Record-Setting $6.6 Million Verdict in Nebraska Crash

A jury in Omaha in a trial presided over by Federal District Court Judge Lyle Strom returned a verdict for $6.6 million in favor of a Lisle man, Carroll Heatherly, 49, in a case resulting from a multi-vehicle crash on Interstate 80, near Grand Island, Nebraska. The trial in which the $6.6 million verdict was returned Thursday evening was the second trial impaneled on this matter. Heatherly was represented by Corboy & Demetrio trial attorneys Michael K. Demetrio, Robert J. Bingle and William T. Gibbs.

“According to local attorneys, this is the largest verdict of its kind in a civil case returned by a Federal District Court jury in Omaha, Nebraska.” Demetrio stated. “Given the long and unusual history of this matter within the federal court system, Heatherly is extremely gratified by the jury’s returning a verdict in his family’s favor,” Bingle added.

On June 27, 1999, at 2:30 a.m., the Heatherly family was proceeding westbound on Interstate 80 in the middle of Nebraska on their way to a family vacation at Yellowstone National Park. At that time, the mobile home in which they were traveling was rear-ended by a stolen semi-tractor trailer unit being operated by Steven Alexander. The Alexander truck pushed the mobile home off to the side of the road where it violently collided with an illegally parked semi- tractor trailer owned and operated by defendant, Midwest Specialized Transportation, Inc.

The Alexander vehicle went off to the side of the road into a field, and Alexander fled the scene and was not caught until months later. As a result of the crash, Margaret “Peg” Heatherly, 42, was killed, and Mr. Heatherly sustained serious personal injuries. Their four children, Tom, 20, Brigid, 18, Meg, 16 and Patrick, 13, were in the rear of the mobile home and were uninjured by the severe frontal crash with the rear of the Midwest Specialized Transportation truck.

“It was our theory in this case that the illegally parked Midwest Specialized Transportation tractor-trailer played a substantial part in bringing about the death and injuries suffered by the Heatherly’s,” Demetrio stated. The defense consistently and strongly maintained that the sole proximate cause of the damages suffered by the Heatherly’s was the conduct of the driver of the stolen truck. The jury apportioned 40 percent of the liability to Midwest Specialized Transport, Inc. and 60 percent to Steven Alexander.

This case was filed as a diversity action in Federal District Court in Omaha and was originally tried before Judge Strom in October of 2003, at which time the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict. Thereafter, Judge Strom directed a verdict in favor of the defendants on the issue of proximate cause. Corboy & Demetrio appealed that decision to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals and in a 20-page opinion, Heatherly v. Midwest Specialized Tranport, Inc. et. al., 421 F. 3d 638 (8th Cir. 2005) that Appellate tribunal reversed Judge Strom and directed that a jury should decide the factual issue of proximate cause. Upon the case being remanded, Judge Strom impaneled the repeat jury on April 3rd, and between April 3rd and April 5th , Bingle and Demetrio presented 16 witnesses, all of whom had testified in the first trial. After 2 ½ hours of deliberation, the jury returned a verdict of $4.6 million to the family members for the death of Peg Heatherly and $2 million to Mr. Heatherly for his personal injuries.

“This case exemplifies both the importance of the 7th Amendment constitutional right to a jury trial and how the overall system in our federal courts can properly function on behalf of all parties.” Demetrio stated. “With the family’s right to a jury trial being reinstated by the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, each party had a fair opportunity to present their case.” Bingle added.

Demetrio and Bingle were assisted in the trial of this matter by Corboy & Demetrio associate, William T. Gibbs. It was Gibbs’ first federal trial and the first case in which he obtained a multi-million dollar verdict. 

To consult with any personal injury lawyer at Corboy & Demetrio, call 312.346.3191 We are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.