One of the largest wrongful death verdicts in United States history was handed down in Texas last month. The lawsuit was a result of the fatal collision of a truck carrying an oversized load with a Buick being driven by 73-year-old great grandmother Toni Combest. In the end, a jury awarded $480 million in compensatory damages and another $250 million in punitive damages to her family.
The truck was navigating the narrow bridges common to smaller Texas roadways while carrying a 197,000-pound submarine propeller. Front and rear pilot vehicles were supposed to be working to help the truck driver navigate and negotiate the turns necessary to safely complete the journey. Instead, according to the lawyer representing the Combest family, “the lead pilot escort vehicle ran Mrs. Combest off the roadway just as Mrs. Combest was rounding the blind curve that would take her onto the skinny bridge.”
What happened next was sure to end in tragedy. “Upon entering the bridge, Mrs. Combest was faced with a tractor and load that was almost completely within her lane. The driver of the tractor was able to swerve his vehicle out of her lane, but he was not able to remove the 16-foot-wide load from her path before the load struck her vehicle and caused a violent explosion of debris.”
That explosion was captured by the camera on-board the rear escort and shows the moment that the top of her vehicle essentially disappeared. Mrs. Combest was killed instantly.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs cited multiple instances of negligence on the part of the companies involved. “The defendants in this case failed to maintain an effective lookout, failed to communicate with each other, and failed to ask for assistance from local and state law enforcement.” Another attorney noted that the Texas legislature had previously worked to protect trucking companies from exactly these types of lawsuits. “In the last session,” he said, “the Texas legislature passed a law to protect trucking companies from having to disclose evidence in cases just like this one. Our state laws should place the safety of Texans above the profits of truck companies.”