Case details

Failure to inspect tractor-trailer resulted in fatal crash: suit





Result type

Not present

death, loss of parental guidance, loss of society, multiple trauma
On June 28, 2011, at approximately 3 p.m., plaintiff’s decedent Gary Mathis, 43, a garbage truck driver for Recology, was driving his truck on Highway 20 in Marysville, on his way to the Recology yard after finishing his shift. There was light rain and, as such, the pavement was wet. When Mathis was near East 17th Street, a tractor pulling two trailers and operated by Ernest Coublucq jackknifed and crossed over into Mathis’ path of travel. As a result, the tractor-trailer struck the cab of Mathis’ truck and killed him. Orval Mathis, acting as the guardian ad litem for the decedent’s 11-year-old daughter, Pheona Mathis, sued Coublucq; the owner of the subject trailers, Reliable Trucking Inc.; and the owner of the tractor truck, Jasbir Singh Sangha, who was doing business as JS Trucking. Orval Mathis alleged that Coublucq was negligent in the operation of the tractor-trailer, and that Reliable Trucking and Sangha were vicariously liable for Coublucq’s actions. He also alleged that all the defendants breached their duty of care to the decedent and were liable for the decedent’s wrongful death. Sangha, doing business as JS Trucking, had been providing subhauling service in excess of five years. Prior to the accident, Sangha entered into a subhaul agreement with Reliable Trucking to provide hauling services in the area of gravel and other material. However, Reliable Trucking was required to inspect its own trailers every 90 days. Thus, Sangha provided the tractor that pulled the two Reliable Trucking trailers on the date of loss. Plaintiff’s counsel contended that evidence determined that the subject trailers had not been inspected in over 14 months. Counsel contended that during the course of discovery, it was determined that Reliable Trucking breached its duty to inspect the subject trailers, as well as breached its practice to also visually inspect the subhauler’s tractors and tires when connected to the subject trailers. In addition, plaintiffs’ counsel contended that Reliable Trucking had no system in place to monitor which trailers had been inspected and which had not. Thus, plaintiff’s counsel served repeated Requests for Admissions upon Reliable Trucking to confirm that Reliable Trucking was vicariously liable for the actions of Coublucq and Sangha both before and after the time of the accident. However, Reliable Trucking denied these Requests for Admissions and fought the claims of vicarious liability and negligence. Plaintiff’s counsel further contended that the drive tires on Sangha’s tractor were essentially bald and did not have adequate tread. Counsel contended that most, if not all, of the subject drive tires were below the tread levels required by Reliable Trucking (4/32 tread depth) and that during the course of discovery, a Reliable Trucking mechanics supervisor testified that the tires were, in fact, bald. Thus, plaintiff’s counsel asserted that the defendants failed to properly inspect the tractor, resulting in the vehicle losing traction and jackknifing on the wet pavement, causing the decedent’s wrongful death. One week before trial, Reliable Trucking admitted negligence and that it was vicariously liable for the conduct of Coublucq and Sangha., The decedent, Gary Mathis, sustained multiple traumatic in the accident with the jackknifed tractor-trailer and died. He was 43. The decedent left behind one minor child, an 11-year-old daughter, Pheona Mathis. Pheona, as the only child of the decedent, claimed that her father provided sole financial support, with some assistance from his parents in raising her. Plaintiff’s counsel also allegedly had witnesses prepared to testify as to the close bond between the decedent and his daughter, about their close and special relationship, and about Pheona’s financial dependency on her father. Plaintiff’s counsel contended that Pheona suffered an economic loss in the $750,000 to $850,000 range, based upon the assumption that she would remain dependent on her father until she turned 25. Pheona also sought recovery of non-economic damages for the wrongful death of her father, as well as punitive damages against Sangha for the condition of the subject tractor and its tires. The defense’s expert economist opined that Pheona’s economic loss was only between $200,000 and $300,000. Prior to trial, counsel for Coublucq and Sangha succeeded in getting the punitive damages claim dismissed.
Superior Court of Yuba County, Marysville, CA

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