OCTOBER 21, 2010 -- In a trial that ended Thursday, a jury awarded $35.25 million to the family of a woman killed four years ago on Interstate 70, their attorneys said.
Anita Gibbs was one of four Kansas City women who died in 2006 while on their way to celebrate a family wedding anniversary. While they were stopped for an accident east of Columbia, a tractor-trailer rig slammed into the rear of their car.
At the time of her death, Gibbs, 55, was principal of Askew Elementary School in Kansas City. Gibbs’ case was the last of four wrongful death suits to go to court, attorneys said.
The verdict went against the Michigan-based CenTra Trucking Co., which employed the truck driver, George Albright, Jr., then 61, of Clarksville, Tenn.
Albright was tried in 2008 on four counts of second-degree manslaughter and found not guilty.
But at the civil trial, attorneys argued that Albright was tired as he drove and that he falsified his trucking logs to indicate that he had rested an adequate amount.
“We subpoenaed his cell phone records and they showed that he was in Illinois when his log said he was in Columbia,” said attorney Danny Thomas.
He and colleague Ken McClain represented Gibbs’ family in the case, which was heard in Boone County Circuit Court.
“CenTra was reckless in ignoring Albright’s driving record and his failure to adhere to established company policies,” McClain said in a statement.
David A. Domina, who represented the trucking company, could not be reached Thursday evening.
Among those testifying at the trial, Thomas said, were U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Kansas City, who flew in from Washington, D.C.; former Kansas City School District Superintendent Bernard Taylor, who traveled from Grand Rapids, Mich.; and Shawn Edwards, a former student of Gibbs who is now a film critic for Fox 4 – WDAF. All were friends of Gibbs and spoke of her qualities as a teacher and a person.
The other family members killed in the wreck were Beverly Garrett, 57, head of the local federal government employees union and a United Way board member; her mother, Beulah Hunter, 94; and Hunter’s sister, Elois Jeans, 81.
Their immediate families settled in April 2008 and received $18 million total, choosing not to enter the punitive phase of the case.
“The Gibbs family went all the way in this,” Thomas said.
The jury in the Gibbs trial returned a $5.25 million compensatory verdict Tuesday and awarded $30 million in punitive damages Thursday, according to a news release.
However, the verdict could be appealed, Thomas said, which could take up to two years.
By LEE HILL KAVANAUGH
The Kansas City Star