Repair shop owes $27M after tire flew off truck, killing motorcyclist
July 26, 2021
A New Mexico federal court has ordered Sunrise Tire and Lube Services to pay millions of dollars to the estate of a woman who was killed after a detached truck tire struck her on the highway.
On July 15, Judge James Browning of the New Mexico federal district court entered a final judgment against San Joaquin County, Calif.-based Sunrise Tire and Lube Service and its owner, Sukhdev Singh, approving a jury award of $27 million to the family of Barbara Granger. Sunrise Tire was found liable for Granger’s death after a tire detached from a tractor-trailer and struck her while she was riding a motorcycle.
Granger was killed on July 8, 2018. According to the complaint, two tires off the rear driver’s side axle of the tractor-trailer owned by Las Vegas-based Dart Trans NV LLC flew off the trailer while traveling on Interstate 40 in Torrance County, N.M. One tire struck Granger, forcing her into another lane, where she was struck by another truck owned by Ohio-based Goodwill Trucking.
Earlier that July, Dart Trans took one of its trucks to American Tire and Truck Repair, a subsidiary of Sunrise Tire. The lawsuit alleged that negligence in performing work on the Dart Trans trailer’s axle “created a dangerous condition such that it only was a matter of time before the wheel fasteners” dislodged.
Goodwill Trucking was accused of “having the opportunity to observe the Dart wheels detach,” but did not take actions to avoid hitting Granger. The complaint claimed the driver did not respond in a manner that would suggest he was paying adequate attention to “recognize the fatal situation” and avoid it.
Several witnesses saw the Dart Trans tractor-trailer pull over and stop. However, the complaint stated that the driver fled the scene despite missing both rear driver’s side trailer wheels. He was later found at a nearby truck stop, where he denied knowledge of losing a wheel or causing a crash. When attempting to access the driver’s cellphone data, law enforcement discovered that all of the data had been deleted remotely.
A lawsuit against all involved parties, including Dart Trans, Goodwill Trucking, both drivers, and Sunrise Tire, was filed in October 2019. Although the two trucking companies had responded to the lawsuit, Singh and Sunrise Tire did not. Plaintiffs filed a motion for default judgment in January 2020. The court granted that motion, stating that Singh and Sunrise were “in default for their failures to answer or otherwise defend this case.” The court ordered a judgment as to liability against Singh and Sunrise Tire, with damages to be determined by a jury.
Goodwill Trucking and Dart Trans motioned to be dismissed from the case since Singh and Sunrise Tire had already been deemed liable by default. That motion was granted, leaving only Singh and his companies on the hook. Singh filed to dismiss the default judgment.
On July 5, Judge Browning denied Singh’s attempt to dismiss the judgment. According to the order, Singh and Sunrise Tire argued that they could not retain an attorney during the pandemic. However, the court said Singh had chosen to be unresponsive throughout litigation, which occurred well before the pandemic.
Singh’s second argument was that Sunrise Tire has a “meritorious defense” against allegations. However, the company had not submitted any evidence or specific factual basis, voiding that claim. Lastly, the court ruled that letting Sunrise Tire reenter the litigation would unfairly affectthe plaintiffs by significantly exacerbating the duration, cost and complication of the case.
Two days later, a jury entered a verdict regarding damages. Sunrise Tire and Singh were ordered to pay $10 million for the death of Granger, $7 million to her husband for the loss of his wife, and another $10 million in punitive damages. LL