Texas jury awards $730 million in oversized load fatality case

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Texas jury awards $730 million in oversized load fatality case
This image still from a dashboard video recorder shows a white Buick driven by Toni Combest being obliterated after striking an over-sized load on a rural Texas highway. She was killed on impact. (Courtesy: Attorney Brent Goudarzi's office)
The top of this white Buick was ripped off after being struck by an over-sized load, killing the driver on impact. Tap photo for larger image (Courtesy: Attorney Brent Goudarzi)

MOUNT PLEASANT, Texas — A Texas jury on Nov. 22 awarded $730 million to the surviving children of a 73-year-old woman who was killed after a collision with an over-sized load on a rural highway.

According to court documents, Toni Combest was killed on Feb. 21, 2016, on the White Oak bridge in Titus County, Texas, by a nearly 200,000-pound big rig load that was being escorted by front and back pilot escort vehicles.

The Monday judgement was against 2A Pilot Cars, the employer of the front escort vehicle. Attempts to reach 2A Pilot Cars and their attorneys were unsuccessful.

Brent Goudarzi, who represented Combest’s family, said that “the lead pilot escort vehicle ran Mrs. Combest off of the roadway just as Mrs. Combest was rounding the blind curve that would take her onto the skinny bridge.”

“Upon entering the bridge, Mrs. Combest was faced with a tractor and load that was almost completely within her lane,” Goudarzi continued. “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. The entire event was captured by the dash camera located in the rear escort vehicle.”

Goudarzi said the load, a top-secret piece of military equipment, was being transported under the authority of Landstar Ranger, Inc. According to publicly available information, Landstar Ranger, Inc. is the eighth largest trucking company in the nation.

Landstar Ranger, Inc. settled less than one week prior to jury selection for $50 million. S&M Pilot Service, the employer of the rear escort driver, settled for $1 million, also just prior to trial.

“This verdict marks the end of a several-year prosecution that exposed the extreme dangers associated with the over-sized load and escort vehicle industries,” Goudarzi said.

“These dangers have, for years, been ignored and disregarded for the sake of profits that rise into the billions of dollars. The witnesses in this case provided testimony concerning the industries’ conscious disregard of State and Federal safety standards and the best practices within the industry. This verdict will send a message to the over-sized load and escort industries that they will be held accountable when they place profits over safety in a manner that leads to catastrophic events like the one that took the life of Mrs. Toni Combest.”

The Trucker News Staff

The Trucker News Staff produces engaging content for not only, but also The Trucker Newspaper, which has been serving the trucking industry for more than 30 years. With a focus on drivers, the Trucker News Staff aims to provide relevant, objective content pertaining to the trucking segment of the transportation industry. The Trucker News Staff is based in Little Rock, Arkansas.

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The Trucker News Staff produces engaging content for not only, but also The Trucker Newspaper, which has been serving the trucking industry for more than 30 years. With a focus on drivers, the Trucker News Staff aims to provide relevant, objective content pertaining to the trucking segment of the transportation industry. The Trucker News Staff is based in Little Rock, Arkansas.
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The only danger is that the company’s folded like a cheap suit the escorts did there job by getting traffic out of the way of the over size load that when under escort have the right of way most normal people get pushed over by a escourt wait till the load passes
Sounds more like she failed to observe a trafic control device ie… the escorts
The only fault I see in the escorts is they should of warned the load operator and why did the back escorts pay they did nothing wrong the car didn’t come from the back
The car was run off the road at a blind curve how did she get hit at the bridge .because she continued to keep going
All though tragic I find her the car driver more at fault
Pilot cars usually have signs and flashing lights
I find it very hard to belive the truck was going that fast to cut the roof off the car sound more like she tried to beat the truck across the bridge
Being sorry for a family should not make them rich
And the driver made a noble effort to miss her

The driver made an effort to miss his own truck! The load was over half way in her lane! Their job was to protect that motorist. They failed catastrophically. I no longer do loads like this but when I did my tailgate meeting included instructions to everyone that if an oncoming vehicle wasn’t moving over or slowing down then I would come to a complete stop. It takes a long time to get rolling again but I have my whole life to deliver a load without incident. Speed was definitely an issue here. They must have been making some good time. That ended pretty abruptly didn’t it?

