The Beaumont law firm Reaud, Morgan & Quinn recently hauled in a $24 million verdict following a wrongful death trial against one of the best-known construction equipment manufactures, Caterpillar Inc.
On behalf of the late Emery Bowie, Sharecka Bowie, his widow, filed suit against Nederland-based Standard Constructors, Emory’s employer at the time, Caterpillar, the bulldozer’s manufacture, and Mustang Machinery, the company who sold the bulldozer, on Aug. 19, 2008, in Jefferson County District Court.
Court documents show that Emery Bowie was killed Aug. 9, 2007, while operating a bulldozer at the Motiva refinery in Port Arthur.
The civil case went to trial Jan. 12 and concluded on Thursday, seven weeks later.
Sharecka Bowie alleged the machine was stationary at the time. Emery, 25, rose from his seat to signal another worker when the bulldozer moved in a reverse direction, causing him to become entangled in one the machine’s tracks, crushing his bones and internal organs.
Caterpillar maintained Emery died because of his own negligence in operating the bulldozer.
While the plaintiffs argued the bulldozer was defectively designed because it was not equipped with either an operator presence system (seatbelt switch connected to the break) or a pull-up bar, Caterpillar contended the plaintiffs failed to prove an actual defect design.
At trial, the plaintiffs attempted to prove unintended movement caused by a dozer defect caused the incident.
The jury concluded the dozer did indeed have a design defect when it left the possession of Caterpillar and was a producing cause of Emery’s death, according to the charge of the court, filed Thursday, Feb. 26.
Jurors found both parties at fault, assigning 80 percent of the negligence to Caterpillar and the remaining 20 percent to Emery.
The jury awarded the Bowie family $5 million in pecuniary loss damages, $5 million in loss of companionship damages and $5 million for mental anguish damages, plus $10,000 for funeral expenses.
The jury also awarded Emery $5 million for the pain and mental anguish he suffered before death, on top of an additional $4 million in exemplary damages for Caterpillar’s alleged gross negligence.
Before the trial concluded, defendants Caterpillar and Mustang Machinery had filed a motion for a directed verdict, asking that the plaintiffs take nothing, asserting the plaintiffs had failed to prove their design defect theories.
In jury trials, a directed verdict is an order from the presiding judge to the jury to return a particular verdict. Typically, judges order directed verdicts after finding that no reasonable jury could reach a decision to the contrary.
RM&Q attorney Curtis Leister represents the plaintiffs.
Caterpillar and Mustang Machinery are represented in part by Ray Whitman, attorney for the Houston law firm Baker and Hostetler.
Judge Donald Floyd of the 172nd Judicial District presided over the trial.
Case No. E182-248