BENTON, La. – A Bossier Parish jury late Friday awarded a record in Louisiana in a civil wrongful death suit stemming from an accident that killed a 4-year-old girl.
The jury’s verdict sees the Grantham family awarded a total of more than $409 million. The jury awarded 90% blame for the accident to Stuart Petroleum Testers and 10% to driver Shane DeMoss.
Testimony in the case of Kirk and Morgan Grantham v. Shane DeMoss and Stuart Petroleum Testers began Tuesday morning in Bossier Circuit Court.
The Grantham family sued DeMoss and Stuart Petroleum Testers, saying the company missed a series of red flags that should have kept DeMoss from behind the wheel. Included was a previous problem with a drug screening DeMoss had at a previous job.
Katie Grantham, also known as Katie Bug, died a few days after the accident on November 19, 2017. DeMoss was driving a Stuart Petroleum F-250 truck and ignored a red light on Kingston Road, causing him to crash into the side of Morgan Grantham’s Vehicle.
Katie Bug was a passenger. She was badly injured and died a few days later. Morgan was also seriously injured, suffering a broken neck, pelvis and broken ribs.
Witnesses said DeMoss was driving recklessly before the accident. Soldiers then gave him a field sobriety test. He refused a drug test and quit his job on the spot. Days later, a black bag containing methamphetamine residue was found in the truck.
DeMoss was not charged in Katie’s death. Instead, he was cited for running a red light. He was in jail for 10 days over the weekend.
Defense attorneys agreed that DeMoss was at fault in the incident and the family should be compensated. But it’s the crowd that was the sticking point.
But before the jury’s decision was made, Morgan Grantham wanted to make a statement on behalf of the family.
It reads as follows:
I’ll make a statement at the end of the trial, but before the jury gets back. That’s intentional because what I want to say isn’t based on what the jury decides. After Katie’s death, this community has gathered around us for us. Our community in northern Louisiana and beyond helped our family, whether they knew us personally or not, pass the Katie Bug Act that expanded accident-scene drug testing. They rallied because they heard what happened to us and they were angry with us. What we knew in private became public knowledge.
That’s why my family and I have been pushing this civil lawsuit for over 5 years…so what I knew in private could be spoken in public. I’ve waited longer for this day in court than I’ve waited for Katie.
This lawsuit is a result of another systemic issue identified after Katie’s death. Who is more responsible for keeping us safe on the streets: a man with a known history of substance abuse and bad decisions, or the people who hire him? The company he worked for and those he continues to work for have all failed to do their due diligence to ensure he is a safe driver and that we are safe with him on the roads. It’s a pattern for several oil companies to ignore the harm their addicted and unchecked employees can wreak. There were no consequences in the months leading up to our accident as this driver showed his reckless, reckless and dangerous decisions. The company just didn’t care because it didn’t affect their wallets and they ultimately protect them.
Our hope in this process was to bring to light what normally remains in the dark. I pray we did. Katie’s death was a collective loss for all of us, and I pray that this judgment will be a collective gain that helps keep us all safer.
Katie didn’t have to die, but she did at the hands of a driver and his employer who empowered him. And in her death, God has reminded me over and over again that it is good, that it is sufficient, that it has a purpose.
Praise be to God, the comforter of my broken heart.