Joseph Power, Jr.: $21.6M Jury Award After Trucker Fell

Chicago Daily Law Bulletin- 12/10/18- by Jordyn Reiland, Law Bulletin staff writer

A Cook County jury awarded $21.6 million to a Texas truck driver and his wife after he sustained a traumatic brain injury while delivering merchandise to a toy store outside of Los Angeles.

Jurors reached their verdict last month after a trial before Associate Judge Elizabeth M. Budzinski.

Bennie Wood purchased a commercial trailer truck in March 2002 from a NavistarInternational dealership in Texas. The truck was manufactured in Ontario, Canada, and all warranty claim work before the truck was purchased was completed in El Paso, Texas. However, Navistar is based in west suburban Lisle, giving Illinois jurisdiction.

In May 2007, Wood drove his truck from Texas to Mattel Toy Store outside of Los Angeles to make a delivery. As he was getting out of the vehicle the driver's side grab handle detached from the trailer causing Wood to fall backwards and hit his head on the ground.

Wood, then 59 years old, sustained blunt head trauma, a brain bleed, cuts to his nose and a traumatic brain injury, according to one of his attorneys Joseph A. Power Jr. of Power Rogers and Smith LLP.

Wood and his wife, Linda, first filed a lawsuit in Cook County in May 2009 alleging strict liability, negligence and loss of consortium counts against Navistar Inc. and Navistar Canada Inc.

Bennie Wood contended the way the grab handle and fastening system were designed led to corrosion and weakening of the support bracket.

Navistar's attorneys argued the truck was 8 years old, had almost 1 million miles on it and the bolts on Wood's truck were replacement parts and did not meet the manufacturer's specifications, according to a firm-issued news release.

The defense also asserted Wood should have been able to feel how loose the grab handle was and should have repaired it himself or have someone else repair it.

The case was heard in Cook County but tried pursuant to Texas law.

Navistar filed a motion to dismiss the case or transfer it to DuPage County, where Navistar's headquarters are located. Wood's attorneys argued Cook County was a more appropriate venue because witnesses were located out of state and would have to travel through Cook County for any court proceedings.

The plaintiffs' also argued Navistar did a substantial amount of business in Cook County.

In December 2009, Circuit Judge Diane J. Larsen granted Navistar's motion and allowed Wood to either transfer the case to DuPage County or refile it in California.

The 1st District Appellate Court then reversed Larsen's order in September 2010, finding the defendants failed to show Cook County was "inconvenient" and DuPage County or California were more convenient to all of the parties.

Navistar then filed a motion to apply Texas law to the case in October 2012, arguing the tractor was purchased and titled in Texas and all warranty repairs were done at dealerships in Texas.

They also contended the only Illinois connection was Navistar' s corporate headquarters was located there.

Associate Judge Daniel T. Gillespie denied the motion; Navistar appealed.

The 1st District Appellate Court reversed Gillespie's decision, finding Texas "has a strong interest in compensating its own residents and regulating the action of a corporation that does business in the state."

According to Texas law, because jurors determined Wood was not guilty of any negligence related to his injuries their finding on a separate jury form question that he was 35 percent liable is immaterial and does not affect the award amount, Joseph A. Power Jr. said. Texas law also allows for the possibility of prejudgment interest, he said.

Power said he is "very delighted" to have been able to secure this verdict for his clients.

"He got his day in court and justice prevailed," he said in an interview.

Wood was also represented by Sean M. Houlihan and James I. Power of Power Rogers and Smith LLP.

Navistar was represented by Mark E. Enright, David S. Wayne and Christopher Naveja of Saul Ewing Amstein & Lehr LLP as well as Douglas W. Rennie, Timothy C. Ammer, Brandon A. Woodard and Elaine Stoll of Montgomery Rennie & Jonson in Cincinnati.

They could not be reached for comment.

The case is Bennie Wood, et al., v. Navistar Inc., formerly known as International Truck and Engine Corp., et al., 14 L 10457.

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