What Can We Learn from This $16 Million TBI Truck Accident Claim Verdict?

Reviewed by Louis Patino, JD, DC

Louis Patino, JD, DC
A former U.S. Army Combat Medic, Dr. Louis Patino is a distinguished attorney recognised by Top Attorneys of America, Expertise, and the American Institute of Trial Lawyers. He has a Doctor of Jurisprudence from Texas Southern University and a Doctor of Chiropractic from Parker College of Chiropractic.

semi-truck accident claim

On Thursday, December 14th, in DeKalb County, Georgia, jurors handed down a $16.66 million verdict against a trucking company after a 2021 big rig crash left a man with a traumatic brain injury.

The crash left Avnish Dalal, then 21, with a broken arm, scarring, and a traumatic brain injury resulting in permanent cognitive defects.

While the accident happened out of Patino Law Firm’s Texas jurisdiction, Georgia personal injury law shares much in common with the Lone Star State, and this case perfectly illustrates the complexity of truck accident claims and the potential for massive judgments for accident survivors.

It also offers a fascinating glimpse into legal procedure, shedding light on what you might expect if you file a lawsuit after a truck accident and the importance of solid evidence to prove your case.

In this blog post, San Antonio and McAllen truck accident lawyer Dr. Louis Patino examines the case, exploring:

  • How the accident happened
  • The arguments made by each side
  • The evidence presented
  • The impact of shared liability in this case
  • The impact of shared liability more generally in Texas truck accident claims
  • How the plaintiff successfully secured the compensation he was rightfully owed.

Truck accident claims are complex, but it’s an area of law our San Antonio and McAllen personal injury attorney and team are proud to specialize in. As this case — and our impressive track record of million-dollar verdicts secured for clients — will illustrate, massive judgments are possible.

How the Truck Accident Happened

As can be expected in a dispute between two parties over who is responsible, both sides have different opinions on how the accident happened.

The pre-trial order (PTO) provides us with two versions of events.

The Plaintiff’s Account

The plaintiff (Dalal) contended that the August 12th, 2021, accident occurred when Brown Trucking Company employee Evans Tshongwe slowed behind a van pulling out in front of his truck on Interstate 285 (I-285). Either Tshongwe continued to brake after the van had exited the lane, or the truck’s automated emergency braking system engaged, and Tshongwe did not override the system, causing the truck to stop on the road.

A second tractor-trailer behind Tshongwe slammed the brakes and swerved left to avoid the stopped vehicle. Dalal, who was behind the second trailer, swerved right to avoid Tshongwe’s truck but clipped the right side, causing him to collide with a third tractor-trailer and travel under Tshongwe’s truck.

The Defendant’s Account

The trucking company argued that Evans Tshongwe hit the brakes when a van to his left merged into the lane. According to the PTO, the white van continued to slow down to improperly exit I-285. Tshongwe was fast approaching the van and continued to brake, causing the automated braking system to engage. During this time, Tshongwe continued to check his mirrors and noticed multiple vehicles behind: a tractor-trailer, a white car, and Dalal’s car.

The tractor-trailer and white car braked and changed lanes to the left; neither hit Tshongwe. Dalal was now directly behind the slowing truck.

With the automated braking system engaged, the truck came to a complete stop on the road. Less than one second later, Dalal struck the right rear of the trailer.

As a result of the collision, the plaintiff sustained several catastrophic injuries: a traumatic brain injury with permanent cognitive defects, a left-arm fracture requiring surgery and causing permanent limited mobility, and permanent scarring.

The Key Differences

Both accounts are similar: they do not dispute that the catalyst of the crash was the white van pulling out onto the road.

However, multiple details in the defendant’s account aim to mitigate Tshongwe’s liability:

The van driver’s behavior: The defendant argued that the van driver continued to slow down in an improper attempt to exit the road, casting potential blame on the van driver.

The presence of other vehicles: The plaintiff’s account alludes to a second tractor-trailer swerving left to avoid Tshongwe but makes no reference to the second car allegedly on the road. The defense’s outline of the accident details that not only was a second car present but that both braked and changed lanes. The crucial detail here is that both vehicles did so without making contact with Tshongwe’s truck. It’s a small but highly suggestive point, posing the question, “Why couldn’t Dalal also avoid the truck?”

