Jury awards $3.5 million to family of man crushed by log trucks

Published 8:53 pm Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Chilton County jury awarded $3.5 million Wednesday to the family of a Clanton man who was crushed to death between two logging trucks.

Ken Gorum trucking and one of its drivers, Gary Fruge, were fined the amount in the wrongful death case of James Sanderson.

The 56-year-old Sanderson was killed last January after being struck by Fruge’s truck in Elmore County.

Sanderson was stopped behind a car and another log truck at the intersection of Highways 14 and 170 in Wetumpka. While waiting on the first car to turn left, Sanderson was struck from behind by Fruge, sending his van into the back of the first log truck.

Attorney J. Cole Portis, who represented the Sanderson family, said Fruge was speeding and had faulty breaks.

“Ken Gorum Trucking never took full responsibility for their actions,” said Portis. “I am grateful to see that folks in Chilton County value human life and will not accept unsafe trucks traveling on Alabama highways harming its citizens.”

Experts testified for the plaintiffs that Fruge was traveling between 65-70 miles per hour on a road where the speed limit is 50 miles per hour.

Portis hopes the verdict will send a strong message to trucking companies.

“I know this jury’s verdict will make a difference in the log truck industry,” he said.

Portis said the verdict, which he called one of the highest ever in Chilton County, came as a result of Alabama’s wrongful death laws. In many states, juries are asked to consider a person’s income and earning potentials when reaching a verdict. That’s different in Alabama, Portis said.

“The legislature has said you really can’t put a value on someone’s life,” said Portis. “You first realize all life is important and you look at the gravity of the conduct. They are to discipline the defendant as well as send a message to others in the industry that this is wrong … it’s a reasonable and strong verdict.”

A message left for attorney Paul A. Miller, who represented the truck company, wasn’t immediately returned Wednesday afternoon.

Sanderson is survived by his wife, Annie M. Sanderson, and children, Derek, Josh and Amy Sanderson.