Werner Enterprises has been ordered to pay a massive $40.5 million judgement to the family of a woman who was killed in a fatal crash caused by a brand new truck driver. The jury found that the driver’s lack of adequate training and proper supervision was a cause of the accident.
In February of 2017, Werner trainee Felipe Johnson had just graduated from Roadmaster Drivers School. He had been hired as a student driver by Werner just eight days before the fatal accident. The megacarrier also owns Roadmaster, so the lawsuit claimed that the driver, Werner, and Werner’s training practices were all factors in the accident.
The crash occurred when Johnson’s truck crossed from the right-hand lane of I-10 Eastbound near Las Cruces, New Mexico, all the way across the median, entered the Westbound lanes, and struck a vehicle driven by Kathryn Armijo head on, killing her.
Johnson’s trainer was required to be observing him whenever Johnson was behind the wheel. But according to court documents, in the eight days from February 16th through February 23rd, neither Johnson nor his trainer had logged any hours as observation time. Instead, the complaint alleged that they had been given loads which essentially required them to run under co-driving conditions.
“The accident that resulted in the tragic loss of Kathryn Armijo was the result of a brief moment of operator error by the Werner driver,” said Werner President and CEO Derek Leathers in a statement according to Overdrive. “The Werner driver was not distracted, fatigued or impaired in any way. In every sense, it simply was an accident.”
But the jury sided with Armijo’s family. Their lawyers argued that Werner’s “inadequate operations and training programs for its student drivers via Roadmaster Drivers School, had a systematic disregard for basic safety policies and training of new drivers.”
The jury awarded Armijo’s family $42.5 million in damages. $10 million of that is considered punitive.