Portage Family Awarded $16.1M

HAMMOND — A Lake Superior Court jury has awarded more than $16 million to a Portage family who survived after a moving van crushed their car seven years ago.

Hammond attorney David W. Holub said a week-long trial here resulted in a verdict Friday against Bekins Van Lines of Hillside, Ill. …

Jurors awarded $1,145,000 in compensatory damages for … medical bills and $15 million in punitive damages against the corporation. . . .

Holub said the truck driver was traveling north on Interstate 65 on December 23, 1996, in a fully loaded truck weighing 65,000 pounds, when he failed to notice two cars stopped behind a red light at the entrance/exit ramps to the Indiana Toll Road in Gary.

[Truck driver] Westray testified during a 1999 criminal trial that he momentarily took his eyes off the road. [He said he] “was distracted by smoke coming from his trailer and unfortunately caused the accident.”

Westray said he steered hard to avoid the car, but drove right over it. He veered into the second vehicle, an Audi, and smashed it as well before he was able to pull his rig to the side of the highway. …

Holub said Westray “had a history of about 21 moving violations. The (state police) trooper who inspected the truck … found some mechanical deficiencies. The trooper said that if he had stopped the truck before the accident and found those deficiencies, he would have placed the truck out of service.” …

Holub said he argued for punitive damages because Bekins keeps unsafe drivers on the road and fostered an environment that allowed drivers to go unpunished for failing to report traffic convictions as required by federal law.

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Article appeared on nwitimes.com published on Tuesday, February 3, 2004.