HOUSTON--(BUSINESS WIRE)--A civil jury found Werner Enterprises, one of the largest trucking companies in the U.S., negligent in a 2014 vehicle collision involving a student truck driver, Shiraz Ali, and the Blake family of Houston, Texas. Jennifer Blake lost her 7-year-old son, Zack, in the crash. Brianna “Destiny” Blake, Jennifer’s 12-year-old daughter, suffered a traumatic brain injury that rendered her a quadriplegic, requiring 24-hour care for the rest of her life. And both Jennifer and her older son, Nathan, suffered extensive brain injuries.
According to court documents, the evidence in the six-week trial showed that Werner displayed systematic disregard for basic safety policies across the organization and engaged in irresponsible training mechanisms for new student drivers. Werner, a company with over $2 billion in annual gross revenue, each year hires approximately 4,000 new drivers with no prior truck driving experience. According to a February 2015 US DOT Compliance Review conducted less than two months after this crash, Werner reported to the federal government that its annual driver turnover rate was over 100%.
“Werner’s lack of basic safety systems and its inadequate training processes for student drivers - combined with its business model of assigning student drivers on expedited deliveries - is creating a highly dangerous and unsustainable dynamic on U.S. Highways,” said the Blakes’ co-lead counsel, Eric Penn of the Penn Law Firm in Jacksonville, Texas. In total, Werner drivers log more than 950 million miles annually on public roadways in all 48 contiguous states.
“The public has spoken in this trial. Werner’s business model is deadly, dangerous, and absolutely must change. Werner is placing the lives of everyone who drives on U.S. roads at serious risk,” said Penn.
The Blakes’ co-lead counsel, Zollie C. Steakley of Harrison Davis Steakley Morrison Jones of Waco, Texas, said, “The tragic losses the Blake family has endured since the crash are heart-breaking. Nothing will ever return what has been lost, but justice has been served.”
According to court documents, the collision occurred on I-20 in Texas during freezing rain and black ice conditions. Every state’s Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) manual instructs 18-wheeler drivers to slow to a crawl and get off the road during icy conditions. Shiraz Ali, the Werner student truck driver in this case, did not get off the interstate. Instead, Ali averaged in excess of 60 mph for the 52 miles he was driving in icy conditions prior to the crash, and was traveling over 50 mph seconds prior to the collision. It was undisputed that had Ali complied with the CDL manual the crash would not have occurred.
Evidence presented in court demonstrated Werner’s lack of basic safety systems and policies, which led to Ali driving Werner’s 18-wheeler on black ice for approximately an hour leading up to the crash. The icy road conditions in the area that day caused hundreds of other crashes. Yet Werner’s witnesses testified that Werner did not allow Ali, its student driver, to have access to basic safety equipment, such as an outside temperature gauge or the CB radio, either of which would have alerted him to the dangerous road conditions at the time. Ali and the rest of the Werner witnesses all denied that ice existed on the roadway, despite testimony to the contrary from 14 independent witnesses and a National Weather Service warning indicating that freezing rain had developed in the area.
According to court documents, at 4:26 a.m. the day of the collision, a full 12 hours prior to the collision, the National Weather Service issued a Winter Storm Warning stating that freezing rain would develop along I-20 in a large area in west Texas. Despite this National Weather Service Winter Storm Warning, Werner directed Ali to take the I-20 route through the icy conditions rather than a safer alternative route.
At 2:50 p.m., one hour and 40 minutes prior to the collision, the National Weather Service issued an updated Winter Storm Warning stating the freezing rain had developed. Yet Werner never communicated this update to its student driver, allowing Ali to average over 60 mph while driving unsupervised through the icy conditions because Ali was on a Just-In-Time (JIT) load, requiring delivery to California by the next day. A JIT delivery is one with an expedited delivery deadline. These are priority deliveries for which Werner expects its drivers to provide 100% on-time delivery.
“The jury’s verdict is not surprising. I think everyone in the courtroom was stunned to hear Werner’s executives and experts testify that they were ‘happy’ with Ali’s choices, Ali and Ackerman made ‘perfect’ decisions, and Werner has learned no safety lessons and would make no changes to its operations as a result of this crash,” said Steakley.
People are encouraged to send letters, emails, or direct calls to Werner Enterprises Executive Chairman and founder Clarence L. “CL” Werner, demanding that Werner take action to change its safety processes and training policies, change its JIT staffing policies, and improve its truck driver employee retention program.
The cause number for this trial is 2015-36666. The trial team for the Blake family was Eric Penn and Kelley Peacock of The Penn Law Firm, Zollie Steakley of Harrison Davis Steakley Morrison Jones P.C., and Darrin Walker of Kingwood, Texas. Eldrige Moak attended the trial in his capacity as guardian of Brianna Blake’s estate.
The Penn Law Firm is exclusively dedicated to helping people who have been seriously injured by the negligence of others. The Penn Law Firm’s practice concentrates on helping victims of catastrophic trucking crashes nationwide.
Established in 1999, with law offices in Waco and Beaumont, Texas, Harrison Davis Steakley Morrison Jones P.C. is a nationally recognized law firm committed to getting justice for clients in Texas and throughout the United States. The firm practices in the areas of catastrophic accidents, pharmaceutical litigation, fire and explosions and defective medical devices.