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Man hurt by semi backing up on I-35 in Johnson County won $2 million in lawsuit

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Driving is second nature to many of us, but dangers still exist on the roadways. Kyle McNew of the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service provides three simple tips for driving safely and avoiding traffic accidents.

A Johnson County jury awarded more than $2 million to a man injured by a tractor-trailer that backed up on Interstate 35 during a thunderstorm four years ago, according to court documents released Monday.

The 12-member jury’s unanimous decision in mid-June found that the truck driver, David Caton of Boonville, Indiana, and the company he worked for, G.D.S. Express Inc. of Chicago, were at fault in the wreck that injured Michael Whitt, of Riverside.

The crash occurred July 15, 2015, on southbound I-35 just south of 75th Street. The lawsuit was filed two years later.

“The case was really about the violation of basic safety principles that truckers are supposed to follow,” said Whitt’s attorney, Thomas Dickerson.

“Specifically this truck driver was operating his truck and trailer in reverse on the highway and we believe that the jury’s verdict really held the defendants accountable for violating that basic rule of the road,” Dickerson said.

The jury awarded $2.044 million to Whitt for medical expenses, economic losses and other losses, according to court documents in the lawsuit in Johnson County District Court.

“Both the Whitt family and myself were pleased with the jury’s verdict,” Dickerson said. “We thought that they gave thoughtful consideration to all of the evidence in the case.”

According to court documents:

Whitt was headed to his office in Lenexa during a thunderstorm when he saw the taillights of the truck that Caton was driving. Whitt slowed his 2007 Toyota Sequoia to a stop about one or two car-lengths behind the semi.

He noticed that the semi was backing up on the highway toward him. The semi struck the front of Whitt’s SUV. The force of the crash caused the airbag to deploy and spun the SUV around to where it was facing north.

Whitt suffered injuries, including to his neck, upper and lower back, and head, which required medical care, according to court documents. He will also need future medical care to treat some of those injuries, the lawsuit said.

Whitt contended that because of the injuries he was forced to close his business, Advanced Recovery Service Inc., where he worked as a licensed master and clinical social worker.

Caton and D.G.S. Express admitted that the crash occurred with the semi, but contended the thunderstorm severely affected visibility of drivers, causing them to slow and stop on the highway, according to court documents.

The defendants contended that an unidentified motorist collided with Caton’s trailer, causing him to hit his brakes. The semi jackknifed and slid across two lanes of traffic, the defendants said, according to court documents.

The defendants also asserted that Whitt was comparatively negligent in the collision in that he failed to keep a lookout ahead and slow down for a road hazard and/or was driving too fast for conditions to avoid hitting the semi, according to court documents.

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Robert A. Cronkleton gets up very early in the morning to bring readers breaking news about crime, transportation and weather at the crack of dawn. He’s been at The Star since 1987 and now contributes data reporting and video editing.
Katie Moore covers crime and justice issues for The Star. She is a University of Kansas graduate and was previously a reporter in her hometown of Topeka, Kansas.
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