Isaac Espinoza was helping a friend with his broken down car on a stretch of highway I-81 just outside Chambersburg, Pennsylvania when he was hit by a truck driver with a blood alcohol level more than 4x the legal limit. The driver, Ricky Hatfield, ran from the scene of the accident and was later found and arrested by Pennsylvania State Police. His employer, J.B. Hunt, a major transportation logistics company headquartered in Lowell, Arkansas, failed to screen Hatfield’s employment and driving records, which included a previous DUI arrest while operating a tractor-trailer, 2 charges for reckless driving, speeding in a construction zone while driving a tractor-trailer, and job termination for failure of a drug and alcohol test and attempting to bribe the test administrator. These charges and Mr. Hatfield’s firing from a previous employer all occurred within the past 5 years.
Jury Finds Both Driver and Employer Negligent
Ricky Hatfield was considered an independent operator, a trucker who ran his own company but contracted with J.B. Hunt under an Outsource Carriage Agreement. The agreement requires the contracted employee to self-certify their driving record, with the logical expectation that J.B. Hunt would conduct a background check to verify the information. The company never checked Hatfield’s record, arguing that Mr. Hatfield was technically self-employed and had a duty to screen his own record. The company also attempted to argue that Ricky Hatfield personally made the decision to become intoxicated and that he was technically driving on his day off. Mr. Espinoza’s attorneys quickly refuted these claims, proving that Hatfield had been contracted to drive for J.B. Hunt and was operating the tractor-trailer and not his personal vehicle because he was out on dispatch for the company.
Jurors swiftly disagreed with the trucking giant’s arguments, finding J.B. Hunt 40% liable and Mr. Hatfield 60% responsible. This means the $15.57 verdict awarded to Isaac Espinoza will be paid accordingly by the two parties. Mr. Hatfield is currently serving time in jail.
Isaac Espinoza’s family now provides the around-the-clock care he requires at his home. He will never be able to work or lead the life he previously lived as a result of the accident. Mr. Espinoza suffered a traumatic brain injury, a ruptured diaphragm, multiple broken bones in his pelvis, permanent paralysis of one upper arm, semi-paralysis of his other arm, and multiple cervical fractures which required surgical intervention.