The Reardon Law Firm Settles Case for Truck Driver for $1.3 million

Connecticut Law Tribune

-By Thomas B. Scheffey

Monday, January 29, 2007

$1.3M Settlement For Truck Driver Killed By Load

Forklift was too small to do the job

Estate of Michael Ryckman v. Logistec USA, et al.: The estate of a truck driver who was killed at the state pier in New London agreed to a $1.3 million settlement July 10. The amount will be paid by Logistec USA, which operates the pier, and Indiana wood broker Sherwood Lumber.

Michael Ryckman's estate was represented by New London plaintiffs' attorney Robert I. Reardon. On Jan. 13, 2003, Ryckman was routed to New London to pick up a load of Brazilian plywood to deliver to New Jersey. The internal weight monitor in his truck indicated the load exceeded his 85,000-pound limit when the lumber was loaded, Reardon said.

The pier lacks a scale of its own, and Logistec workers disputed the accuracy of Ryckman's internal scale. After extended debate, Ryckman agreed to get an independent weighing from a Watertown moving company eight miles away. That scale also showed his load was overweight.

By the time he returned, it was 4:40 p.m. on a Friday, and the Logistec workers were eager to leave. "They grabbed the first fork lift available, because they were in a hurry," Reardon maintained. It proved inadequate for the job, tipping over during the unloading process and crushing Ryckman under more than 7,500 pounds of plywood. He was conscious for some time, but later died of his injuries at New London's Lawrence & Memorial Hospital.

The estate made an offer of judgment for $1.1 million in 2005. Logistec brought in lumber broker Sherwood as an apportionment co-defendant, claiming that the load's weight was incorrect. Reardon relied on multiple experts, including engineer O. John Zamparo of Hamden, who testified that the lift was in poor repair.

Logistec was represented by Southport maritime attorney Thomas L. Tisdale. Sherwood was represented by Frank F. Coulom Jr. and John P. Casey of Robinson & Cole's Hartford office. Coulom was out of his office last week, and Tisdale did not return a call for comment by press time.

U.S. District Court Magistrate Thomas P. Smith mediated the matter in two sessions, and required Logistec to send its CEO from Canada to the second meeting. "It took a long time to settle because Logistec was unwilling to believe our measure of damages-the way we value cases," said Reardon. "I know for a fact that, in Europe and in Canada, that single men without children get very little money. That's the survivor measure of damages, as opposed to Connecticut's approach, which is the estate measure of damages." Here the value of the decedents' loss of life's enjoyment is considerable, and in Ryckman's case, it was based in large part on his relationships with friends and family, according to Reardon.

Ryckman was single, and had no children. "He didn't even have a house-he lived out of his truck. But he had a sister in Virginia and another in Texas, and had lots of nieces and nephews. Whenever he came through, he had a bed at both houses, and at Christmas he'd bring a big bag of presents, looking like a Santa Clause in a cowboy hat," said Reardon.