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Record-Setting $5 Million Truck Accident Verdict

Attorney Perry Shuttlesworth represented family in wrongful death case

In May 2013, the Circuit Court of Blount County, Alabama released a record $5 million Order of Final Judgment (Civil Action Number CV-2011-900016.00) in a wrongful death truck accident that resulted in the death of a 22-year-old mother.

The final judgment represented over two years of hard work resolving this complex legal case. It began with the death of Stephanie L. McCoy, 22, of Warrior, Alabama, in an accident on Oct. 4, 2010, according to attorney Perry Shuttlesworth of Shuttlesworth Law Firm LLC. Attorney Shuttlesworth represented the Estate of Stephanie McCoy and her family members, including McCoy's two young daughters.

McCoy was traveling in a vehicle driven by her friend, Briana McCombs, at the time of the accident. The two women were returning home from visiting friends in Virginia when McCombs struck the rear end of a fuel tanker truck, which was driving below the minimum 45 mph speed limit with no warning lights at night on a four-lane highway. McCombs and McCoy had been following another truck that swerved to avoid the tanker, leaving their vehicle with nowhere to go to avoid the collision. The right side of the car hit the back of the tanker, and the impact killed McCoy.

The tanker truck was driven by Lewis Hill, who worked for Streicher Mobile Fueling, Inc. (known as SMF Energy Corporation).

Tammy Browning, the victim's mother and personal representative of her estate, was represented by attorney Shuttlesworth in the wrongful death case. Hill, SMF Energy and McCombs were all named as defendants.

From the beginning, it was a difficult legal case. The state trooper who had investigated the accident found no fault on the part of the truck driver. SMF Energy attempted to blame the accident on the driver, McCombs, stating that her inattention caused her friend's death.

After two years of reviewing records and interviewing witnesses, attorney Shuttlesworth discovered that the SMF Energy Corporation truck driven by Hill had been taken to a repair shop three months prior to the accident. SMF Energy was told at that time that the engine needed to be repaired or replaced, but the work was not done. Shuttlesworth argued that the engine's state of disrepair was the reason the truck was traveling at a dangerously slow speed, and that the state trooper had found no fault with the trucker only because he failed to inspect the truck.

Taking Shuttlesworth's evidence and argument into account, the jury awarded $2 million in compensatory damages and $3 million in punitive damages to be paid by SMF Energy. Compensatory damages are monetary payments intended to reimburse the injured or deceased person for costs associated with the accident, including medical expenses, funeral expenses and lost income. Because McCoy was so young at the time of her death, these damages included her expected earnings over a lifetime of work. Punitive damages are further financial penalties intended to punish the defendant for negligent or reckless behavior - in this case, the company's recklessness in choosing to keep the truck on the road even though they knew it needed repairs.

Browning, in her capacity as personal representative of McCoy's estate, filed the lawsuit for the benefit of her granddaughters, who were age two and four at the time of their mother's death. Conservatorships were established to ensure that the money recovered in the verdict would be used solely for the girls, paying for their education, care and other expenses. The daughters will ultimately receive the funds when they reach adulthood.

"Companies and individuals make important decisions that impact the lives of others every single day," Shuttlesworth said after the verdict. "In this particular case, the jury agreed that SMF Energy's decision not to repair the truck led to the loss of this beloved daughter and mother. No amount of money can ever replace a human life, but this verdict means that her children will be provided for - and hopefully, it will prevent similar accidents from occurring in the future."

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