Massachusetts Construction Company Sued Over Fatal Highway Accident

By DENISE LAVOIE | April 20, 2012

Yingzi “Sharon” Wang remembers the crushing weight of a backhoe landing on top of her minivan as her family drove along Interstate 495.

The construction vehicle had fallen off a National Grid truck, forcing Wang off the highway and down an embankment. Her 70-year-old mother, Xiaoyun Jiang, was crushed to death. Wang suffered a broken back, and her two children were also seriously hurt.

The Westford, Mass., family filed a wrongful death lawsuit Tuesday against National Grid and its driver seeking unspecified damages. Their suit alleges that National Grid drivers had complained that the company’s new trucks were difficult to stop and control when traveling down hills, but the company directed one of its employees to test drive one of the vehicles while towing a backhoe on a busy highway.

“I can hear my children screaming, ‘Help my grandma,”‘ Sharon Wang said Wednesday during a news conference Wednesday at her lawyer’s Boston office.

“The horror of that will never leave us,” she said.

A spokeswoman for National Grid said the company does not comment on pending litigation.

“We extend our deepest sympathies to Mrs. Jiang and her family,” spokeswoman Jackie Barry said.

The truck was traveling in Southborough on Aug. 12 when the driver, a National Grid foreman, lost control and the 17,000-lb. backhoe broke loose from its restraints.

The family’s lawsuit says National Grid had replaced its fleet of heavy, 10-wheeled service trucks in early 2011 with smaller, 6-wheeled trucks to tow heavy equipment, including front-end loaders and backhoes.

Soon after, National Grid drivers began complaining that the new trucks did not have enough power to properly haul heavy equipment and were difficult to stop and control when traveling down hills, the lawsuit says.

After doing his own test drive, a company executive issued a memo to one of the utility’s divisions instructing drivers not to use the trucks to haul heavy equipment, the lawsuit states. But Jeffrey Fisher, a foreman from another division, was instructed to test drive one of the trucks towing a backhoe on the day of the accident, according to the lawsuit.

The family’s lawyer, Brad Henry, said the decision to test drive the vehicle combination on a busy highway on a summer afternoon amounts to “gross negligence” on the part of the utility.

“There’s an arrogance in caring so little for the safety of the public,” Henry said.

Fisher could not immediately be reached for comment. A message was left at his home.

Fisher’s commercial driver’s license was suspended indefinitely after the accident.

A spokesman for Worcester District Attorney Joseph Early Jr., who has been investigating the accident, would not comment on the status of the inquiry other than to say it is ongoing.

Henry said National Grid took the trucks out of service the day after the accident.

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