Verdict in Fiery Death of Truck Driverby Jana Ritter - Published: 10/08/2014
The jury is out. A Fresno trucking company was found guilty of negligence after one of their driver’s died inside his burning truck on a lonely New Mexico Interstate four years ago. Jaswinder Gill and her husband, Avtar Gill, who operate GMG Trucking were hit with the $3.5 million verdict on Friday in the Fresno County Superior Court. The money will be awarded to the family of Amarjit Khunkhun, 43, who died in March 2010 near San Jon, New Mexico.
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Bill Robins, attorney for the Khunkhun family, said that fluid leaking from the transmission onto hot truck parts ignited a fire underneath the cab of the truck that Khunkhun had been driving. Avtar Gill had exchanged trucks with Khunkhun in Texas during the early hours of March 23, 2010 and Khunkhun had traveled about 135 miles west before the truck caught fire. The Gills attorney, Paul Hager said that Khunkhun had asked Avtar Gill to switch trucks because he wasn’t feeling well and he wanted to return home, then had started a fire in the cab improperly using the stove.
But Robins said that New Mexico fire officials incorrectly concluded that Khunkhun had used the stove, as no stove or propane was found in the truck’s charred remains. Khunkhun was likely sleeping when the fire ensued because his body was found on a mattress in the sleeping quarters of the cab and his wallet was underneath the mattress.As no one witnessed Khunkhun’s death, to truly determine the cause, the trial turned into a battle of experts.
Experts on behalf of the Khunkhuns said that the trucking company had violated federal regulations in their maintenance and inspection of the truck. Robins went further saying that the Gills were aware of the transmission leak but failed to fix it before allowing Khunkhun to drive the truck.The defense claimed that in the trucking industry, drivers are responsible for inspecting their big rigs before taking it on the road and if it isn’t safe to drive, it’s the driver’s duty not to take it on the road for the safety of others.
Obviously the defense theory didn’t fly with the jury and their 3.5 million verdict sent a clear message to the trucking industry. Trucking companies that choose not to follow safety rules will be held accountable for the harm that they cause.
Khunkhun’s family is obviously happy with the verdict. Not only about the settlement but that the jury vindicated their loved family member and that the jury’s message may help save the lives of other truck drivers down the road.