The defendant’s conduct: The defense account takes every opportunity to highlight that “Tshongwe acted reasonably under the circumstances,” indicating that he checked his mirrors and ultimately “did not have sufficient time to ensure additional actions would be safe to avoid an accident.”

Read the Pre-trial Order

Read the consolidated pre-trial order (PTO)

Settlement Negotiations

Both parties initially attempted to negotiate an agreeable resolution to settle the case.

One of Dalal’s attorneys, Michael Goldberg, said in a statement that the insurer offered $2 million to settle the case and would not negotiate further.

The PTO outlined that Dalal had incurred $900,000 in past medical expenses, meaning a two-million-dollar settlement would likely not be enough to cover the lifelong treatment the plaintiff would need for his permanent injuries, let alone fairly compensate him for the substantial pain and suffering he has experienced and would continue to experience for the rest of his life.

As a result, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit to pursue a fair judgment at trial.

Proceeding to Trial: Arguing Liability

As we’ve covered in our blog on the personal injury lawsuit process, a lot goes into preparing for trial. After filing the initial lawsuit, the case moves into the discovery phase, where both sides gather evidence to introduce during the trial.

The PTO provided a list of exhibits each side admitted supporting their respective cases. Evidence included:

  • Motor vehicle accident report
  • Photographs of the accident scene and vehicles
  • Dashcam video from Brown Trucking (the truck Tshongwe was driving)
  • Dashcam video from Alfa Trucking (the other tractor-trailer involved in the collision)
  • Plaintiff’s cell phone records
  • 911 tapes
  • Tshongwe’s training records with Brown Trucking
  • Manufacturer guidelines, literature, and owner’s manual regarding the collision avoidance system
  • Brown Trucking policies and procedures
  • Photographs and videos of the plaintiff before the accident
  • Photographs of injuries and scars
  • Plaintiff’s CT scan, MRI, and X-ray films
  • Plaintiff’s medical bills and records, tax returns, and school records
  • A “day in the life” video of the plaintiff
  • Surveillance videos of the plaintiff
  • Negative post-accident drug test results
  • Depositions by various medical doctors, the paramedic at the scene, the defendant, a corporate representative of Brown Trucking, and a professional engineer.

Evidence is crucial in any case, and the purpose of these exhibits was to demonstrate several points:

  • How the accident happened so the jury could identify the liable party.
  • The severity of the plaintiff’s injuries.
  • That the accident caused the plaintiff’s injuries.
  • The long-term impact of the plaintiff’s injuries on his life.
  • Tshongwe was not intoxicated during the crash (in the defendant’s case).
  • Tshongwe violated truck company procedure (in the plaintiff’s case).
  • The plaintiff’s injuries are as severe as he claims based on surveillance footage (in the plaintiff’s case).

The question of liability is critical to the success of the case — for Dalal to successfully recover compensation, he must prove that the truck driver’s negligence resulted in the crash that caused his injuries.

The Plaintiff’s Contention

In this case, the plaintiff argued the truck company was liable for Tshongwe’s actions under a legal doctrine called “respondeat superior.” Texas also has this doctrine, which allows an employer to be held legally responsible for the actions of an employee if the negligence occurs while the worker is acting under the scope of employment (such as making a delivery or otherwise “on the clock”).

The choice to sue the truck company instead of the truck driver was likely strategic: the truck company would have much deeper pockets, ensuring it could afford a substantial judgment if the case were decided in the plaintiff’s favor.

So why did the plaintiff believe Tshongwe (and, by association, Brown Trucking) was responsible for the accident?

The Pre-Trial Order states:

“[The] Plaintiff alleges that Tshongwe was negligent in failing to react appropriately to the slowing white van in that he had multiple safe alternatives available to him, including changing lanes to the left and slowing down his vehicle without stopping and then continuing forward, and instead chose the most dangerous course of action, which was to come to a complete stop on the interstate with traffic traveling around him. If the Brown Trucking tractor-trailer had not come to a complete stop on the interstate, the collision with [the] Plaintiff’s vehicle would not have occurred. [The] Defendant Brown Trucking is responsible for the negligence of Tshongwe as his employer.”

