Jury says U-Haul must pay $84 million to injured man

PART ONE: Trailer Sway
How U-Haul policies have increased the risk of towing accidents.
PART TWO: Maintenence and Complaints
An aging fleet and spotty maintenance result in breakdowns and worse.
PART THREE: Missing Evidence
When sued over accidents, U-Haul has repeatedly lost or spoiled evidence.
About the series  |   Contact the reporters
From Bloomberg News

Amerco’s U-Haul International Inc. must pay $84 million to a 74-year-old man who was injured when the truck he rented ran over him, a jury said.

The man, Talmadge Waldrip, parked the truck on a “slight incline” and the parking brake failed, said his attorney, Ted Lyon, in a phone interview. Waldrip said U-Haul failed to maintain the truck, causing the accident.

“The truck’s parking brake did not work at all,” Lyon said. “He stepped out of the truck and it rolled right over him.”

A Dallas court found U-Haul negligent and awarded Waldrip $84.25 million, including $63 million in punitive damages. The verdict is the 11th-largest jury award this year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

U-Haul, a unit of Reno, Nevada-based Amerco, said it would appeal. “The damages awarded are particularly outrageous given the circumstances of this case,” the company said in an e-mailed statement.

“The final verdict is another example of abuse of the legal system against corporate citizens in America,” the company said.

Waldrip’s pelvis was crushed in the 2006 accident, leaving him unable to walk and with no bowel control, Lyon said.

Waldrip alleged the rented U-Haul truck, which had 234,000 miles on it, was poorly maintained, Lyon said. The company doesn’t routinely service vehicles after being used by renters, he said. “You can drive a truck from Dallas to Michigan, take it to a U-Haul center and they won’t do any maintenance on it,” he said.

Six previous renters had similar problems with the truck, according to Lyon. “U-Haul was negligent and grossly negligent in leasing out a truck like this,” he said.

Amerco rose $1.25, or 2.2 percent, to $58.53 in Nasdaq Stock Market trading. The stock has fallen 17 percent in the past year.

In February, U-Haul settled another case involving a defective parking brake on a truck that killed a customer in San Francisco.

Demetrio T. Nagtalon was killed at a U-Haul center in San Francisco in December 2006, when he was crushed between a post and a rental truck.

Nagtalon had returned the truck because the parking brake didn’t work.

A U-Haul employee was working on the brake when the truck suddenly began rolling forward. According to a police report, Nagtalon rushed to the cab, apparently trying to climb in to stop the truck, but was pinned against the post.

His family filed a wrongful death claim. Terms of the settlement were confidential.

(Special correspondent Myron Levin contributed to this report.)