PARIS — A jury on Thursday awarded a family $310,000 in a wrongful death lawsuit stemming from a fatal accident that killed a Naples man.
After a seven-day civil trial, the jury of seven women and two men unanimously found that Midwest Price Co., which owned a tractor-trailer involved in the crash, and Tricia Beretz, the other driver involved, were negligent and that their negligence led to the death of Richard Ray, 60.
The jury apportioned responsibility for Ray's death, and the amount to be paid, at 90 percent for Midwest Price and 10 percent for Beretz. Six jurors agreed to the apportionment and three were opposed.
Beretz and several of Ray's family members cried at the announcement of apportionment. After the trial adjourned, she hugged several members of the family and apologized for her role in the crash.
Ray's five adult children are the beneficiaries.
Ray was killed in the Nov. 23, 2009, crash on Route 26 in West Paris. Officials said Beretz was headed south ahead of Ray when she fell asleep, drifted into the northbound lane and faced the oncoming tractor-trailer driven by Warren Dunning of Dixfield. She moved back to her lane as Dunning veered left to avoid hitting her head-on.
The left side of her car caught the left-front corner of the loaded wood chip truck and the impact knocked her Acura into a field. The truck's steering was disabled, causing the truck to pull hard to the left and roll over onto Ray's pickup, according to officials.
Benjamin Gideon, attorney for the Ray family, said the verdict would send a message to companies operating commercial vehicles in Maine. In a written statement, Ray's family said they were satisfied that the jury had ruled Midwest Price Co. and Beretz as negligent.
Beretz testified that she fell asleep at the wheel and had pleaded guilty to a civil violation. Midwest Price's attorney argued that the accident was entirely Beretz's fault. Beretz admitted to causing the crash, but her attorney argued that defects to the tractor-trailer made the crash worse.
In her closing argument, Beretz's attorney, Christine Kennedy-Jensen, said Ray “might have walked away” from the crash if the trailer's brakes had been properly adjusted. Instead, she said, the truck's speed caused it to roll over onto Ray's pickup.
Gideon made the same point and said Beretz had taken responsibility. “There has been no show of corporate responsibility in this case,” he told jurors.
He emphasized testimony from Maine State Police, including a report from Trooper Daniel Hanson that said poor brake efficiency made the truck move so fast that it rolled over. “State police don't take sides,” Gideon said.
Cathy Roberts, attorney for Midwest Price Co., emphasized the expertise of her witness, Dennis Guenther, a crash reconstruction expert with decades of experience. Guenther had testified that it was the mud on the side of the road and not high speed that caused the tractor-trailer to roll.
The award was far less than the $1.5 million Gideon suggested in his closing argument, which would have given $300,000 to each of Ray's children. The award comes to $62,000 for each beneficiary.