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Parents of 7-Year-Old Killed in Collision – Battle To Overcome Conclusions of Highway Patrol Reconstruction

Case Caption: Clinton Wolf v. McFarland Truck Lines, Shelter Mutual Insurance Company and Pamla Wiley.

Venue: Andrew County Circuit Court, 09AW-CV00099, Judge Daniel Kellogg; transferred to Buchanan County Circuit Court 09BU-CV03816; Judge Daniel Kellogg,

Plaintiffs’ Attorneys: James Montee, The Montee Law Firm, St, Joseph, for Clinton Wolf; James Wisler, Wisler Law Office, Lawrence, KS, for Pamla Wiley.

Defendants’ Attorneys: Mark Buck, Fairfield & Buck, Lawrence, KS, for McFarland Truck Lines; Wm. Clayton Crawford, Foland, Wickens, Eisfelder, Roper & Hofer, Kansas City, for Shelter Insurance; Lesley Wilson, Schmitt, Manz, Swanson & Mulhern, Kansas City, for Pamla Wiley.

Insurers: Continental Western for McFarland Truck Lines; Shelter Insurance for uninsured motorist claim; Shelter Insurance for defendant Pamla Wiley.

Mediations: Mike Igoe, January 28, 2011, no settlement offer; William H. Sanders, Jr., May 2, 2011, McFarland Truck Lines offer $100,000.

Plaintiffs’ Experts: Richard Ziernicki, Knott Laboratory, LLC, Centennial, CO (Accident Reconstruction/Engineer); E. Lynn Shirey, Bell Evaluation Laboratory, Houston, TX (Paint); Kurt Krueger, Ph.D., John Ward Economics, Prairie Village, KS (Economic);

Defendants’ Experts: Stan Oglesby, Midwest Accident Reconstruction Services, L.C., Concordia, MO (Accident Reconstruction); Cline Young, Ph.D., P.E., Dallas, TX (Accident Reconstruction/Engineer); David Dustin, Dustin Productions LLC, Adairsville, GA (Animation/Engineer); Skip Palenik, Christopher P. Palenik, Ph.D., Microtrace, Elgin, IL (Paint); Ward Brian Zimmerman, Ph.D., Enterpriz Economic Consulting, LLC, Boone, NC (Economic).

St. Joseph, Missouri wrongful death attorney, and truck accident attorney, James Montee has reached a settlement on behalf of his clients relating to an Andrew County, Missouri truck accident.

On November 13, 2008, seven-year-old Trinity Wolf was a back seat passenger in a Jeep Cherokee driven by her mother Pamla Wiley on I-29 north of St. Joseph, Missouri. As Pamla approached the bridge over Route DD, it was dark and raining. A white tractor-trailer began to pass the Jeep Cherokee and side-swiped the left rear corner of the Jeep causing it to spin and strike the concrete bridge wall. The Jeep was again struck by the passing semi-truck and again pushed into the concrete bridge wall, spinning out of control.

During this spinning and series of collisions of the bridge and semi-truck with the Jeep, Trinity Wolf was ejected from the back window of the Jeep and landed on the pavement, near the center of the two northbound lanes over the bridge. Trinity suffered massive head and body injuries. Trinity survived 24 days at Children’s Mercy Hospital before dying from her injuries.

A McFarland Truck Lines tractor-trailer northbound on the bridge collided with the western bridge wall and plunged off the west side of the bridge and landed near Route DD. The tractor-trailer exploded and caught fire. The driver, Grant Mulholland, was severely injured and died within days of the wreck. His statement was never taken.

In the post-accident investigations, two vastly different theories emerged. One theory was that the McFarland truck was responsible for striking the Jeep Cherokee and causing the fatality of Trinity Wolf. The second theory was that a phantom white semi-truck struck the Jeep Cherokee and drove past the collision and fled the scene. Under this theory, Grant Mulholland driving the McFarland Truck Lines tractor-trailer came upon the scene trailing the initial collision and encountered seven-year-old Trinity Wolf lying in the middle of the roadway on the bridge. Mulholland swerved to avoid the child, struck the bridge wall and plunged over the bridge.

The initial Missouri State Highway Patrol report adopted the theory that the McFarland Truck Lines tractor-trailer was responsible for striking the Jeep and causing the tragic accident. However, the Highway Patrol changed its conclusions and withdrew this report based on further evidence discovered by the Major Crash Investigation Unit during the Missouri State Highway Patrol Accident Reconstruction Report. The Highway Patrol pointed to paint samples taken from the rear panel of the Jeep Cherokee and a surviving white front panel of the McFarland truck as not matching. The Highway Patrol also believed that the reconstructed movements of the McFarland truck did not support the conclusion that it was the responsible tractor-trailer that struck the Jeep.

In 2009, Clinton Wolf, the natural father of Trinity Wolf, filed a wrongful death lawsuit naming three defendants under alternative theories of the accident. The petition advanced an uninsured motorist claim based on the phantom vehicle theory; a claim against Pamla Wiley for her actions; and a claim against McFarland Truck Lines under the theory that their vehicle was the responsible tractor-trailer.

In November 2010, Plaintiff Clinton Wolf settled two of the three claims related to his daughter’s death. Shelter Insurance paid their $50,000 for uninsured motorist coverage on the theory that a phantom semi-truck, not a McFarland truck, caused the accident. Clinton Wolf also settled for $50,000 against Pamla Wiley, the natural mother of Trinity Wolf and the driver of the vehicle Trinity was occupying. However, McFarland Truck Lines continued to deny liability. Pamla Wiley as the natural mother of Trinity Wolf was added as a cross-plaintiff, joining Trinity’s natural father Clinton Wolf in pursuing the remaining claim against McFarland.

McFarland Truck Lines fiercely defended the position that their driver, Grant Mulholland, was a hero, driving over the bridge wall to avoid the child on the road. Exonerated by the Highway Patrol’s Major Crash Unit reconstruction report, McFarland was adamant in their position.

Plaintiffs retained paint experts who concluded that the paint transferred on the Jeep Cherokee rear panel did in fact match the McFarland truck. Plaintiff also retained accident and engineering experts who created animations explaining how the McFarland truck was responsible. McFarland countered with their own paint and reconstruction experts.

In 2011 Clinton Wolf and McFarland Truck Lines twice attempted mediation. In January 2011, mediation failed without any settlement offer. In May 2011, mediation again failed with McFarland making a single offer of $100,000 in response to the plaintiff’s demand of $1.9 million. Finally in September 2012 with a trial approaching, plaintiff and defendant McFarland Truck Lines agreed on a settlement of $800,000 for the remaining wrongful death claim against McFarland. An ERISA health insurance lien of $416,181 was negotiated to a settlement of $100,000. The remainder of the settlement proceeds were split equally between Clinton Wolf, as the natural father of Trinity Wolf, and Pamla Wiley as the natural mother.

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