Families of Air Force Members Killed in Boise, ID Truck Crash File for Punitive Damages Against Albertsons
Attorneys for the families of Air Force service members killed in a horrific 2018 truck crash in Boise, Idaho have asked for punitive damages to be added to their lawsuit against Albertsons Companies, Krujex Freight Transportation Corp. (KFTC), Penhall Company, and Specialty Construction Supply Company for their roles in causing the fatal accident.
In a court filing, attorneys say a series of “outrageous” and “reckless” decisions on the part of the four companies caused the truck crash that killed 26-year-old Senior Airman Lawrence “Pit” Manlapit III of Bridgeport, Connecticut; 23-year-old Senior Airman Carlos “C.J.” Johnson of Key West, Florida; and 21-year-old Senior Airman Karlie A. Westall of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The filing explicitly alleges that Albertsons demonstrated “conscious disregard for the safety of the traveling public.”
On the night of June 16, 2018, SrA Manlapit III, SrA Johnson, and SrA Westall were in a Jeep Wrangler idling in traffic on the eastbound side of Interstate 84 in Boise. At the time, eastbound I-84 was bottlenecked from four lanes down to just one lane due to an ongoing construction maintenance project.
At approximately 11:32 p.m., truck driver Illya D. Tsar was driving a 2019 Volvo tractor-trailer eastbound on I-84 when he slammed into the back of Wrangler. The impact pushed the Wrangler into another vehicle, initiating a chain reaction crash that caused a massive fire. SrA Manlapit III, SrA Johnson, and SrA Westall tragically lost their lives in the fiery tractor-trailer accident. All three were stationed at Mountain Home Air Force Base, roughly 40 miles outside of Boise.
Tsar was also killed in the fatal crash. The 42-year-old trucker was an employee of KFTC, a trucking company contracted to transport and deliver freight for Boise-based Albertsons, the second-largest supermarket chain in North America.
Following the crash, authorities cited Mr. Tsar for inattentive driving. News agencies reported that prior to the fatal 2018 crash, Tsar had 20 commercial driving violations, including two license suspensions. A post-crash examination also indicated that Mr. Tsar should not have been allowed behind the wheel of a commercial vehicle because he had a driver out-of-service violation for failing to have Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) mandated electronic logbooks.
Albertsons and Other Defendants Should Be Punished to Deter Future Accidents
Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman attorneys Ronald L. M. Goldman and Clay Robbins III represent Lawrence Manlapit Jr., the father of SrA Lawrence Manlapit III, in a wrongful death lawsuit against Albertsons, KFTC, and other defendants. Together with counsel for the families of SrA Johnson and SrA Westall, the attorneys filed a motion today to add a claim for punitive damages against Albertsons and KFTC to “punish, and hopefully, deter the repeat of such events that led to this horrific fatal collision that took the lives of three innocent people and devastated their respective families.”
"At every step—from the truck driver all the way up to Albertsons—no one took safety seriously enough to prevent this horrible crash that prematurely ended three remarkable lives,” says attorney Clay Robbins III. “The trucker’s driving record had numerous red flags that would have been easy to find if anyone had bothered to check. KFTC hired him without looking into his background, and the trucker continued to add to his lengthy history of driving violations. Albertsons failed to vet KFTC, even though the company had no safety rating. Even when the FMCSA gave KFTC an ‘Unsatisfactory’ rating after this crash, Albertsons continued to retain KFTC for months.”
Robbins adds, “I want to be very clear here: this crash would never have happened if the parties involved didn’t sacrifice safety in the name of saving a dollar.”
KFTC’s Actions Warrant Punitive Damages
Before the accident that claimed the lives of the three Air Force members, KFTC had a multitude of safety performance and compliance problems. KFTC began operations in 2012 and did not have an FMCSA Safety Fitness Rating until after the 2018 crash.
According to data from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), around the time of the 2018 crash, KFTC’s driver out-of-service (not approved to operate) rate was 16.7%, which was well above the national average of 5.5%. A few months prior, in November of 2017, KFTC’s driver out-of-service rate was 37.5%—over seven times higher than the national average.
Per the filing, KFTC and its management were aware of these safety lapses. In December of 2016, the FMCSA sent a “warning letter” to KFTC noting “a trend in the violations identified during roadside inspections” and “significant non-compliance in the area(s) of Hours-of-Service Compliance.”
Attorneys for the Air Force families allege KFTC did not:
- Have a process in place to maintain driver qualification files.
- Have an hours of service policy in place and did not hold their drivers accountable for following hours of service rules.
- Review driving records to ensure their drivers are qualified for safety-sensitive functions.
- Audit their drivers’ logs to hold their drivers accountable.
- Train drivers on utilizing electronic logging devices (ELDs are used to record driving and working times electronically) on the rental trucks secured by KFTC for use in its business (such as the 2019 Volvo involved in the fatal collision).