Oversize loads do not have right of way , as a matter of fact Oversize loads are out to impede traffic.
Absolutely no pilot car is allowed to cross centerline.
The curve was at the bridge , pilot cars are not allowed to control traffic,unless stated on the permit.
Pilot cars are advanced warning not traffic control

Wow! Seriously? It becomes clear that you have neither hauled oversize loads and the photo clearly shows room for the truck to have been more of its own lane. Oversize loads do NOT, have the ROW,. Setting to consider since I wasn’t at the trial and I’d bet a years wages you weren’t either, is what other factors contributed to the accident? And I promise there were other factors, there always is. The only thing you said that has any validity whatsoever is the rear escourt vehicle should have been held harmless, as it was the trailing vehicle. I also wonder what part the 2A company paid since landstar paid 50M. And the real pilot paid 1M. Where did the remaining 679,000,000 come from?

The United states Military … Dept of Justice paid the rest because it was there equipment. That would be the most logical answer.

Most insurance companies have caps around 2 or 3 million dollars. That was part of that bill a couple years ago the ATA fought Congress over because Congress wanted to raise the minimum insurance requirements from $1 million to $2 million. Obviously the pilot car company is done. They’ll have to sell off all of their assets but it’s a pilot escort service. Cars are worth even less than semi trucks. Most semi trucks, brand new, $150k but after 5 years, you can get them for less than $30k. Cars drop even more in value. I doubt like hell with a court ordered liquidation sale, that pilot car company will raise more than $1 million in assets. They’re not going to be able to collect 730 million from that pilot car service. That jury is just stupid. Then again it’s Texas. This is the same state that slapped Werner Enterprises with a $90 million dollar verdict a couple years ago because a woman lost control of her car during a snow storm, crossed the freeway median the wrong way and hit one of their trucks head on. According to Texas, some how that was still the truck drivers fault. I guess they really do everything bigger in Texas including incompetent jury award amounts. Glad I don’t drive OTR anymore and won’t be anywhere near Texas.

These companies don’t care about you they sit behind desk ,landstar,Lonestar,combine it all about the money,not safety,goes the same with any company

Well, I see the jury was “freight and trucker industry ignorant”. I hate the woman died but she was forced off the road, it seems, in an attempt to keep her off the bridge. Freight HAS TO MOVE PEOPLE!! Drivers have to KNOW THIS AND STOP BLAMING TRUCK DRIVERS FOR DOING THIS JOB!!!

Why did this woman ignore the escort car? If the load is wider than the travel lane. The escort car is there to alert oncoming traffic that an oversized load is approaching. If the woman would have yielded right of way for one minute on a skinny bridge. She would still be alive. When are people in their cars going to be held responsible for their actions when it comes to road safety? It has been my long term belief that anyone over 65 should be required to get road tested every 6 months. Since their reaction time has diminished.

Clearly the elderly woman failed to acknowledge and yield to the pilot cars, which are blatantly obvious warnings of a legally permitted oversize load ahead of her. Pilot cars do have the authority to control traffic in certain situations like this and she should have slowed down or pulled over to allow safe passage of the load upon seeing them. Its tragic that she died, but the trucking company isn’t at fault here, nor are the pilot cars. Just another frivolous insurance lawsuit resulting from a driver’s stupidity and carelessness, which keeps driving insurance rates through the roof and jeopardizing the future of the transportation industry.

I’ve ran Oversize off and on for years . Pilot cars industry has been pushing for same rules as emergency vehicles. Truth be told the car the got hit was in the wrong . Went around controlled pilot car blocking at the curve for load approaching the curve . Two lane rules are different then 4 lane divided hwy. I ran 18’ wide loads from pueblo co to Calvary AB. Routes taking where 2 lanes thru WY, MT , to get coutts AB crossing. Myself I prefer 2 pilot cars when using 2 lane secondary roads . The lawsuit Will be probably be reduced to under 5 million once it hits appeals courts. Since it was a military classified load . Military might push the courts to drop it. Due to national security. Which does happen quite often . We dont hear about it. Because it’s been deemed classified.

As a pilot car driver I have had to physically jump out of the way of cars that I am trying to stop or move over I even had one guy hit my legs with his car 4 times. Fact is people know more than we do and will not heed the warning. In some states all we can do is drive down the road the state shows that is warning enough. We have oversize load signs displayed and blinking lights.