NEW ORLEANS — Longtime New Orleans resident Connie Jones Marable last week was awarded $51.5 million as part of a lawsuit filed by her adult children against Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA) LLC, among others, in what her lawyers say is one of the largest awards of its kind in Orleans Parish Civil District Court.
Caleb Didriksen, one of Marable's attorneys, told the Louisiana Record that he believes the judgment could represent "the largest jury award ever made" to a single plaintiff in Judge Piper Griffin's division of the court.
"The number is obviously staggering," Dane S. Ciolino, a professor at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law, told the Louisiana Record. "There's a very good chance that amount is going to get a critical review."
Ciolino said he expects DTNA to appeal the judgment.
"The state of Louisiana doesn't allow punitive damages in these sorts of case," Ciolino said. "The award has to be entirely compensatory, and it's going to be very hard to make those numbers work."
He also pointed out a settlement remains a viable option for both sides.
"Whether the jury said so or not, obviously, there was some sort of punitive component to this award," Ciolino added. "I'd be surprised if that judgment amount ($51.5 million) stood."
Marable was injured in the Lowe's Home Improvement parking lot on Read Boulevard in May 2012 after her husband's 2007 Freightliner truck, which had been idling, began to move forward unexpectedly despite the fact that the truck’s parking brakes were engaged.
Marable fell and was pinned under the wheels of the truck. She sustained physical injuries, including a severe brain injury.
Since the accident, Marable has been in a minimally conscious state under 24-hour nursing care.
Also named in the suit were Empire Truck Sales LLC, KLLM Transport Services LLC, Great West Casualty Company, St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Company, Curtis Wayne Hudspeth, and Wayne Marable.
The jury found DTNA to be 90 percent at fault in the accident due to the truck's lack of safety features, including its parking brake system that failed to hold the vehicle still against its idling engine. Wayne Marable, the truck's owner and operator, was found by the jury to be 10 percent at fault.
Freightliner Trucks, which operates as a division of DTNA, should have ensured that all of its vehicles were produced "with certain, minimal, safe operations standards," the lawsuit alleged.
"DTNA could have required that the clutch be depressed in order for the engine to start, which it eventually did on later models of the same truck," according to court documents. "Instead, DTNA left such programming, if any, to trucking companies."
Empire Truck Sales settled for an undisclosed amount approximately two years before the trial, and KLLM Transport Services and its insurers settled with the plaintiff for $6.75 million.
All of the defendants are linked to the manufacturing, ownership, operation, design, programming and failure to deploy reasonable safety features, communicate defects and diagnose the truck that ran over Connie Jones Marable, according to the suit.