J.B. Hunt, driver to pay US$15.5 million in damages

PHILADELPHIA, PA – A Tennessee truck driver and J.B. Hunt Transport have been found negligent to the tune of more than US$15.5 million in a 2013 collision with a pedestrian.

After a three-week trail a jury awarded the damages to Isaac Espinoza who was hit by Ricky L. Hatfield, an independent contractor performing work for broker J.B. Hunt, while he was helping a friend change a tire on the shoulder of I-81 north.

The collision occurred on Nov. 19, 2013 when, police say, the driver had a blood alcohol level (BAC) of 0.171, more than three times the legal limit for commercial vehicle drivers.

Hatfield, 45, hit Espinoza and two other vehicles, before overturning his truck and fleeing the scene on foot. He was picked up by police in the restroom at a gas station on U.S. Highway 11.

He was later charged on two counts of aggravated assault while driving under the influence, leaving the scene of a serious accident, and other traffic violations.

Espinoza sustained catastrophic injuries that will require constant care for the remainder of his life, he lawyers said. Others involved were also taken to hospital with serious injuries, but no fatalities were reported.

Hatfield was declared an imminent hazard to the public and ordered out of service by the U.S. Department of Transportation in February 2014.

The jury found Hatfield 60% responsible, and J.B. Hunt 40% responsible, for the collision.

Espinoza’s attorney, Alan M. Feldman, said Hatfield’s record prior to the 2013 crash included a charge of driving while under the influence while he was on the job, a prior reckless driving charge, and being fired from a trucking company for failing a drug and alcohol test, during which he also attempted to bribe the person who was administering the test.

“Had J.B. Hunt performed even the most cursory background check, it would have discovered Hatfield’s terrible driving history,” Feldman said. “Had J.B. Hunt been aware of this appalling record, they admitted Hatfield never would have been permitted to haul cargo for their customers.”

Feldman said he was pleased the jury recognized that freight brokers have an obligation to retain careful and competent motor carriers and drivers.

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