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Demetrio Nagtalon rented a truck from U-Haul in San Francisco in December 2006, to move equipment from a video store he operated. When he had problems with the truck’s parking brake, he drove it back to the U-Haul rental center for help. Bobby Johnson, a U-Haul employee, slid under the dashboard with pliers, trying to fix the parking brake. Instead of a repaired truck, Nagtalon ended up with a crushed pelvis and massive internal injuries; he died two hours later.

When Johnson started working on the truck, he left the engine running and the truck on an incline; he didn’t block the wheels. When he pulled on the truck’s parking brake cable, the truck started rolling; Nagtalon rushed forward, trying to help Johnson, who called Nagtalon “a hero” in police department papers. Nagtalon ended up pinned between the truck and a steel column. Nagtolon, 63, died later at a Bay Area hospital. “He got hurt trying to save me” Johnson told plice.

Nagtalon’s widow and surviving children have filed a wrongful death action against U-Haul, claiming the company, and Johnson, were negligent in faling to turn off the truck’s motor, put the vehicle in “Park” or make repairs in a safe location.

U-Haul says it was not its actions, or its employees’ that caused Nagtalon’s death; instead, says U-Haul, “the cause of this accident was Mr. Nagtalon’s actions, which placed his safety at risk in a situation where his assistance was not required.”

The Los Angeles Times has written about persistent safety problems with U-Haul trucks and trailers, claiming that U-Haul’s fleet includes many aging, high-mileage vehcles that don’t meet U-Haul’s own safety standards. According to the Times report, it’s not unusual for untrained or inexperienced U-Haul employees, like Johnson, to attempt on-the-fly repairs to keep these vehicles on the road.

The truck Nagtalon rented was 13 years old and had over 180,000 miles on the odometer; a week earlier it had been in for repairs to its parking brake; according to U-Haul’s repair records, the brake would not disengage, the same problem Nagtalon experienced.

Nagtalon’s survivors are seeking damages from U-Haul as a result of Nagtalon’s death.

For more information on this subject matter, please refer to the section on Wrongful Death.

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