PSB Obtains $5 Million Verdict in Wrongful Death Collision With Impaired Truck Driver

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A Maricopa County jury has awarded $5 million to the parents of 22-year-old Paul Troupe, a young man killed by a big-rig whose driver had fallen asleep behind the wheel and rear-ended the SUV driven by decedent. The jury also found that the defendant driver, Brian Knoll, engaged in misconduct with the requisite state of mind warranting imposition of punitive damages, however, the case resolved prior to the start of the punitive damage phase. Plaintiffs were represented at trial by Adam SheaRyan Casey, and Nicholas Yoka of Panish Shea & Boyle LLP, and their local counsel, Matthew B. Cunningham of Cunningham Law Firm.

On November 19, 2014, Paul Troupe and his wife Sarah had traveled from St. Charles, Missouri to Phoenix, Arizona where Sarah was to receive an award for making Aviation Week’s Twenty 20’s list for her contribution to the aerospace and defense industry by participating in a team that developed a high-rise rescue vehicle. The couple, both aerospace engineers with Boeing, were driving northbound on I-17 en-route to the awards ceremony when their SUV was struck from behind by a semi tractor-trailer.  The driver of the tractor-trailer, Brian Knoll, believed that he fell asleep.

As a result of the collision, the Troupe SUV was pushed forward into multiple other vehicles, across the highway, and struck a retaining wall before it spun free, caught fire and filled with smoke. Good Samaritans broke Sarah’s passenger window, cut her seat belt, and pulled her through the window to safety. They pried Paul’s door open, cut his seatbelt and pulled him away from the burning car.  Sarah, 23, sustained personal injuries but survived the collision. Paul, 22, died as a result of his injuries. The couple had been married less than six months when the collision occurred.

Defendant Knoll had no memory of the collision other than to say he thought he fell asleep. At the scene of the collision Mr. Knoll exhibited signs of impairment that were observed by Arizona Department of Public Safety officers, and were consistent with the effects of a prescription muscle relaxant medication he admitted he had taken the night before. During the police investigation, Knoll continued to exhibit signs of impairment during a field sobriety examination at the collision scene, as well as during a Drug Influence Evaluation administered by detectives, after he was arrested.

However, blood drawn by the police after the collision detected the muscle relaxant taken by Knoll, and/or its metabolite, in amounts that were below the Arizona cut-off limit, and so the official DPS results reported no drugs detected in Mr. Knoll’s system.

Additionally, during the police investigation, Defendant Knoll made statements to the police that even though he felt groggy and sleepy, he continued to drive for financial reasons. When the police asked why he would drive in such a condition, he replied that it’s a “money thing” — he gets paid by the load, so if he stopped to sleep, he would lose money. He admitted to being greedy, and further admitted to police that he knew and recognized the dangers of driving in that sleepy condition. Knoll was charged criminally, and entered a guilty plea to three counts of felony Endangerment, admitting his conduct was reckless.

Throughout the case, and continuing at trial, Defendants contended that an Arizona jury would never return a verdict finding that Knoll’s conduct warranted punitive damages, and that an Arizona jury would never award substantial compensation to the parents of a 22 year old adult child who was married at the time of his death.

Defendants in closing argument again asserted that nothing Defendant Knoll did warranted punitive damages and asked the jury in closing argument to award a verdict in the range of $800,000.00 to $1,300,000.00.

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