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Western District reverses defendant verdict win over jury instruction

A jury instruction has brought the case determining the alleged negligence of a truck company and its driver in a 2018 highway crash ending in a man’s death to square one after a Missouri Court of Appeals Western District opinion.

In 2018, a semi-truck collided into the box truck owned by Nicholas Zerpa, a passenger at the time of the crash on Interstate 49, killing Zerpa.

In the initial Bates County lawsuit, the late man’s wife Marsha Zerpa alleged the XPO Logistics Freight driver, Timothy Chambers, contributed to the 2018 accident by failing to brake after observing the box truck was losing control on the highway.

In 2021, a jury cleared Chambers. But the Western District determined a jury instruction in the initial case was improper. The jury instruction had directed the jury to side with the defendants if they believed “Chambers could not by use of the highest degree of care have anticipated the travel path of the oncoming box truck with sufficient accuracy to avoid the collision.”

Zerpa was represented by Brad C. Letterman of Schreimann, Rackers & Francka in Jefferson City. He could not be reached by press time.

In the Dec. 6 Western District opinion, Judge Anthony Rex Gabbert wrote on behalf of the Western District that it agreed with Zerpa’s appeal that the facts included in Jury Instruction 10, the instruction at issue, could not bar her recovery.

“Defendants’ Instruction No. 10 did not converse the ultimate issue of Chambers’s negligence under the circumstances, but instead improperly directed the jury that it could not find Chambers to be negligent, as a matter of law, if he could not have anticipated the path of the box truck,” Gabbert wrote.

Judges Karen King Mitchell and Cindy L. Martin concurred. In their reversal of the initial verdict and remand, it left Zerpa’s other questions moot on whether the verdict director improperly assumed a disputed issue and whether the instruction reframed the incident as a sole cause issue.

James R. Jarrow of Baker Sterchi Cowden & Rice in Kansas City represents the defendants. He did not respond to a call requesting comment.

The case is Zerpa v. XPO Logistics and Chambers, WD84947.

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