Patricia Walker of Odessa died at age 25 when a vehicle on Interstate 70 flipped a heavy piece of fallen steel through her windshield into her head, according to the Kansas City Star
newspaper on September 30.That day three years ago, other drivers stopped her runaway car and attempted to help Walker, but they couldn't save her. A Jackson County jury found that a Kansas City scrap-metal company should pay $2 million to her adopted 9-year-old son. It also found the company should pay an additional $1 million in punitive damages split between the boy and the state. By law, the state gets half of punitive damages, which are intended to punish and deter wrong behavior. The verdict will help protect the public, an attorney for the boy said. Jurors found that American Compressed Steel Inc. endangered Walker and the public by not securing loads despite as many as 50 prior incidents where debris spilled from company trucks and damaged cars. Jurors also said that the company driver shared liability for the actual damages. He was hauling a load of scrap metal when the 37-pound metal plate fell from his uncovered container truck. The plate lay on the highway for hours before another vehicle flipped it into Walker's car.The plaintiff in the case, Deric Lee Coon, was 6 years old on Aug. 20, 2001, when Walker, the woman who had acted as his mother for years, died in the accident on Interstate 70 between Missouri 291 and Lee's Summit Road.Jury foreman Sean Wilson of Lee's Summit said evidence against the company was overwhelming, and jurors wanted to send a message. “We hope this makes a statement to those companies with trucks … that aren't taking safety precautions,” he said, adding that the company showed no remorse and kept shipping unsafe loads after Walker's death.Paul Hasty, a lawyer for the company, denied at trial that the company did anything wrong. He declined comment after the verdicts.