Earlier this month, a Massachusetts Appeals Court upheld a $20 million verdict awarded to the family of a woman killed when a driver crashed into a Chicopee Cumberland Farms store in November 2010.
The victim was killed instantly when a speeding SUV traveled across an intersection, through the apex entrance of the store’s parking lot, and crashed through the façade of the store. It was observed that the vehicle had hit a speed of 70 miles per hour, and its wheels had actually come off the ground. At the time of impact with the victim, the vehicle was traveling at 57 miles per hour. According to the Boston Business Journal, the 81-year-old driver was not charged, as he had reportedly suffered a stroke at the time of the accident. While the driver survived the crash, he subsequently died prior to the trial.
After Kimmy Dubuque was killed her family filed a wrongful death suit against the convenience store chain. The complaint alleged that the site was dangerous and that barriers should have been installed to prevent vehicles from colliding into the building. Specifically, it was alleged that Cumberland stores had been struck by vehicles on hundreds of locations, and was on notice of the risks that vehicles posed to customers at its stores. While there had been no car strikes on the Chicopee store, the complaint alleged that Cumberland was still on notice of the risk.
After the initial 9-day trial, a jury found Cumberland Farms negligent and awarded the victim’s family $32.3 million in compensatory damages. The jury found that Cumberland Farms had acted with gross negligence, or had engaged in willful, wanton, or reckless conduct, and awarded another $10 in punitive damages. Dubuque’s family waived the punitive damage award, as it fell below the $5,000 statutory limit.
In August 2016, a Hampden Superior Court judge reduced the jury’s award from $32.3 million to $20 million. According to the Court, this reduced award reflects the “actual damages caused by Cumberland Farms’ negligence and gross negligence.” The June 2018 appeals court ruling followed this holding, while also denying Cumberland Farms’ request for a new trial.
On its appeal, Cumberland argued that it could not have prevented the accident, given the size and speed of the vehicle, as it was traveling at a rate of 70 miles per hour. Cumberland also argued that there had been no prior accidents of similarity at the Chicopee location, and that the trial court erred by allowing the jury to view an internal document noting 485 car strikes across all locations from the years 2000-2009. The appeals court rejected both arguments and denied Cumberland’s claim of jury bias. The court held that, although the jury’s initial award was excessive, it did act out of passion in finding liability. Rather, the jury acted reasonably in finding Cumberland Farms negligent.
Cumberland Farms has declined to comment on the ruling.