Paccar on hook for $9.5M in defective hood latch case
October 26, 2020
Paccar is on the hook for millions of dollars in a lawsuit filed by a tow truck driver who lost an eye when the hood of a Kenworth T800 smashed down on his head.
In September, an Illinois state court of appeals affirmed in part and vacated in part a trial court’s award of $20 million to Quentin Ravizza. The appellate court affirmed compensatory damages of $9.5 million. However, $10 million in punitive damages was vacated. Although Paccar still owes damages, the amount was significantly reduced from $20 million to $9.5 million.
Wind in Windy City causes hood to shut
Ravizza was a tow truck driver for District Recovery. He drove a 1997 Kenworth T800 truck when he was sent to tow a UPS freight truck in January 2012. On his way to the scene, Ravizza’s truck experienced mechanical failures in Chicago. While waiting for assistance, Ravizza popped the hood to inspect the engine. A gust of wind caused the hood to slam down on Ravizza’s head. He sustained multiple injuries, including a fractured skull and the loss of an eye.
A lawsuit against Paccar and District Recovery was filed that same year. Ravizza claimed that Paccar negligently designed and manufactured the Kenworth T800. The lawsuit claimed that the truck did not have a reasonably safe hood blowback protection system. District Recovery was accused of being negligent in the removal or failure to replace the truck’s safety cable and hook system.
Furthermore, Paccar was accused of willful and wanton conduct, thereby justifying punitive damages. Specifically, Paccar allegedly knew that the safety cable did not work and that severe injuries would result from hood blowback and closures.
A jury trial began five years later in June 2017. During the three-week trial, Ravizza testified that the truck did not have a safety cable and hook system. After the incident, he could no longer work as a truck driver. Ravizza went to a trade school in 2012 to become an electrician. At the time of the trial, he worked full time as a journeyman electrician.
Paccar hood safety design found negligent
During the trial, a trucker testified the Kenworth T800 truck he drove did include a safety cable and hook system. However, a gust of wind caused the hood to slam down anyway. That incident occurred in 1991. The truck driver designed his own hood prop, which he submitted to Paccar. He received a letter from Paccar stating the prop would be incorporated into future Kenworth T800 trucks. However, that never happened. Ravizza’s attorneys provided other evidence suggesting Paccar knew about the hood flaw but never did anything about it.
A Kenworth engineering section manager testified as a witness for Paccar. He said District Recovery’s truck did not have a Paccar part number plate on its hood, suggesting it was not a genuine manufacturer part. The hood was also improperly positioned on the chassis, was missing the hook on the inside, and lacked pre-drilled holes. The engineer found other issues not consistent with Paccar original manufacturing. Paccar argued that District Rebuilders’ truck did not have the safety cable and hook system as manufactured.
In its defense, the tow truck company claimed the truck did not come with the safety cable and hook system. Therefore, the issue was not its responsibility due to the fact that the company that owned the truck never mentioned the part was missing.
In short, Ravizza argued that Paccar failed to address a known safety issue. Paccar countered by claiming its hood safety features are adequate and someone removed it from the truck sometime after manufacturing. Meanwhile, District Rebuilders argued that it never removed the part and should not be liable.
A jury found Paccar mostly responsible and issued $10 million in compensatory damages. Paccar was found to be 70% at fault, District Rebuilders 25% and Ravizza 5%. Paccar also was fined an additional $10 million in punitive damages for willful and wanton conduct. The jury found that the hook and cable blowback safety system was inadequately designed by Paccar. The court eventually reduced the compensatory damages to $9.5 million. However, it denied Paccar’s motion for a new trial.
Paccar exonerated for alleged willful and wanton conduct
Paccar appealed, claiming the compensatory damages are excessive and the punitive damages be vacated. The appellate court kept compensatory damages but agreed with Paccar on punitive damages.
Paccar argued that it did not deliberately subject drivers of its T800 trucks to a known risk of serious injury. In fact, the truck manufacturer pointed out that it was the first to install the hood blowback safety devices on its trucks even though no federal or industry standard required it to do so.
The appellate court pointed out that someone at some point removed Paccar’s hood safety device.
“Regardless of how poorly designed, it was not Paccar’s manufactured device that actually failed at the time of the incident; in fact, it was no one’s device, and therein lies the problem,” the appellate court states. “With respect to the condition of (the truck) at the time of the incident, there is no evidence that Paccar deliberately intended to harm or that it consciously disregarded the welfare of plaintiff.”
Essentially, the court found there was enough evidence to show that Paccar’s hood safety design was flawed and defective, warranting compensatory damages. However, since Paccar’s parts were not present during the incident, there is no connection between the company’s alleged willful and wanton conduct and Ravizza’s injury. LL