Pennsylvania Record

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Widow of driver killed in fiery crash by tractor-trailer awarded $2.1 million

By Jon Campisi | Jan 22, 2014

Scott b. cooper

The widow of a driver who was killed back in late 2009 following a horrific

highway crash will receive more than $2.1 million in damages following a bench trial that took place at federal court in Harrisburg earlier this month.

U.S. District Court Judge William W. Caldwell, of the Middle District of Pennsylvania, entered judgment in favor of Kamilah Claxton in the amount of $2,101,290.50 in her case against Sukhwinder Singh, who was operating a tractor-trailer along Interstate 78 in Lebanon County on Nov. 13, 2009, when he caused an accident that killed Eric Claxton.

The 36-year-old Claxton, a married father of four from Tennessee, was driving with passenger Eric Burks when his vehicle slammed into the rear of a 2003 Freightliner semi-tractor driven by Singh, according to the plaintiff’s complaint, which was filed in the spring of 2011.

Singh, who had been idling on the side of the road, began to pull back out on the highway at a slow rate of speed, causing Claxton, who had been traveling in the right lane, to violently collide with the back of the commercial vehicle, according to the lawsuit.

The accident caused the cab of Claxton’s truck to erupt into flames, with the man ultimately suffering an agonizing and painful death from fire and asphyxiation, the suit claimed.

Claxton’s widow, Kamilah, sued Singh and PVR Transport for negligence and wrongful death.

Singh, the lawsuit had alleged, acted with reckless indifference to the interest and safety of Claxton when he pulled onto the highway at a “slow and dangerous manner.”

“Defendant Driver’s egregious behavior and outrageous conduct was the direct and proximate cause of the accident at issue and the violent death of the Decedent and the ultimate death of his passenger, Eric Burks,” the lawsuit read.

Aside from his widow, Claxton is survived by his son, Zarrius Broom, and three daughters, Eryka Broom and Kiara and Asia Claxton.

At the non-jury trial, Kamilah Claxton argued that Singh had never received on-the-job training, that he was unfamiliar with the route on which he was driving that morning, and that he was also unfamiliar with the tractor-trailer’s radio equipment, according to court papers.

The plaintiff also asserted that Singh had only been in possession of his commercial driving license for about a month prior to the crash, and that he only received the license after twice failing the written test, and twice failing the on-the-road driving test.

In the summer of 2011, defense attorneys filed a motion to stay proceedings pending a regulatory review of the defendants’ insurance company, according to the court docket in the case.

Caldwell, the judge, granted the request for a stay.

Records show that the stay remained in effect until Jan. 16, 2013.

In late September, Claxton filed a motion for summary judgment.

The judge granted the motion in November and subsequently held a hearing to assess damages, records show.

In a Jan. 6 memorandum, Caldwell wrote that the defendants were liable for both compensatory and punitive damages due to the nature of the incident.

Eric Claxton, the judge pointed out, suffered “immediate severe burns over his entire body,” and he endured “severe conscious pain and suffering” from the time of the collision at about 3:10 in the morning until he was pronounced dead at 4:57 a.m.

Caldwell determined the transportation company was liable on the basis of respondeat superior, but was also “grossly negligent in failing to maintain his vehicle in compliance with state and federal law, particularly with regard to having required safety inspections and correcting defects in its braking equipment,” the judge wrote in his memorandum.

The company was also negligent in entrusting the tractor-trailer to Singh, an inexperienced commercial driver, Caldwell wrote.

“Singh was not made familiar with communication equipment in the truck, which might have helped in avoiding the accident, and in summoning help following the collision,” the judge wrote.

Court papers show that Eric Claxton had earned $49,214 annually at the time of his death.

His estate administration costs were $1,290.50.

In the end, the judge awarded Kamilah Claxton the estate expenses, plus $2 million for lost wages and $100,000 for pain and suffering.

PVR Transport was ordered to pay an additional $100,000 in punitive damages.

The plaintiff was represented by Harrisburg attorney Scott B. Cooper of Schmidt Kramer P.C.

The docket shows that Singh was represented by attorneys Christina Capobianco and Jay Barry Harris of the Philadelphia firm Fineman Krekstein & Harris.

Singh Sukhchan, who does business as PVR Transport, was represented pro se.

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