A jury has ordered two Texas trucking operators and their three companies to pay Lauro Lozano Jr. $80 million in damages after they ordered him to falsify his logs and embark on a trip without his required rest reset period. The driver fell asleep at the wheel during the trip and struck another truck, suffering disabling and disfiguring injuries.
The jury approved the large award because it “specifically wanted to get the attention of all commercial motor carriers and remind them of the importance of the safety rules,” Lozano’s attorney said following the trial.
The driver continues to face surgery for his injuries four years after the crash and expects to face early retirement from driving, his attorney said. And because the companies chose not to participate in the workman’s compensation insurance program, Texas law limited their defenses against liability and damages.
Lozano and his wife sued Jorge and Silvia Marin and their three related companies based in Edinburg, Texas—JNM Express, Anca Transport and Omega Freight Logistics. The suit claimed that Lozano had just returned from a trip on May 3, 2015, when Jorge Marin called and assigned him to pick up another load the following morning.
According to the suit, Lozano “resisted, telling Jorge Marin he had only just returned home from the last run to San Antonio and that he could not safely or legally drive this load. Jorge Marin instructed Plaintiff to alter his log book to make it appear as though he had taken the 34-hour rest period and instructed him to return to the yard the next morning to run the shipment to Maryland.
“Fearful that he would lose his job if he did not comply, Plaintiff came to the yard at approximately 5:00 a.m. the next morning and set out for Maryland.”
On May 6, Lozano fell asleep while driving on Interstate 59 in Alabama and struck another tractor-trailer from behind. He suffered abdominal trauma, a crushed pelvis and a fractured left foot and ribs. Lozano’s suit claimed the “violations, negligent acts and omissions” of the defendants breached their duties “to exercise the degree of care, skill and competence that a reasonable and ordinary employer would exercise under similar circumstances.”
Lozano was employed by Omega and Anca. The suit was filed against the Marins as individuals as well as their companies because the companies’ operations and assets were linked, the suit stated. Additionally, it said, “These defendants operate through several entities as part of a scheme to defraud regulators by evading safety regulations, such as Hours of Service regulations, endangering their drivers and the public.” Piercing the corporate veil, it said, “is necessary to prevent a grave injustice.”
The suit asked jurors to compensate Lozano and his wife for past and probable future loss including pain and suffering; mental anguish; loss of earnings and earning capacity; physical impairment; physical disfigurement; necessary care and rehabilitative services; and loss of consortium.
The Marins’ original response to the suit was “general denial” of “each and every material allegation” and a demand that the Lozanos “be required to prove the same by a preponderance of the evidence.”
Following testimony in the trial, held in the 93rd Judicial District Court in Hidalgo County, 10 of 12 jurors agreed on seven categories of questions regarding the liability and conduct of each Marin and company. After finding the Marins and three companies liable for $5 million in actual damages, the jury was unanimous in awarding $25 million in exemplary damages separately from JNM, Anca and Omega.
The Lozano’s suit stated that Texas law prevented the Marins from claiming Lozano shared “contributory negligence” for a portion of the damages because they did not subscribe to the Texas worker’s compensation program.
Lozano, now 51, hopes to continue driving until the age of 55 and then will seek work as a dispatcher, Thomas said. “He has difficulty sitting for the long haul hours, but he has to work to support his family, including a special needs son.” The Marins’ attorney, Hector Torres, told a local newspaper that bankruptcy or an agreed settlement was options but that his clients won’t be able to pay even a fraction of the verdict and that an appeal is expected.