The plaintiff contended that the injury would have been avoided if Family Dollar had encouraged drivers to use the space it had specially designed for trucks to unload.
A dollar store’s failure to direct a truck driver to a designated loading zone landed the store with a 55% liability finding in a $4.6 million verdict for an accident that occurred off of its property.
Attorneys with Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky filed suit against the Reading Family Dollar and its management for their contribution to the plaintiff’s injury in a suit that Robert Mongeluzzi said was unusual but “obviously winnable.”
Both the driver of the truck that caused the accident and the driver’s employer reached a confidential joint tort settlement agreement with the plaintiff prior to trial, but the plaintiff also contended that the injury would have been avoided if Family Dollar had encouraged drivers to use the space it had specially designed for trucks to unload.
Although the truck accident occurred across the street from the Family Dollar, the plaintiff argued that the store was still liable. According to the plaintiff’s pretrial memo, that’s because store employees directed drivers to make their deliveries from the site of the accident despite the Family Dollar having a designated loading zone.
Family Dollar, represented by Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis, said all responsibility for the injury lay with truck driver Cecil McNeil, his employer Schneider National Carrier Inc., and plaintiff Brian Winterstein.
“Family Dollar’s request that McNeil ‘park in the back,’ which plaintiff claims made McNeil’s maneuvering of the truck more complicated in light of the configuration of the loading dock, does not attach liability to Family Dollar,” Schnader Harrison’s Gary Smith wrote in the defendant’s pretrial memo.
“Under Pennsylvania law, a duty of care will not be imposed on a property owner for a condition existing, or actively engaged in, on his own property which is merely incidental to injuries sustained by a plaintiff who is not located on its property,” the defendants argued.
But the jury disagreed in its Tuesday verdict, siding with the plaintiff that the store’s management contributed to the accident and finding Cecil McNeil to be only 21% liable, Schneider 19% liable, and Winterstein 5% liable.
“I think the single most important moment in the trial was cross-examination of Family Dollar’s corporate designee, where on cross I had him admit that their conduct was ‘improper,’ ‘not reasonable,’ ‘inexcusable’ and ‘dead wrong,’ and I think that was the death knell for them on negligence,” said Mongeluzzi, who represented Winterstein alongside Ara Avrigian and Drew Heinold.
Avrigian said that, in addition to the verdict, the Saltz Mongeluzzi team is seeking about $383,000 in delay damages, which would bring the total recovery against Family Dollar to $2.9 million.
Winterstein, a 50-year-old truck driver, sustained long-term injuries when a tractor-trailer driven by McNeil crushed Winterstein against a fence. Following the accident, Winterstein underwent several surgeries and operations, after which he continued to experience loss of mobility, severe pain, loss of bowel and bladder control, erectile dysfunction, depression and posttraumatic stress disorder.
In the lead-up to the incident, which was captured on surveillance video, Winterstein had exited his truck to help direct McNeil as he struggled to back his Schneider-owned tractor-trailer into the Family Dollar’s rear loading area. The truck moved forward while Winterstein was in front of it, crashing into him and the fence behind him.
Gary Stewart and Diane Carvell of Rawle & Henderson represented McNeil and Schneider.
Attorneys for the defendants did not respond to requests for comment.
The case, captioned Winterstein v. McNeil, was tried before Judge Ann M. Butchart of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.