On June 26, 2007, plaintiff Henry Gfroehrer, 43, a furniture deliveryman, and his passenger and co-plaintiff, Andrew Skelton, also a furniture deliveryman, were in a box truck and traveling on East Mountain Drive, through the intersection with Route 155 North, in Plains Township, when they were involved in a broadside collision with the tractor-trailer driven by Steven Calice, who was driving on Route 155.
Gfroehrer suffered numerous injuries during the accident, including to his head and spine.
Gfroehrer and Skelton sued Calice and his employer, Werner Enterprises. It was alleged that Calice had been negligent in the operation of the tractor-trailer, and that Werner Enterprises was vicariously liable. In addition, the employer was accused of negligent hiring and negligent entrustment.
According to Gfroehrer and Skelton, Calice ignored a sign on a nearby highway indicating that trucks over 10-and-a-half tons were not to use exit 105 (which leads to Route 155 North) and, in proceeding toward Route 115 North, allegedly passed by other signs that clearly would have alerted him that he should not be traveling along the route in question.
Calice allegedly lost control of his tractor-trailer after his brakes caught fire as he traveled at a rate of speed grossly in excess of posted speed limits. After the failure of the brakes, Calice's truck blew the red light at the intersection of Route 115 North and East Mountain Drive, and violently collided with the driver's side of the box truck, which the plaintiffs claimed was lawfully proceeding through a solid green traffic signal.
With respect to the claims against Werner Enterprises individually, plaintiffs' counsel asserted that Calice was unqualified and unfit to drive his tractor-trailer, and that Werner Enterprises knew as much yet allowed him on the road despite his sub-par qualifications and inadequate training.
Plaintiffs' counsel noted that Calice's physical stature (4'10" and 95 pounds) posed practical issues during his training at Werner, as Calice had difficulty reaching the pedals and seeing over the steering wheel. Furthermore, Calice received test results far below those of the average driver-in-training.
The case proceeded to trial with Gfroehrer as the only plaintiff, as Skelton and his wife (who had a derivative claim) settled for an undisclosed amount prior to trial.
Calice stipulated as to negligence, but Werner Enterprises did not.
Werner Enterprises argued at trial that, in light of the fact that Calice's tractor-trailer had been out of control prior to the collision, Gfroehrer should have observed the tractor-trailer approaching, and refrained from entering the intersection.
(In response, Gfroehrer testified that Calice's vehicle gave no indication that it was not going to stop, that Calice did not sound his horn, and that he had not heard any screeching brakes.)
The jury found that Werner Enterprises had been negligent with respect to the accident, and that both the company's and Calice's negligence had been factual causes in bringing about Gfroehrer's injuries.
No contributory negligence was found as against Gfroehrer.
Gfroehrer was awarded a total of $4 million in damages.
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