Dalal’s attorneys further argued that Tshongwe should have known how to override the collision avoidance system that activated the brakes and that he did not press the accelerator appropriately.

During the trial, Tshongwe and a Brown Trucking representative testified that the truck driver was trained on how to disengage the emergency brake, but the truck’s black box data showed that he hit the accelerator with only 16% of the force needed to shut it down.

Joe Fried, another of the plaintiff’s attorneys, said, “Part of our closing argument was: If he knew and didn’t do it, shame on him. If they let him drive the truck without really training them how to do it, shame on them.

“And the corporate representative admitted on the stand it would be indefensible for a truck driver to be driving a truck with that technology and not know how to override the system.”

The Defendant’s Contention

We know that Brown Trucking’s attorneys argued that Tshongwe acted reasonably. But they also claimed that the plaintiff’s actions resulted in his injuries, stating:

“Despite two vehicles in front of him not being involved, and [the] Plaintiff seeing them brake and move to the left lane to go around Mr. Tshongwe, the data from [the] Plaintiff’s vehicle shows he was still going 68 and 69 [miles per hour] MPH and did not brake until less than one second before impact.”

Here, the defense alleges that not only did Dalal fail to slow down but that he was also slightly over the maximum 65 mph speed limit.

From a defense perspective, showing the plaintiff’s liability is crucial for success, as it can drastically reduce the amount they owe the plaintiff.

Likewise, the plaintiff’s priority is to minimize any fault finding, as it can reduce the compensation they can recover. If their fault exceeds a specific cap, they are not entitled to any compensation.

In closing arguments, Brown Trucking’s attorney reaffirmed that Tshongwe acted appropriately to avoid striking the van and that he did not have time to evaluate alternative maneuvers:

“A white van moves into the lane. It slows. You see it. You apply the brakes. The truck’s braking. You’ve got traffic on your right. Traffic on your left. And you don’t know what the van’s going to do.

“And the accident’s already happened. That’s what happened to Mr. Tshongwe out there.”

The Truck Accident Claim Verdict

After four days of testimony and arguments, all evidence had been presented, and the case was given to the twelve-person jury to deliberate. The jurors returned with a $16.665 million verdict in the plaintiff’s favor but found that Dalal was 40% responsible.

Due to Georgia’s modified comparative negligence laws, Dalal would still receive compensation.

Modified comparative laws allow a plaintiff in a personal injury case to recover compensation if their fault falls below a percentage cap. The award is then reduced according to their liability.

In Georgia, plaintiffs can recover compensation if their percentage of fault is less than 50. In other words, plaintiffs must share less than half of the responsibility.

This differs from Texas laws, where the cap is 51%, so a plaintiff in our state can be half responsible for the accident that caused their injuries, but they cannot be majorly (51% or over) at fault.

With the jury finding Dalal 40% at fault for the accident, Dalal recovered the remaining 60% of the figure awarded by the jury — just short of $10 million ($9,990,000).

While we do not know how the jury made their decision, the finding of the plaintiff’s liability was likely influenced by Dalal’s speed before the crash and failure to brake earlier. 

Ultimately, though, this was not enough to absolve the defendant of their liability, supported by a trucking industry expert’s testimony that Tshongwe broke industry standards by failing to brake as soon as the truck’s warning system indicated the white van passed into his lane.

Read the Verdict

Click to read the final verdict

What Challenges Did the Plaintiff Face?

No personal injury lawsuit is easy or offers a guaranteed win. Even when the facts are favorable, jurors are unpredictable, and this is typically what the other side relies upon in proceeding to trial instead of settling the case.

But truck accident claims are particularly complex, as this case out of Georgia demonstrates.

In a post-verdict statement, the plaintiff’s lawyers highlighted several challenges they faced in presenting their case.

Proving Liability

The question of who was at fault was hotly contested, as is often the case in truck accident lawsuits.

