ELKHART, IN — A $12,890,000 settlement was reached on February 17 for an Elkhart, IN man who lost his wife, Pamela Beemer, in a three-vehicle crash at U.S. 20 and County Road 31 in Elkhart County on the night of September 16, 2011. The plaintiff, Robert Burg, was represented by Chicago attorney and National Trial Lawyers member Stephen Libman. He was assisted by Chicago attorney Michael Trucco and National Trial Lawyers member Daniel Pfeifer of South Bend, Indiana.
Elkhart County Circuit Court Judge Evan Roberts finalized the settlement after approval from the Probate Court on behalf of the Estate of Pamela Beemer. It may be one of Indiana’s largest wrongful death crash lawsuit settlements for a surviving spouse with no children, according to Libman and
The settlement was paid by all defendants whose names cannot be revealed due to a confidentiality agreement. The following payments include: $8 million by the transportation broker; $1,750,000 by the trucking company and driver; $1 million each by the shipper and front pilot car escort vehicle; $965,000 by two rear pilot car escort vehicles; $175,000 by the vehicle owner.
After attending a dinner at an Amish Haystacker fundraiser at a high school in Middlebury, the Burg’s elderly neighbor, Ernie Sailor, took everyone on what was to be a short tour down the country roads where he and his wife, Maxine, were born and raised.
“What happened next changed Robert Burg’s life forever,” Libman said. Burg recalls being seated in front next to Sailor who was driving westbound on US 20 in his 2007 Lincoln Town car. Passengers in the back included Burg’s wife, Mrs. Sailor and her friend Virginia Miller of Elkhart. Sailor’s car was struck by an oversized wind tower component being hauled by a tractor-trailer, Libman said. “The component, due to its enormous size and shape, protruded almost two and one-half feet over the center line of the two-way road and into the oncoming lane of travel. It could not be seen in the dark.”
Sailor’s car was spun around and was hit again by a pickup truck escorting the tractor-trailer, resulting in the death of the three women. Ernie and Robert survived. At the time of her death, Beemer was employed at Citigroup as a project manager. The Burgs would have been celebrating their 15th wedding anniversary five days later, September 21, 2011.
“Each one of the defendants had a duty to safely transport this enormous load, but failed to live up to their responsibility,” Libman said. Sailor recovered from a broken hip resulting from the accident and settled his lawsuit against various defendants last year.
Burg alleged that the trucking company entrusted the oversized load to a driver who had never hauled a wind tower and was not properly trained to do so, especially on a “homemade” trailer called a Schnabel. The complaint further alleged that the driver operated his truck in violation of Indiana Law by driving in the dark after the state-mandated curfew. Plaintiff’s counsel also uncovered evidence that the trucking company understated the height and weight of the tractor-trailer in order to avoid an earlier 3:30 p.m. curfew and the cost of state police escorts.
The complaint also alleged that the transportation broker who paid the largest portion of the settlement had a non-delegable duty based upon its contract with the shipper to safely transport the oversized load and, as such, was responsible for the negligence of the trucking company and its driver. Evidence was uncovered during discovery that the transportation broker knew that the State of Indiana was requiring 4-5 State Police vehicles to escort the oversized load in response to a recent fatality, but failed to communicate that directive to the trucking company and its driver.
The complaint also alleged the three escort drivers were also negligent because they allowed the load to be driven past the curfew mandated by Indiana State Law. In addition, the front escort vehicle was 3/4-mile ahead of the tractor-trailer, instead of the required 500 feet, “creating a large gap and did not provide adequate warning to the vehicles traveling in the opposite direction regarding how far they needed to move over to avoid colliding with the load.”