$3.8 Million - Arbitrator Awards $3.8 Million in Car-Truck Accident.

Arbitrator Awards $3.8 Million in Car-Truck Accident
The Legal Intelligencer

Plaintiff: Skipping Court Saved Week of Trial Time by Michael A. Riccardi

A former Philadelphia Common Pleas Court judge, acting as a neutral arbitrator, decided last week that an injured motorist is entitled to a $3.8 million recovery from a trucking company whose tractor-trailer blocked a dark road in Bradford County and was run into by the plaintiff.

Plaintiff‚s lawyer Kenneth M. Rothweiler of Eisenberg, Rothweiler, Winkler, Eisenberg & Jeck, P.C. said he and defense counsel agreed to eschew Bradford County litigation in favor of arbitration, which took place in the conference rooms of the law firms involved.

According to Rothweiler, the decision to arbitrate was taken to avoid Bradford County jurisdiction, even through it meant foregoing an attempt to litigate the case in a more plaintiff-friendly court like Philadelphia Common Pleas.

"Even though we had a good case, and my client is from Bradford County," the plaintiffs' side was unsure of that county's juror‚s view of the case, Rothweiler said. "We agreed to take the case out of court, giving up our chances of a 'runaway' verdict, and go to arbitration."

Stacy Carter, 36, was driving in a Geo Metro automobile on the westbound lane of Route 6, a two-lane highway in Bradford, when a tractor-trailer 40 feet in length and 13 feet wide was backing into a parking lot. The rig blocked the westbound lane, and Carter drove her car into the trailer.

The crash took place at 7:15 on a March evening, and Route 6 lacked streetlights, Rothweiler said. There were no skid marks and no indication that Carter made any attempt to swerve away from the truck.

Former Judge Leon Katz reduced a damage award of $5.7 milion by on-third to reflect comparitive negligence principles, leaving Carter with a $3.8 million judgment against Cline Trucking Co. and the truck driver, named Larry West.

Katz ruled the trucker was two-thirds responsible for the calamity, with kCarter taking one-third of the blame.

"Our argument was that she could not see this structure in the middle of the road," Rothweiler said.

The plaintiff's lawyer also said the driver chose the least safe option for entering the parking lot, since he had the option of driving into the lot head first and getting the truck into the lot more quickly without blocking the road.

"He did the most dangerous maneuver, and he didn't have reflective tape on the truck, which today is mandatory," Rothweiler said. "Our theory was that the driver did not do anything to make the procedure safer. There were no spotters, and it was the most dangerous thing you could do on the roadway."

Carter, who suffered massive facial fractures and the loss of an eye, could not remember a thing, Rothweiler said.

"The main defense was that the tractor-trailor was visible to oncoming vehicles," Rothweiler said, noting that the defense pointed out that a second car slowed down.

"They asked 'Why was she able to slow down [and avoid a wreck] when my client wasn't?" Rothweiler recalled.

The plaintiff's lawyer said the second driver slowed down partly because she could see the accident scene.

"She had visual clues that my client didn't," Rothweiler said.

Stephen J. Imbriglia of the firm Hecker Brown Sherry & Johnson, defense counsel to the trucking firm, did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment on the case.

Losses due to medical bills and lost wages amounted to about $800,000, acccording to Rothweiler. But Carter suffered facial deformities and a changed physical appearance, and has sustained psychiatric problems connected to the injuries. She also requires some home health aid, Rothweiler said.

Rothweiler's co-counsel in the case was Jonathan Ostroff, his partner in the Eisenberg Rothweiler firm.

Rothweiler said the arbitration option allowed the parties to wrap up a dispute that arose in March 1997 in little more than one year. And, he estimated, a trial would have taken eight to 10 days, instead of the four days required by arbitration.

"I have tried cases since 1983, and this was a very efficient way to do it," he said.