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Jury Verdict Against UPS for Fatal Crash Upheld

(CN) - UPS owes $3.8 million after the driver of one of its 18-wheelers caused a crash that killed a truck driver, the Connecticut Court of Appeals ruled.

The accident occurred near 3 a.m. in November 2010 while Joseph Socha was driving a tractor-trailer for UPS on Interstate 395 in Norwich, Conn.

Socha hit George Upton Jr.'s pickup truck from behind, sending it off the road, over the guardrail and down an embankment. Upton was ejected from his truck and died.

Gary Birkhamshaw, the administrator of Upton's estate, sued UPS for wrongful death sounding in recklessness and negligence. Upton's wife, Julie, joined the lawsuit with a loss of consortium claim.

Their case ended with a jury awarding Birkhamshaw $508,132 in economic damages and $1.5 million in non-economic damages, while Mrs. Upton received $1.875 million for loss of consortium.

UPS appealed, arguing that Mrs. Upton lacked standing because she was not named in the summons. The Connecticut Court of Appeals disagreed and affirmed on April 1.

"The defendants did not file a timely notice to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction," Judge Raheem Mullins wrote for a three-person panel.

The court also considered whether it was proper for the jury to hear certain colorful testimony from Birkhamshaw - that Upton "drove like a grandma" and had received a jacket from his employer for driving for 1 million miles without an accident.

UPS said this evidence of Upton's sparkling driving record was improperly admitted as character evidence, but Mullins said the error was harmless.

"The evidence vaguely was related to the central issue in this case, namely, whether Socha legally was responsible for the accident that killed the decedent," Mullins wrote.

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