According to the filing, as a result of these and other safety lapses, KFTC drivers were allowed to falsify their hours of service records. Officials investigating the 2018 crash found that Tsar violated hours-of-service requirements and drove for many hours more than he should have on both the day before the crash and the day of the crash. Eyewitnesses said Mr. Tsar was having trouble staying in his lane in the moments before the fatal collision, presumably because he had been on the road for longer hours than the law allows over a 48-hour period.
Albertsons’ Actions Warrant Punitive Damages
Before Albertsons entered into a transportation agreement with KFTC in 2017, Albertsons did “virtually nothing” to vet the trucking company, the attorneys allege. For example, around the time the transportation agreement was signed, KFTC had driver out-of-service rates seven times higher than the national average. KFTC also had a history of violating ELD compliance regulations. According to the court filing, Albertsons could have inquired about these and other safety shortcomings and terminated their contract with KFTC. But Albertsons never asked, even after the fatal 2018 crash.
Among other things, the transportation agreement required KFTC to maintain a ‘Satisfactory’ rating from the FMCSA and have in place safety management controls that meet or exceed safety fitness standards. The agreement also required KFTC to “immediately notify” Albertsons if it received anything less than a ‘Satisfactory’ rating. Per the contract, if KFTC received a “Conditional” or “Unsatisfactory” safety rating, it was prevented from transporting any shipments unless it received Albertsons permission.
As detailed above, KFTC did not receive a safety rating from the FMCSA until months after the 2018 crash, when the company received an ‘Unsatisfactory’ rating. Attorneys for the Air Force families maintain that Albertsons was aware that KFTC had no safety rating and made no effort to ascertain whether KFTC had the appropriate safety management controls in place. Even when KFTC received the ‘Unsatisfactory’ rating, there is no record of Albertsons contacting the company to address its safety practices. KFTC, however, did contact Albertsons to let them know that an FMCSA audit “brought to light deficiencies in [KFTC’s] hiring process and ongoing driver maintenance.” Albertsons, the attorneys say, never requested additional information from KFTC.
Per the court filing, Albertsons indifference to KFTC’s safety management profile before and after the fatal crash demonstrates a “conscious disregard or indifference for the enhanced crash risk posed by KFTC and its drivers.”
According to Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman attorneys, “Albertsons failure to investigate KFTC is even more egregious and inexcusable given Albertsons is a sophisticated motor carrier operating a large fleet of tractor-trailers in interstate commerce and thus understands the unique challenges of providing for the safe and efficient transportation of goods.”
New documents filed today:
Punitive Damages are Also Appropriate for Penhall Company and Specialty Construction Supply Company
Before the fatal 2018 crash, a professional licensed engineer prepared a temporary traffic control plan for the I-84 construction maintenance project overseen by Penhall Company with Specialty Construction Supply Company providing traffic control.The engineer determined that at least two lanes on a four-lane section of I-84 needed to remain open to traffic during construction activities.
Studies have shown that reducing lanes on a highway, especially late at night, can create dangerous conditions and increase the risk of rear-end accidents. According to the court filing, Penhall and Specialty were notified that motorists expressed concerns about the lengthy traffic backups, which extended in some points at least three miles beyond the start of the first lane closure and well beyond the advance warning zone.
Penhall, however, was behind schedule on the construction maintenance project and was motivated to avoid being assessed financial penalties under the contract, attorneys say. The filing alleges that closing an extra lane allowed the work to progress on a more expedited basis and the project to finish on time.
Reducing the number of lanes from four to one created a dangerous condition and exposed motorists to the risk of rear-end collisions. Attorneys for the Air Force families allege that both Penhall and Specialty were aware of the dangers, but neither entity did anything to rectify their self-created dangerous condition. “Penhall and Specialty’s extreme deviations from reasonable standards of conduct were a proximate cause of this senseless and horrific fatal crash and that Mr. Johnson, Ms. Westall, and Mr. Manlapit paid the ultimate price as a result,” the filing states.
New documents filed today:
About Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman
Accident attorneys from Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman represent Lawrence Manlapit Jr., the father of SrA Lawrence Manlapit III, in this case (the lead case). The firm filed a lawsuit on Manlapit Jr.’s behalf on April 11, 2019, and with today’s court filing, now seeks punitive damages as the appropriate legal avenue to punish the defendants. The district court judge in this case ordered bifurcation of the trial, which means it will be conducted in two phases. The first phase, which will begin on February 22, 2022 in The District Court of the Fourth Judicial District of the State of Idaho, In and For the County of Ada, will only address evidence relevant to liability and the second phase will address damages. The second trial phase begins on August 29, 2022.
Lead Case No. CV01-19-06625
(Consolidated with Case Nos. CV01-19-23246, CV01-20-00653, CV01-20-02624, CV01-20-07803 and CV01-20-08172)
Baum Hedlund has decades of experience holding negligent trucking companies accountable. Since 1985, the firm has won more than $4 billion in verdicts and settlements for clients, including those harmed in preventable truck accidents.