Zoom Jury Awards $411 Million Nuclear Verdict to Injured Motorcyclist — One of the Largest Virtual Verdicts to Date

Just because there is a pandemic does not mean nuclear verdicts are completely idle.
By: | January 4, 2021

Travel on Florida’s Interstate 10 came to a standstill in 2018 after a 45-car pile up.

Severe weather caused visibility issues for motorist and tractor trailer alike. One truck in particular, a semi from Top Auto Trucking Company, tried to avoid an accident, but instead jacknifed across the road and created the pile up.

Described as “total chaos” by local news, the heavy downpour soon gave way to 18 crashes, with eight people injured and in need of hospitalization. A single motorcyclist, Duane Washington, was in critical condition.

Washington was an eight-year Army veteran and father of three. In his attempt to avoid the accident as it occurred, Washington swerved his motorcycle toward the median, but before he could pass, Washington collided with a stopped truck that had no lights on in the emergency lane.

He hit with such force that his body was thrown into the median, leaving him with life-threatening injuries, including breaking both sides of his pelvis away from his spine, severe colon and urethra damage, permanent incontinence and loss of sexual function.

During recovery, Washington found that he was struggling to not only care for himself, but also for his children. He sued the trucking company.

At first, Top Auto Trucking Company tried to settle the case for $1 million, but the court rejected it, according to CDL Life. Washington’s bills, at that point, had already reached $750,000. Top Auto was a single truck and single driver company based in Pembroke Pines, Fla., that reportedly no longer held authority. Because its offer was rejected, and because the trucking coming no longer held authority, Top Auto’s lawyers pulled out from the case, essentially leaving the company to represent itself.

Litigation continued, even through the tumultuous year of 2020, in which many jury verdicts have been doled out virtually.

In Washington’s case, the jury awarded the injured motorcyclist $411 million in damages upon hearing the case from the confines of their virtual space. This is considered one of the largest amounts in damages awarded via a Zoom trial this year in the United States.

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This coincides with a trend found by the American Transportation Research Institute this year — that nuclear verdict cases are up 300%. As transportation attorney Kristen Johnson of Central Florida-based transportation law practice Taylor & Associates said to FreightWaves, “The $411 million will never be collected in its entirety, but it’s interesting that there’s really no limit on what the jury can do as they obviously had free rein to come up with that number,” Johnson said.

“As an award, it’s essentially meaningless for collection, but it may have some other meaning for plaintiffs down the road that want that big of a number.”

Scorecard: As of now, Duane Washington is owed the $411 million verdict passed down by an undeterred Zoom jury.

Takeaway: No amount of virtual living or work will curb the nuclear verdict trend. While the transportation industry has seen its fair share of large verdicts, it will not be alone in the fallout. &

Autumn Heisler Demberger is the content strategist at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]