The Duane Washington trucking accident was a terrible tragedy. Washington, an Army veteran and father of 3, was riding his motorcycle near Tallahassee. When he pulled off the interstate due to a pouring rain and a long traffic jam, he was badly injured. Washington survived, but his injuries were severe and permanently life-altering. His personal injury lawsuit returned a record-setting award of $411 million.
As the rain pounded Florida’s I-10 on July 24, 2018, Washington decided to pull over to wait out the storm at an underpass. There was a large backup due to a trucking accident further ahead that caused a 45-car pileup. Most of the vehicles had their lights on. One exception was a stopped truck in the emergency lane. Unable to see the truck, Washington crashed and was launched into the median.
A woman driving behind him was thinking, “Oh my gosh, this man is dead. I can’t believe I just saw that.” As she got out of her car to check, she recalled praying. Washington was alive and conscious, but unable to talk. The 40-year-old was rushed to the hospital. He had broken both sides of his pelvis and had severe colon and urethra damage.
Four months later, a lawsuit was filed against multiple defendants. Sinclair Broadcast Group owned the truck that Washington crashed into; North American Van Lines and one of their contractors owned the truck that caused the initial 45-car pileup that started it all. Top Auto Express was responsible for a car carrier that sideswiped and struck more vehicles, closing off 2 lanes of I-10.
The named defendants planned to contest the suit, arguing that Washington bore at least partial responsibility for the accident, a factor that would at least diminish any damages award. Top Auto Express turned down a settlement offer for $1 million.
Then the defendants began lagging in their responses to basic court filings, including requests for discovery made by Washington’s legal team. The judge ended up awarding a victory to Washington by default.
That still left open the question of damages. A jury had to make that decision and as COVID-19 arrived in the United States, courts shut down and the legal proceedings that did take place happened via Zoom. It only took the jury an hour to come back with their figure.
They calculated the medical expenses, the loss of income, the loss of support for Washington’s 3 boys and also worked to develop a figure that would at least try to reflect that this man who served his country and was in the prime of life, could no longer fulfill basic life activities that most of us take for granted.
That’s how the $411 million figure was arrived upon.
“This proud veteran… was a competent, safe driver who never even had a ticket while riding his motorcycle,” said Washington’s attorney. “This is a significant, historic ruling for justice.”