Lufkin Daily News (TX)
January 18, 2006
Angelina jury awards $1.25 million to family of wreck victim
An Angelina County jury has awarded approximately $1.25 million to the family of Larrie Weber, who died on Jan. 10, 2003, after he was accidently run over by an oil truck owned by Moore Brothers Construction.
The jury, which returned its verdict Friday in the 159th state District Court, found that the company and its driver were 80 percent liable for the accident, and that Weber was 20 percent at fault.
"The jury had evidence that Moore Brothers Construction faked safety meetings by using a form letter to the state of Texas and pulling names for people allegedly attending the meetings from ‘rain day' time sheets," Lufkin attorney Mike Love stated in an e-mail. "The jury was shown an affidavit from one witness stating that the safety meetings on the rain days did not actually occur.
"At trial, Moore Brothers was not able to produce any sign-in sheets for any safety meetings allegedly taking place before the accident, although sign-in sheets did exist for safety meetings that took place after the accident."
Keith Slade, of the Houston law firm of Tucker, Taunton, Snyder and Slade, said Moore Brothers officials have yet to make a decision on whether they will appeal the jury's verdict. He said he thinks there are definitely some issues they could appeal, if the company chooses to go that route.
"While we certainly understand the jury's verdict, we have a difference of opinion on the apportionment of liability and the damages that were awarded," Slade said in a phone interview. "This case was hard on everyone involved."
In response to Love's allegations about the time sheets, Slade said Moore Brothers held safety meetings every three or four months. He said the company didn't keep all of the sign-in sheets for the meetings because the Texas Department of Transportation doesn't require its contractors to keep that kind of paperwork on hand.
"He's right: We didn't keep all of the sign-in sheets, because the state doesn't require us to do that," Slade said.
Love said Larrie Weber and his wife, Mary, had been visiting their son in Baytown over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays of 2002.
On Jan. 10, 2003, the couple was picking up real estate brochures as they traveled through Lufkin because they were thinking about moving to this area, Love said. That day, the Webers stopped to ask directions from a Moore Brothers Construction crew that had been working on state Highway 94, Love said.
Just before the accident occurred, Laxton had just finished applying two coats of seal coat asphalt to the road, Love said. He said while the driver of the oil truck was turning around on the other end of the project, Weber walked up and was speaking to two men standing next to one of the pickup trucks parked on the job, according to testimony from Larry Hensarling, a Texas Department of Transportation inspector, and Clint Teustch, vice president and safety officer for Moore Brothers.
As Laxton came driving back through that part of the project, a four-foot "guide bar" designed to show where the oil would land as it sprayed out the back of the truck caught Weber behind the knees, and pulled him under the truck, Love said. Weber was then run over by the truck's left rear tires, Love said. Slade pointed out that the oil truck never got above 10 mph, and was in the process of stopping when the accident occurred.
Weber was transported to Memorial Health System of East Texas, where he died about three hours later as a result of complications from internal injuries.
Love said after the Weber family learned that Moore Brothers failed to conduct a drug-alcohol test on its driver, they asked him to represent them.
Despite a letter and demand that the company do so on the following Monday, Moore Brothers allegedly refused to have Laxton tested for drugs or alcohol, Love said. He said the company didn't agree to the screening until the following Wednesday, and at that time, the driver tested negative for any controlled substances.
Slade said Moore Brothers officials agreed with the investigating Texas Department of Public Safety trooper's assertion that because the crew was in a construction zone, the accident technically didn't occur on the highway. The DPS trooper, a Class 6 accident investigator, interviewed Laxton twice and examined him closely for any signs of alcohol impairment, Slade said.
"He checked his eyes, his breath and the way he walked, and he found no evidence at all to indicate that Mr. Laxton was intoxicated, and he didn't give him a ticket," Slade said.
Love said Teustch testified that the accident took him by surprise, and that no one saw the guide bar that was about to hit Weber.
"However, Moore Brothers nonetheless argued that Mr. Weber was partially at fault for ‘failing to keep a proper lookout,'” Love stated in his e-mail.
Slade said that instead of going back to Lufkin to ask for directions at a service station, Weber crossed two lanes of traffic and walked into a clearly marked construction zone where equipment could be seen operating, and stood with his back to the oncoming oil truck.
"He had a duty to look to make sure that he was safe," Slade said. "The two TxDOT inspectors that were on the job site that day testified that they had known Mr. Laxton for many years, and that he had always done his job safely."