On November 21, 2006, Daniel Becker and his mother, Pamela, were on their way from Mooresville, North Carolina to join family in Alabama for Thanksgiving. Around 10:30 p.m., as they passed through Oconee County, South Carolina, the driver of a northbound rig pulling two trailers lost control of his vehicle. The tractor and double trailers ran through the cable barrier and slammed into the Becker’s southbound vehicle, along with two other vehicles. Daniel, the seatbelted driver, died at the scene. His mother suffered a closed head injury, facial fractures, and multiple upper body fractures. She was airlifted to Greenville Memorial Hospital, but doctors there were ultimately unable to save her life.
The trucker claimed he started coughing and blacked out just before losing control. A subsequent investigation determined that in addition to driving in the rain at night, the driver had the vehicle on cruise control, had his CB radio on, and received two cell phone calls, including one by call waiting, shortly before the collision. Due to the differing accounts of the coughing episode the driver gave to medical personnel and law enforcement, Mr. Becker brought a lawsuit, alleging that distractions were the true cause of the collision. Mr. Becker also sued the trucking company, alleging negligent hiring, negligent supervision, and negligent entrustment of a dangerous instrument (the truck). There was evidence that the driver was suffering serious personal or medical problems that the company knew about and that allowing the driver to continue to control a tractor-trailer created an unreasonable risk of harm to the public. Mr. Becker pointed to recurring logbook violations, which the company is required to review, and to a preventable collision the driver was in just 11 days before the wreck that killed the Beckers.
Both parties hired numerous experts to review the facts and claims in the lawsuit, including experts on “cough syncope,” the driver’s alleged condition. The driver and trucking company settled the suit before trial for $7 million, with the added condition that the company hire an independent safety consultant to help the company implement safety policies covering existing drivers.
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