On a quiet September afternoon in 2013, a minor fender bender between a tractor-trailer and a pickup truck barely disrupted life in the tiny East Texas town of Ore City.
Joshua Patterson was driving his pickup to a church luncheon when the vehicle was sideswiped by an FTS International Services tractor-trailer driven by Bill Acker. Both drivers pulled over and, during a friendly exchange, reported no injuries. Over a handshake, Acker offered an apology and accepted blame for the mishap. After local police visited the scene, the drivers went on their way.
Later that evening, Patterson’s neck felt sore. The next day, his father advised him to visit a doctor. And retain an attorney.
Nearly five years later in a Texas courtroom, that seemingly uneventful drive-away accident resulted in a $101 million jury award against FTS.
The award was reduced to $32 million by the trial judge.
While now in the hands of the Texas 12th District Court of Appeals, this civil action against FTS remains one of dozens of so-called “nuclear” verdicts against motor carriers, defined as awards in excess of $10 million, that in recent years have been on a steep rise.
It’s true that FTS, a Texas oil field service company based in Fort Worth, owned some liability in the case. The company’s driver was shown to be at fault, and trial testimony demonstrated that FTS had knowingly put a risky driver behind the wheel.