan Letterman, should receive an award of $15,502,880. The jury reached their decision on May 25th, ending a 3 year legal battle that ultimately assigned responsibility to the National Truck Center. The attorneys at Clark, Fountain, La Vista, Prather, Keen & Littky-Rubin represented the plaintiff in the case.
Attorney Hampton Keen, one of the plaintiff’s legal representatives told the Daily Business Review, “It was just a horrific situation and a horrific loss, combined with liability issues, where our whole contention was that this could have been easily prevented.”
Attorney Keen, along with his colleague Attorney Julie Littky-Rubin, came onboard the case 6 months before trial, while Attorneys Donald Fountain and Jason Cornell worked with the plaintiff from its inception.
As the article in the Daily Business Review describes, the events leading to the lawsuit took place in Palm Beach on December 27, 2013. According to the complaint filed in February of 2015, Letterman was driving a pumper truck on the I-95 when its front tire suddenly blew out, failed, and sustained a tread or belt separation. After the tire blow out, the truck “lost stability” and collided with a tree where it caught fire. Although other motorists came to the aid of Letterman and attempted to keep him alive, he died at the scene of the accident.
Dr. Glen Axelson of the Office of Medical Examiner performed an autopsy, which concluded that Letterman’s blood revealed no signs of alcohol or drugs. Instead, it looked like the truck had a defect.
Attorney Keen, “This truck should never have been on the road in the condition that it was, and the root cause was National Truck Center.”
While the vehicle Letterman was driving at the time of the accident was used as a septic pump truck, it was initially a tractor-trailer that National Truck Center had modified. After being significantly modified, the vehicle was purchased in 2007 by Letterman’s employer, Rudy Garcia, who owns Rudy’s Plumbing Service, Inc. in West Palm Beach.
“Rudy actually testified in the case that he had no idea it had been rebuilt in the manner that it had,” said Attorney Keen. Furthermore, Garcia said in his testimony that he never would have purchased the truck if he would have known about the extensive modifications made to the vehicle. “He was a humble gentleman, a good man, and the jury believed him with respect to that.”
Attorney Keen said the pumper truck was loaded with 1,000 to 1,500 pounds of cargo. “That dynamic, according to our expert, overloaded the system and was the direct correlation for why this truck was uncontrollable.”
In addition to not informing Letterman about the modified vehicle, National Truck Center added larger tires and rims to the truck, which substantially altered the vehicle’s steering dynamics. The plaintiff’s attorneys said, “In conjunction with that you have changed the center of gravity because of this big load and lengthened frame.”
As Letterman’s legal team saw it, proving strict liability meant they would need to demonstrate that when National Truck Center made the alterations, it had in essence manufactured a new vehicle.
According to Attorney Julie Littky-Rubin, “Even though we had evidence that National Truck had been negligent, we wanted to show that it was also strictly liable. And it would have to have been the ‘manufacturer’ of a new vehicle in order to be held responsible for strict liability.” This meant the lawyers from Clark, Fountain, La Vista, Prather, Keen & Littky-Rubin would need to convince jurors that the truck was a new vehicle.
“The jury found that the modifications were so substantial that what National Trucks started with and what it ended with was something completely different,” said Attorney Littky-Rubin.
The lawsuit also alleged that National Truck failed to put a required sticker on the truck, which would have indicated that the vehicle had been rebuilt or substantially modified.
“There was somewhat conflicting testimony as to whether or not that sticker had ever been put on the truck, but we believe it had never been put on. Our contention was that was part of a warning that would have been present for Rudy or anyone else subsequently that either serviced the truck or purchased the truck,” said Attorney Keen.
The Daily Business Review notes that National Truck Center countered the plaintiff’s claim with typical responses used in cases like these. In part of the complaint, the company claimed the plaintiff’s damages were out of its control and “caused by the negligence of third parties.”
The company also tried to assign liability to Rudy’s Plumbing Service, the company that purchased the truck; Shandong Linglong Tire Co., the company that designed and installed the tires; Southeast Truck Specialist, which inspected an maintained the tires; and Werner Letterman, the victim in the crash.
Shandong Linglong previously settled and was found to be 5% at fault.
Although National Truck claim to have relied on top professionals to maintain their vehicles, Attorney Jason Cornell said, “There were no engineering specifications that National Truck followed in building this truck. Instead, it was the equivalent of designing this truck on the back of an envelope, and they realized that.”
In the end, the jury awarded every dollar requested by the plaintiff.
We congratulate our attorneys for their continued success and for being recognized by a respected publication like the Daily Business Review.
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At Clark, Fountain, La Vista, Prather & Littky-Rubin, we are committed to helping clients secure justice for themselves and their loved ones. With years of experience and a history of success handling wrongful death cases, we have the skills and resources that you need to protect your rights and legal interests. Let us fight for you today.
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