Crash involved use of cell phone while driving
SAN ANTONIO, Nov. 21, 2017 /PRNewswire/ — A unanimous San Antonio jury sent a message to Texas and the entire country today in delivering a $45.3 million verdict in a company vehicle crash involving the use of cell phones while driving. The case, JENNY HANES v. JC FODALE ENERGY SERVICES, LLC AND MICKEY HUNT, was tried in the 45th District Court in Bexar County. Hon. Stephani Walsh presided.
The case involved a collision between Mickey Hunt, an employee of JC Fodale Energy Services, LLC, a privately held oilfield services company, and 35-year-old Jenny Hennes. The accident occurred in 2015 when Hennes, was travelling southbound on I-35 in San Antonio. Hennes was in stop-and-go traffic when she was rear-ended by Mickey Hunt’s SUV. Hennes’ vehicle was pushed off the road into the left-hand median. She suffered neck, back, and shoulder injuries.
Details of the Personal Injury Lawsuit
Mickey Hunt and JC Fodale denied responsibility for the crash; but, over the course of nearly three weeks of trial and after hearing from plaintiff’s cell phone experts and safety experts, the jury sided with Mrs. Hennes. The jury decided that the wreck was caused by a lack of safety management through the company’s corporate executives and by Mr. Hunt’s failure to drive carefully under the circumstances.
Hunt claimed this rear-end collision was caused by traffic slowing or stopping abruptly. Yet it was revealed during the trial that the defendant driver was on his cell phone immediately before the collision and in the previous months before the wreck had been a “heavy user” of his cell phone while driving.
World renowned expert Ben Levitan, a holder of 29 patents on cell phone technology, was hired by Thomas J. Henry to explain to the jury the use and misuse of the cell phone by the defendants.
The company had at least four different conflicting policies regarding the use of cell phones. It was discovered that the company had different rules for executives and non-executives regarding cell phone use while driving. The jury heard how executives in the company were allowed to use their cell phones while driving. Despite denials by Mr. Hunt and company, the jury decided that Mr. Hunt was a corporate executive.
It was determined that company executives were aware of studies showing that using a cell phone while driving, even hands free, was equivalent to driving while intoxicated at a level of .08 percent blood alcohol content. The company failed to share this vital and life-saving knowledge with their own employees and continued to allow executives to use their cell phones while driving.
Details of the Personal Injury Verdict
Jenny Hennes underwent neck surgery following the crash and the jury heard from her neurosurgeon that she would require future surgery on her neck and/or back as a result of the wreck. The jury also learned that Mrs. Hennes would require future shoulder surgery. Evidence was presented to the jury that Mrs. Hennes would have difficulty obtaining employment over the course of her life. The jury verdict was unanimous with the following findings as to negligence and gross negligence of the defendants and the following damages:
- Past and Future Physical Pain and Mental Anguish: $7,250,000
- Past and Future Loss of Earning Capacity: $1,100,000
- Past and Future Disfigurement: $300,000
- Past and Future Physical Impairment: $2,900,000
- Past and Future Medical Expenses: $1,265,000
- Punitive Damages: $32,500,000
Thomas J. Henry, the lead trial lawyer in the case, had an experienced trial team devoted to presenting the best possible case to the jury for Mrs. Hennes. Members of his senior trial team included Dale Hicksand Richard Hunnicutt.
Attorney Dale Hicks was quoted after this verdict as saying, “the crash will have lifelong consequences for Mrs. Hennes. This verdict confirms that a San Antonio jury understands the value of lost dignity and inability to work.”
Attorney Richard Hunnicutt added, “The jurors in San Antonio are concerned about safety on our roads and highways. They wanted to make sure their message was heard loud and clear— they will not tolerate an individual or company that allows their drivers to speed, use hands-free cell phones, or text while driving.”
Thomas J. Henry added, “This verdict exemplifies the hard work and dedication of all the lawyers who worked on this case. Most importantly it represents a jury’s understanding that safety is a vital component of our life. Companies that violate safety rules and cause injuries to people like Mrs. Hennes should be held responsible for the harm they inflict.”