You might question why the driver of the white van was not held liable for the crash — after all, the van was the catalyst of the accident, triggering a sequence of events that left Avnish Dalal with life-altering injuries. The defense may have alluded to some fault on the van driver’s part with an almost throwaway line in the pre-trial order that, “the white van did not continue driving straight in Mr. Tshongwe’s lane with the flow of traffic but continued to slow down attempting to improperly exit the interstate,” but it was ultimately Tshongwe’s reaction, the plaintiff stated, that created the emergency, “by not following their training and by not following industry standards.”

It was this failure to follow trucking standards that Dalal’s legal team largely hinged their case on.

“Any time your plaintiff hits the rear of a vehicle ahead, there are going to be big liability challenges. We had to overcome the bias that, if you hit someone from the rear, you are liable,” his attorneys said. “We built our strategy around the violation of a few trucking industry standards that were difficult for the defense to justify and kept this simple focus throughout the case.”

If there’s one key takeaway here, it’s that evidence is critical. The plaintiff’s evidence from a trucking industry expert who testified that Tshongwe failed to brake when his truck alerted him to the van’s presence was critical for educating the jury about trucking safety standards and demonstrating negligence.

Tshongwe’s error was compounded by failing to accelerate once the van left the lane — supported by black box data — which would have overridden the truck’s emergency braking system and prevented him from stopping on the road.

Proving the Impact of the Plaintiff’s Injuries

One thing our Texas personal injury law firm is all too familiar with is the long-term impact an accident can have on a victim.

Catastrophic injuries like broken bones causing permanent mobility issues and traumatic brain injuries resulting in severe impairments have a significant physical, emotional, and financial impact.

In this Georgia case, the plaintiff’s attorney stated that communicating damages that might seem subtle medically but are “not subtle at all” was a major challenge.

Mr. Dalal was a high-achiever and student at Georgia Tech (hence the inclusion of the plaintiff’s school records as an exhibit) with “truly exceptional” intelligence, which posed a unique challenge: Dalal’s processing speed was higher than the pre-injury standard cognitive function is typically measured against in these cases. This made it harder for his counsel to show diminished function.

But perhaps the biggest impact was on the plaintiff’s emotional health — something often overlooked and tricky to quantify but that can have a devastating effect on an individual’s quality of life.

Dalal’s attorney said that his client’s confidence was destroyed, explaining how he’d gone from people-oriented and friendly to withdrawn, irritable, and inappropriate — sometimes without even realizing it.

This behavior is common after a traumatic brain injury. While it helped attorneys paint a clear picture of how Dalal’s injury impacted his life and emotional well-being, it also posed a challenge because it led to the breakdown of relationships with many people who could have served as potential witnesses in his case.

This situation demonstrates the truly heartbreaking consequences of a traumatic brain injury and other incapacitating injuries. It also underscores the need to work with a truck accident lawyer who can build a resilient case.

The outcome could have been entirely different had Dalal’s attorneys put their eggs in one basket. For example, they might have intended to rely on several key witnesses who could testify about their client’s demeanor before the accident and how the injury had impacted him, only for those individuals not wanting to testify because of something the plaintiff unwittingly said or did because of the injury.

Fortunately for Avnish Dalal, his attorneys refused to back down when faced with underhand insurance company tactics or be intimidated by claims from the defendant that their client was responsible. Instead, they advocated fiercely for their client, and the jury saw their side, ultimately delivering a verdict that would ensure Mr. Dalal could pay his medical bills, get the ongoing treatment he needs for his lifelong injuries, and be fairly compensated for the undeniable physical pain and emotional anguish he has suffered.

That’s also the approach we take at Patino Law Firm. We have secured million-dollar settlements and court judgments for our clients injured in truck accidents in Texas. We are experienced litigators who are not afraid to go to trial to secure the compensation you deserve.

If you’ve been injured in a truck accident in San Antonio, McAllen, or the surrounding areas, including Uvalde, Converse, Schertz, Hondo, Rio Grande City, Hidalgo, Del Rio, Brownsville, and Mission, we encourage you to book a free, no-obligation case review with our Texas personal injury lawyer. Se habla Español, we’re available 24/7, and you will never pay fees until we win.

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