Shelby County judge awards $29 million to widow

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Following a Shelby County jury verdict, Circuit Court Judge Dan Reeves recently ordered Hardway Hauling Inc. and Danny Lee Hendricks to pay $29 million in civil damages in connection with a 2002 fatal accident in Columbiana.

But according to the widow of the man who was killed in the accident and her attorney, money was never the motive for the civil suit. Instead, the motive was to make people aware of the problems of drug use and companies not following the law in hiring practices and vehicle maintenance.

According to Alabaster attorney Joseph E. &uot;Joey&uot; Walden, the case arose from an accident that occurred June 14, 2002.

Timothy Douglas Robbins Sr. of Columbiana, who worked in industrial air conditioning, had taken his son, Timothy Douglas Robbins Jr., on a job with him.

They were coming back into Columbiana on Highway 70. A dump truck, headed in the opposite direction on Highway 70, crossed into Robbins’ lane and struck his pickup truck.

The dump truck continued down Highway 70 until it struck a utility pole and stopped. Robbins Jr. had to crawl out of the pickup truck over his father’s dead body, Walden said. Robbins Sr. was dead at the scene, he said.

Walden said a woman with a cellular phone took care of the younger Robbins, who was 14 at the time and let him call his mother, Regina.

He said the driver of the vehicle, Danny Lee Hendricks had been convicted of felony drug possession in 1998. And he said Hardway Trucking Company, owned by Harry T. Barton of Harpersville, had hired him anyway.

Walden said Barton did not drug test Hendricks … claiming it had fallen through the cracks.

He continued that an investigation by Columbiana police revealed Hendricks had methamphetamine in his system.

Walden said police also examined the truck driven by Hendricks.

&uot;The Department of Public Safety found the brakes were defective&uot; and &uot;The vehicle should have been out of service,&uot; he said.

Walden said Barton gave names of mechanics who reported they had not worked on the vehicle in one case for three years and another in a year.

He said the federal government requires maintenance records on such equipment and the company produced none.

Walden also said insurance on the truck driven by Hendricks had been cancelled due to non-payment. While he said Barton testified he thought the insurance had been paid by his secretary, company records showed the liability insurance company had refunded the trucking company $8,000. He said Barton reported he did not know anything about the payment.

Walden said there were two main issues reflected in this case, one, there is a &uot;terrible problem with people and drugs,&uot; specifically methamphetamines.

The second issue, he said, was &uot;a corporation that was not a good corporate citizen.&uot;

&uot;(Barton) violated all trucking regulations a trucking company is supposed to comply with, according to state and federal law.&uot;

Walden said the facts were &uot;so bad&uot; in this case that despite the fact the judgment requested was for $25 million, an award of $29 million was taxed against the defendants.

But money was not the purpose of this civil suit, according to Walden and Regina Robbins.

&uot;We knew before we went into it we would not receive any money,&uot; Robbins said.

Walden noted that Hendricks was charged with murder as a result of the accident, pled guilty and is serving a 20-year prison sentence.

She said of the verdict, &uot;It felt good because we felt all along the owner of the company had some responsibility.&uot;

Robbins has three children. Tim Jr. is now 17, Tiffany, now 13, and Tristan, age 9. When asked why he took the case, Walden said, &uot;Basically the family needed help and we wanted to see if we could help them.&uot;

He stressed, however, &uot;Mainly it was to help the public know about these problems.&uot;

Judge Reeves ordered that damages of $29 million be taxed against the defendants.

Attempts to contact Harry T. Barton were unsuccessful