Chapman v. Milford Towing & Service, Inc.

6th Cir. Nos. 09-4000/10-4457/10-4458/10-4497, 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 18897, 2012 FED App. 0980N (6th Cir. 2012)

This was an appeal from a $2,000,000 jury verdict for the driver of a semi-tractor trailer who lost his right leg below the knee due to the negligence of a tow truck operator. The plaintiff, John Chapman, was en route to his destination, when he felt the rear tandems of his trailer dragging. He pulled off the road and called his dispatcher to request a serviceman to repair the vehicle. When a tow truck appeared instead, he told the operator not to tow his vehicle until he got permission from his dispatcher. He returned to his truck to call his dispatcher and organize his personal items in case the vehicle would be towed. The tow truck operator, meanwhile, began hooking up the vehicle for a tow, ignoring John Chapman’s instructions. Unbeknownst to Chapman, the tow truck operator lifted the truck’s cab 12-18 inches, so that when Chapman started to exit, the cab shook and he lost his balance, falling into a passing box truck.

The jury returned a verdict of $2 million for the plaintiff, but found him to be 25% comparatively negligent. The tow truck company appealed, but the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment. The Court rejected the tow truck company’s argument that the jury instructions on superseding cause were incorrect. The court also rejected the tow truck company’s contentions that a reference to insurance by a defense witness on cross-examination warranted reversal, or that the trial court erred in admitting an unsworn statement of the tow truck operator taken by an insurance agent on behalf of the box truck driver. A cross-appeal taken by the plaintiff as to the amount of prejudgment interest awarded by the trial court was also affirmed.

Plaintiff’s attorneys on the appeal: David M. Paris, Kathleen J. St. John