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Tire Accident Case Is Settled for $13 Million

Huntington Beach man suffered brain damage when the wheel of a big rig flew across the freeway and crushed the cab of his pickup.

October 17, 2002|Monte Morin | Times Staff Writer

A Huntington Beach motorist who suffered severe brain damage when a loose tire rocketed across the Santa Ana Freeway and collided with his pickup truck will receive $13 million under a settlement reached Wednesday.

Under the deal, trucking giant Allied Systems Ltd. and a tire servicing firm accepted equal responsibility for the accident, which left 39-year-old plaintiff Philip Dohrman legally blind, unemployable and unable to drive.

"It hit him like a bolt of lightning out of the sky," plaintiff's attorney Daniel Callahan said. "There was nothing he could do about it at all."

The accident occurred Jan. 9, 2001, when the wheel of a tractor trailer spun off its axle, sailed into oncoming traffic and crushed the cab of Dohrman's truck. The collision occurred in the northbound lane of the Santa Ana Freeway in Irvine, near Sand Canyon Avenue. The nearly 200-pound tire had been fastened insecurely to the big rig, which was hauling a load of new cars.

Dohrman, represented by the Santa Ana law firm Callahan & Blaine, alleged in court papers that the driver of the big rig was never trained to make regular checks of the vehicle's wheels and lug nuts.

The plaintiff said Allied Systems Ltd. had violated a number of its own policies and state requirements for maintenance of its vehicles.

Among other shortcomings, Callahan said, the driver of the big rig was never shown a company video explaining the need and procedures for checking lug nuts, nor was he told to inspect the lug nuts. Callahan said that service records showed the vehicle had not undergone maintenance for 180 days, even though it is required to be serviced every 90 days.

However, Allied Systems lawyer Kevin Smith said that a contractor working for Allied had over-tightened the lug nuts, cracking and weakening them.

When the tire dislodged from the tractor-trailer, a motorist behind Dohrman witnessed the accident. The tire, which careened over the highway divider, jumped 20 feet into the air before slamming into the cab of Dohrman's truck. After crushing the cab, the tire bounced 100 feet into the air.

Dohrman, who was joined in the suit by his wife, Julie, 31, was rendered unconscious upon impact. When he awoke from a semi-coma, doctors discovered that his vision had been badly reduced, his speech impaired and his memory flawed.

"If you tell him something, he cannot remember it 15 minutes later," Callahan said. "He tries to compensate for it by taking notes. He's entirely reliant on a notepad now."

Dohrman, a former construction supervisor and volunteer firefighter, was an avid bodybuilder, motorcyclist, and in-line skater before the accident, Callahan said. Now, it is difficult for him to walk. "He walks, but he's very unsteady," the lawyer said.

Allied and the tire service firm were insured by Zurich Financial and Lloyds of London, who will pay the settlement in installments.

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