It was spring 1999 and 16-year-old Leslie Groves* had just received her driver’s license. On the Friday before spring break, the popular straight-A student excitedly asked her parents for permission to drive to school that morning instead of riding the school bus. When they agreed, she called to offer her 14-year-old cousin who attended the same school a ride.

Leslie and her cousin, who lived in a rural, country town in South Carolina, only had a three-mile drive to school. In the same area, there was a work crew from a forestry company that operated out of the Southeast. This large multi-million dollar company traveled all over the Southeast to cut down timber and fertilize areas.

On this particular morning, they had an eight-man work crew that had been sent out from Florida. One of the drivers of the vehicle was unsure of where he was going. As the driver neared an upcoming intersection, Groves and her cousin were also approaching. Although the intersection was clearly marked with a stop sign, the driver barreled through the intersection, colliding with Groves’ car. Groves was killed instantly, and her cousin died five days later in the hospital.

Both families were familiar with Joye Law Firm and the similar cases they had settled in the past. They contacted Mark Joye to look into their case and find out why this accident happened.

After accepting the case, an investigation was immediately started. Shortly after, Joye discovered that the driver of the truck did not have a valid driver’s license when he was hired, and everyone on his work crew knew the situation.

“It all boiled down to the simple thing that had the company simply done any sort of inquiry into this man’s background the man would have never been hired and never gotten the job,” explained Joye.

Joye vigorously pursued the investigation, traveling all over the Southeast taking depositions and talking to people who had been employed by this large company. From these depositions, Joye also discovered that the company never checked to see if the driver had a valid driver’s license.

“Nobody had checked to find out from his references what sort of worker he was,” said Joye. “Nobody had checked to see if the man had a prior criminal record and that he wasn’t qualified to do the job in the first place. They just did absolutely no checking on this man.”

According to Joye, several workers on this man’s crew complained about his dangerous conduct to management. They reported on numerous occasions that he would stay out late drinking and then get up to drive the truck the next morning. In fact, this same driver had gone out the night before the accident drinking and using illicit drugs. His co-workers complained to the supervisor on the road crew that morning, but nothing was done about the situation.

When Joye finally got the opportunity to meet with the corporate officers, he found out the forestry company was one of the most profitable divisions in the corporation. Desperate for additional help, the company did not take time to conduct proper background checks because it would take too much time, and they had so much work that needed to be completed.

The company definitely did not want to go to trial and settled the case for a confidential amount along with a promise that they would institute new hiring and interview procedures for all employees.

“[The company’s policy change] made us feel good and certainly made the families feel good,” said Joye. “They wanted to make sure that there were changes made and nobody would have to go through the loss that they endured.”

*Names have been changed

About the Author

Mark Joye is the Head of the Litigation Department at the Joye Law Firm. A Board-Certified Trial Advocate with nearly 30 years of litigation experience, he currently serves on the Board of Governors for the American Association for Justice and is a past president of the South Carolina Association for Justice. In a recent trial, Joye headed a trial team that secured $17 million for a family killed in a tractor-trailer accident.

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