Jim Scherr – Lead Counsel in Landmark New Mexico Supreme Court Decision Against FedEx
The landmark 2015 New Mexico Supreme Court decision in the FedEx wrongful death case affirmed FedEx’s responsibility for the largest verdict in the state’s history. Justice Julie Vargas wrote a well-reasoned decision that confirmed two basic principles of American Jurisprudence: respecting the value of human life and upholding the sanctity of the jury system. FedEx was found responsible for two deaths and life-threatening injuries to a baby after a two-week jury trial. When FedEx asked the district judge to review the damages findings, the court upheld the judgment, and FedEx appealed to the Court of Appeals, which also upheld the decision. The New Mexico Supreme Court ultimately reaffirmed the jury process, finding the evidence supported the verdict and the district judge’s findings.
The case exposed FedEx’s unsafe trucking business model, as the company uses individuals who work exclusively for FedEx and are called “owner-operators.” FedEx controls the truck, the driver, the route, the driver hiring/qualification process, the dispatching, and even that the trucks are parked at FedEx yards. Yet, FedEx has no safety program for its drivers and does nothing to determine if the drivers are fit to drive during the night, which is the most dangerous time.
The tragic collision occurred in June 2011 on Interstate 10 west of Las Cruces after midnight. FedEx’s 22-wheel piggyback tractor-trailer was cruising at 62 miles per hour and took no evasive action to avoid a disabled small pickup truck with its flashing hazard lights illuminated and its brake lights illuminated.
Another truck stopped in the median had its flashing lights and brake lights illuminated to warn the oncoming FedEx truck of the disabled vehicle on the far right side of the right lane. The left lane was open, and there was more than adequate time and distance to bring the FedEx truck to a complete stop without impact. Instead, the FedEx truck took no evasive action, did not apply its brakes or take its foot off the gas or even attempt to move to the open left lane. It crashed into and over the pickup truck, crushing the cab, killing the 22-year-old mother and her 4-year-old daughter and severely injuring the 19-month-old baby. The family was devastated, and the father quit his job to care for his remaining family.
After two and a half years of pretrial motions and discovery, the case was tried by a Santa Fe jury. With a life expectancy of over 60 more years, the damages caused to the 22-year-old mother and wife were determined to be $32 million.
The damages caused to the 4-year-old daughter with over 77 years of future life expectancy were determined to be $61 million, and the damages caused to the life and future of the 19-month baby with the loss of his mother and sister, as well as his injuries, were determined to be $32 million. The damages caused to the husband for his loss of the love of his life, companion for life, and his baby girl, and his care for his baby were not disclosed.
The jury assigned 65% of the fault for the collision to FedEx due to the company’s complete disregard for the safety of the motoring public. The father hopes their deaths will bring about changes that will make roads safer in New Mexico and throughout America.