A $4 million verdict awarded to a Wilkes-Barre man severely injured by an out-of-control tractor-trailer on state Route 115 should send a stern warning to all trucking companies, attorneys for the victim said Wednesday.
A federal jury awarded Henry Gfroehrer the damages Tuesday, more than four years after an overloaded tractor-trailer, its brakes rendered useless, barrelled into the man’s furniture delivery truck as he tried to turn onto Route 115 from East Mountain Boulevard in Plains Township.
The tractor-trailer, driven by Steven Calice of Binghamton, N.Y., weighed 36 tons, well above the 10.5-ton limit for the road, according to court documents. Calice also did not heed warning signs placed on Route 115, and it was later revealed – in a “pretty shocking” admission – he did not know the definition of a ton, said Edward Ciarimboli, one of Gfroehrer’s attorneys.
“The message that the verdict sent to this trucking company and all trucking companies was: Stay off that road. You’re not supposed to be on it. It’s a dangerous road,” Ciarimboli said.
The crash represents just one of several violent and sometimes fatal wrecks that have plagued Route 115 in recent years.
Since 2001, at least a dozen people have been killed in crashes in the area. Two people were killed on the mountain stretch within an eight-day span in January 2010. In September 2008, a 20-year-old man died when he struck a truck tractor that was turning around at the entrance to the turnpike on Route 115.
The company that owned the tractor-trailer that struck Gfroehrer’s truck, Werner Enterprises of Omaha, Neb., also did not properly train Calice, Gfroehrer’s attorneys said. During training, Calice was involved in a minor collision while backing up and once ran a car off the road, they said.
Though he met physical requirements to drive, Calice stood at just 4-foot-9 and weighed 95 pounds and sometimes struggled to see clearly from the vehicles and had to reach for the pedals, Gfroehrer’s attorneys said.
Coupled with the overloaded trailer, the training deficiencies created a “formula for disaster” that left Gfroehrer with permanent injuries and unable to work since the accident, said Gregory Fellerman, another one of the man’s attorneys.
Calice and Werner Enterprises were found to be negligent in causing the crash, according to court documents. A woman who answered the phone at Calice’s attorney’s office on Wednesday offered only a terse message that the firm would not comment on the case.
While the two fatalities in 2010 prompted a speed limit reduction from 50 to 45 mph and increased signing, Fellerman and Ciarimboli said crashes will keep occurring until “strong and decisive action is taken.”
With more than 40 years of combined experience, the personal injury attorneys at Fellerman & Ciarimboli strive to provide the best service to clients in Philadelphia, Northeast Pennsylvania, and throughout the Keystone State.