The Kansas City Star
A federal judge Tuesday awarded more than $ 1 million to the survivors of a postal – truck accident that killed a 3-year-old West Side girl.
The order from U.S. District Judge Gary Fenner culminated a two-year legal struggle that began April 21, 1998, when a postal truck slammed into the building in which Andrea Nicole Salazar was sleeping.
In the case, US Postal Service officials acknowledged liability because the driver, who jumped from the vehicle before the crash, had been negligent in his operation of the truck.
Lawyers representing Andrea’s family and the Postal Service argued over damages in a three-day bench trial before Fenner in late September.
The government does not foresee appealing Fenner’s order, said Chris Whitley, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office, which represented the Postal Service.
Lawyer Anita Porte Robb, who represented Andrea’s family, said the Postal Service’s admission of responsibility was an important factor in the case.
“It’s pretty tragic,” Robb said. “These were the kinds of folks they had driving the postal vehicles. It’s pretty frightening.”
In December 1998 after a four day trial, a Jackson County jury acquitted the driver, Sinclair L. Taylor, of careless driving.
In his two-page order, Fenner did not explain how he arrived at his final damage figures. He did however, award:
$850,00 to Andrea’s parents for her death;
$50,000 to her mother, Jenny Salazar, for emotional distress;
$25,000 to the family for injuries suffered by Andrea’s brother, Dario Salazar, who was 2 years old at the time of the accident; and
$100,000 to Jesus Manuel Valles, her father, for physical injuries and emotional distress.
Whitley noted that government lawyers suggested damages of $650,000 at the end of the case in September. The plaintiffs had asked for $5.75 million.
In filing the federal wrongful death and personal injury lawsuit in April 1999, Robb said the Postal Service initially had denied an administrative claim for damages from the parents. The lawsuit, she said, was to establish whether driver training, poor maintenance or improper loading contributed to the accident.
The original lawsuit also named the owner of the apartment building, Richard G. Keller, as a defendant, saying he knew the building had been hit by runaway vehicles before and should have taken reasonable steps to protect the building.
The building at 615 W. 20th St. sat at the bottom of the exit ramp off Interstate 35. It was demolished after the accident.
Fenner, however, dismissed Keller from the case, ruling in July that there was no evidence Keller knew or should have known of the building’s vulnerability to runaway vehicles.