His billion-dollar judgment in hand, Curry Pajcic is speaking out about what happened in the series of truck wrecks in 2017 that took the life of Connor Dzion and led to the enormous jury award.
The arguments aren’t new; Pajcic, attorney for the Dzion family in Florida’s Nassau County court, presented them during the five-day trial. But since few people heard those in person, Pajcic appears to be on a quest to get his view of what happened out to a broader audience. He held a press conference after the verdict, and a Pajcic & Pajcic associate reached out to FreightWaves to offer up a longer review of the events of that night.
Pajcic has the advantage of the “other side” being quiet or nonexistent. One of the two trucking companies involved, Canada-based Kahkashan, has proved impossible to contact — for both FreightWaves and other media, based on reports. Kahkashan was represented by the Orlando office of Wilson Elser, a national law firm. But efforts to contact attorneys for the firm have failed.
The second company, Staten Island, New York-based AJD Business Services, is listed by the Department of Transportation as inactive. Its lawyer withdrew from the case in 2019, and it failed to answer any of the court’s actions going back to that year.
That clears the deck for Pajcic. The summary he provided to FreightWaves goes into great detail.
The basics of the case were widely reported. There was a truck crash on Interstate 95 north of the Jacksonville, Florida, area; weather was not a factor; Dzion rolled up to the resulting backup after about an hour; and a truck heading toward the backup at 70 mph hit the brakes a second before impact but plowed into 20 vehicles, including Dzion’s.
Connor Dzion was just 18 when he was killed. He had recently begun classes at the University of North Florida.
The statement by Pajcic takes aim at the two truck drivers involved, one who caused the backup and the second whose wreck at the tail end of it killed Dzion.
The driver of the truck that crashed first has been identified in legal documents as Russel Rogatenko, driving for AJD. Pajcic’s statement, without identifying Rogatenko by name, rips into the fact that he was behind the wheel in the first place. “The lead crash truck driver never should have been on the road with his dangerous [Pajcic’s italics] traffic and criminal history,” Pajcic wrote. “He also has a lengthy record of excessive speeding, log book violations, running weigh stations, multiple prior crashes and disqualifying traffic tickets.”
AJD “recklessly” hired him “and put him on the road in violation of every [regulation] on hiring, training, supervision, dispatching and entrustment of commercial vehicles over the road in interstate commerce,” Pajcic writes. Normal checks on his background weren’t undertaken, Pajcic said, and the attitude of AJD was “basically, whatever it took, get the job done and get paid.”
The first wreck occurred at 9:10 p.m. Pajcic said the AJD truck driver, heading south on 95, was looking down at his phone while “fast approaching” a full-size RV pulling a car behind it. Rogatenko slammed into the RV, with no record that his brakes were applied.
“The impact rips the trailered car from the RV and the car explodes into flames,” Pajcic’s statement says. With that collision, the AJD truck flipped “over and across” 95 south, blocking two of the three lanes.
AJD truck after it crashed in wreck that ultimately led to the death of Connor Dzion, presented at trial in lawsuit against AJD and Kakhashan. Source: Pajcic & Pajcic
Given the huge backup that ensued, Pajcic writes, “there are thousands of blinking and flashing lights.” Additionally, overhead signs were quickly changed to declare “Traffic crash ahead, be prepared to stop.” Pajcic notes that the signs were in English, relevant to the fact that the driver who crashed into Dzion — identified in court documents as Yadwinder Sangha — did not speak the language.
At 10:30, about 80 minutes after the first wreck, Dzion came upon the backup, which cut across all three lanes and was about eight-tenths of a mile long.
Meanwhile, Pajcic writes that Sangha was on the 25th hour of a trip between Montreal and his destination of West Palm Beach, Florida. Sangha “drives right past multiple signs warning of the traffic crash ahead,” Pajcic writes. “Either he cannot read them, or he does not see them, driving while distracted or fatigued. [Sangha] puts his fully-loaded semi-tractor trailer on cruise control at 70 mph.”
The landscape facing the driver as he approached the backup would have been a mile of “flat, straight roadway,” and at 70 mph, it would have given him more than 50 seconds to “see, perceive, react to and avoid the traffic jam ahead, just like hundreds of vehicles had done before him,” Pajcic writes. However, the black box download from the truck records the truck applying its brakes just one second before the collision.
After the wreck, Pajcic writes, Sangha went back to Canada. Efforts to find him and his cell phone data were ignored as “powerless in Canada,” Pajcic writes.
Pajcic then recaps the gut-wrenching way in which Dzion’s parents became concerned when he didn’t arrive home, headed out to the scene of the wreck and saw their son’s body on the road.
Pajcic writes that his firm had at first offered to settle at the limits of the company’s insurance coverage, but AJD rejected that. The recap does note that, as one attorney had earlier said was likely, the insurer for AJD “tendered its limits without resolving all the claims,” at an amount that was earlier rejected in settlement talks. But Pajcic said the amount that was tendered that already had been rejected came after “some adverse rulings by the trial court.”
That was followed by the withdrawal of the firm representing AJD, Cole, Scott & Kissane. Court documents note that there was no replacement attorney, and AJD was not heard from again.
The $900 million in punitive damages that AJD was hit with, Pajcic writes, was for the “despicable conduct in the hiring, supervision, dispatching and entrustment of a known dangerous driver.”
Pajcic says nothing about the collectibility of the award, though given that AJD is essentially a ghost and the insurer has paid out its limits, even a small portion of the gigantic jury award is likely uncollectible. (The billion-dollar total comes from an additional $100 million in an award mostly to be borne by Kahkashan).
Still, Pajcic notes that the size of the total award is a sign that “the jury wanted to send a message: follow and enforce the rules we all share and that protect us all.”
“In summary this is a very sad and tragic case involving terrible truckers and a terrible trucking company,” Pajcic concludes.