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Attorney: Boone County jury issued $74 million verdict against Eaton Asphalt in woman’s death

Published: Jul. 13, 2021 at 12:09 PM EDT
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BOONE COUNTY, Ky. (Cincinnati Enquirer) - A Boone County jury has ruled that a road construction company should pay $74 million to the children of a woman killed in a 2019 crash, said an attorney who sued the company.

The jury verdict issued Monday calls for $50 million in punitive damages, the Cincinnati Enquirer said in citing the attorney.

Amy Skiba, a retired Boone County school guidance counselor, was driving her twin son and daughter to school the morning of Jan. 9, 2019, on Richwood Road in Walton. The Honda Accord she was driving was struck by a 2003 Chevrolet flatbed truck driven by Darrin Carroll. The 45-year-old Skiba was killed in the crash. The children in the vehicle were treated for injuries.

The civil lawsuit against Walton-based Eaton Asphalt was filed by attorneys Ron Johnson and Jay Vaughn on behalf of Skiba’s three children.

“[Skiba] was just the perfect mother, these children adored her,” Johnson told FOX19 Now. “They have been absolutely devastated since this happened. They’ve never had any sense of closure. No one had ever taken any accountability for what happened.”

Eaton’s attorney in the case and the company did not immediately respond Monday to requests for comment.

Eaton has been an asphalt contractor in Northern Kentucky since 1916, according to the company’s website. The company has asphalt-making plants in Covington, Walton, and Maysville to make pavement for public roads, commercial parking lots and private roads, according to the company’s website. Eaton is owned by the Sharonville-based Jurgensen Companies.

Eaton paved the section of Richwood Road where the crash happened in 2018, according to court documents filed by Johnson.

Days before the road project deadline in the fall of 2019, the asphalt company requested and received permission from a Kentucky Transportation Cabinet official to skip grinding off the road surface in a process called milling, according to court documents.

A KYTC project engineer testified, according to court documents, that he allowed Eaton to not mill because he knew the contract required putting in a safety wedge along the roadway’s edge to reduce the risk created by a higher roadway edge.

Court documents filed on May 26 allege that not milling the road made the pavement 1.25 inches higher than if the old pavement would have been milled off.

Court documents state that Carroll’s right-front tire dropped off the road’s edge.

Carroll had been able to get a truck’s wheels back on the road after slipping off the edge elsewhere in Northern Kentucky, according to court documents.

That didn’t happen this time.

The truck’s other right tire slipped off the edge, court documents state. The truck then struck a driveway that was a nearly 10-inch vertical face to the truck’s tire, according to court records.

The truck became partially airborne, court documents said. Carroll lost control as the truck entered the road again and yawed into oncoming traffic, according to court documents.

“He was not impaired... the road had been repaved about two months prior, and it had been done incorrectly, and it created a very hazardous and dangerous road edge,” Johnson told FOX19 NOW. “This was completely avoidable. All the contractor had to do was follow the requirements of the contract that they had with the state transportation cabinet.”

Boone Circuit Court Judge James Schrand ordered the civil lawsuit’s claims against Carroll and the truck’s owner Patricia Ward to be dismissed on Friday, according to court documents. The attorneys for the children and Carroll and Ward agreed to drop the claims and for each side to pay their own attorney fees.

Johnson Claims Against Eaton Asphalt | Road Surface | Road

Johnson said the tapered edge of a safety wedge is designed to prevent this specific kind of crash. Johnson said Eaton officials in court said they hadn’t installed safety wedges elsewhere.

“They used it as a defense to say that it was OK to do this,” Johnson said. “They said we’ve done it other times and nobody has gotten mad before, well this jury got mad.”

Carroll was initially indicted on charges including second-degree manslaughter in connection with the crash. On April 1, all charges against Carroll were dismissed at the request of the prosecuting attorney’s office.

Prosecutors received new evidence in January 2021, provided by attorneys representing Skiba’s three children.

A review of evidence in January, specifically what caused the crash, revealed that there was no evidence to support the charges, said Jason E. Hiltz, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney for Boone and Gallatin counties in a court filing requesting the dismissal that was granted.

“He was not to blame,” Johnson said of Carroll. “It was the road contractor.”

Johnson said there was a separate settlement in a lawsuit involving a different attorney on behalf of Skiba’s estate.

On the day of the crash, Skiba’s then-17-year-old son was driving a car down the same road behind his mother, Johnson said. He got there before first-responders, Johnson said.

“The verdict was for $74 million,” Johnson said. “$8 million for each child loss of their mother and their emotional distress, and an additional $50 million in punitive damages (against Eaton).

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