Family of California truck driver awarded $3.5 million for death caused by transmission leak fire

by Eric Pearson

Witnesses found a 2000 Freightliner 18-wheeler engulfed in flames beside Interstate 40 West near San Jon, New Mexico early one morning in 2010. The driver, Amarjit Khunkhun, was found burned to death in the sleeper of the truck.

Fire officials for the State of New Mexico concluded that the fire had started within the cab. The New Mexico officials theorized that Mr. Khunkhun’s use of a Coleman stove may have caused the fire. However, no stove or propane tanks were found during the investigation. Indeed, attorneys representing the family of Mr. Khunkhun could find no evidence to support the theory that the fire started within the cab. The attorneys decided to conduct their own investigation.

The attorneys working for Mr. Khunkhun’s family retained both an expert in fire origin and an expert in truck mechanics. The fire expert ultimately determined that the fire started underneath the cab. The truck expert determined that the rig’s transmission had been severely damaged as a result of leaks in the transmission. Scientific testing then established that the leaking transmission fluid had caused the fire.

Mr. Khunkhun’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the owners of the truck, GMG Trucking of Fresno, California. The lawsuit alleged that the company had failed to properly maintain the semi-truck. As a result of poor maintenance, the truck leaked transmission fluid and caused the fire underneath the cab of the truck, alleged the suit.

During pre-trial discovery, evidence was found that the trucking company had been aware of a transmission leak, but failed to take appropriate steps to repair it. The plaintiffs presented evidence at trial that the company had violated federal regulations in their maintenance and inspection of the truck.

A Fresno County, California jury has now returned a $3.5 million verdict in favor of the Khunkhun’s family. The jury found the defendants were negligent and 85% responsible for Khunkhun’s death. The verdict was reduced by 15 percent as a result of the jury finding that Khunkhun was comparatively negligent.

Need help with a claim against a trucking company?

As the lawsuit pursued Mr. Khunkhun’s family helps to illustrate, pursuing a claim for damages against a trucking company can be difficult and expensive. The attorneys working for Mr. Khunkhun’s family were obligated to fund their own investigation of the fire and incident. They had to hire experts in fire origin and truck mechanics. And, they had to be willing to spend the money and time necessary to take the case all the way to trial and to a jury’s verdict.

You can count on most trucking companies and their insurance companies to have plenty of money and time to spend fighting against your claim. You will need experienced, aggressive attorneys to fight back. You need attorneys who will not only work hard but can and will spend what it takes to force the trucking companies and their insurers to take responsibility for their actions.

The attorneys at Heygood, Orr & Pearson have tried dozens of cases involving accidents with 18-wheelers and other large commercial vehicles. Our attorneys have helped achieve a $36 million verdict for the family of a teenager injured in a bus crash in East Texas. They have negotiated a $15 million settlement of a case involving an 18-wheeler accident that killed several members of the same family. And they achieved verdicts or settlements of $7.25 million, $5.2 million, $5 million, and $1.8 million in other 18-wheeler cases, just to name a few.

Our success stems from the fact that the attorneys at Heygood, Orr & Pearson, are trial attorneys in the truest sense. Our attorneys have tried hundreds of cases to verdict. Among our team are numerous attorneys who are board certified* and who have been voted by their peers as Super Lawyers in the state of Texas for several years in a row.**

Thanks to our success, we possess the financial resources to handle a case from start to finish. In fact, there are many instances in which we invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in a case in order to take it to trial.

If you or a loved one has been injured or if you have lost someone in an accident involving a commercial truck, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries, pain and suffering. Contact us today by calling toll-free at 1-877-446-9001 or by following the link to our website contact form to receive a free consultation to discuss your legal rights and options.


* Michael Heygood, James Craig Orr, Jr. and Eric Pearson are all Board Certified in Personal Injury Trial Law — Texas Board of Legal Specialization.

** Michael Heygood, James Craig Orr, Jr. and Eric Pearson were selected to the Super Lawyers List, a Thomson Reuters publication, for the years 2003 through 2014.