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Oklahoma Supreme Court upholds jury verdict for Toby Keith's family

The state's high court sided with a $2.8 million judgment awarded to Toby Keith's mother and her children in the traffic death of Keith's father, H.K. Covel.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT Published: February 1, 2012

The state Supreme Court on Tuesday overruled an appellate court and reinstated a $2.8 million judgment awarded to country music star Toby Keith's mother, Carolyn Joan Covel, and her children in the traffic death of the Norman singer's father.

The defendants in the case, a Tulsa bus company and an Arizona insurance company, had successfully appealed the 2007 McClain County jury verdict to the state Court of Civil Appeals.

The appellate court reversed the verdict with directions to enter judgment for the defendants, Elias and Pedro Rodriguez, doing business as Rodriguez Transportes, and Republican Western Insurance Co. The Covels appealed to the state Supreme Court.

During the jury trial, an expert in accident reconstruction testified that a bus with properly working brakes would have slowed enough so the collision would not have been as severe and Keith's father, H.K. Covel, would not have died in the 2001 accident. The defendants did not object to that testimony during the trial, according to the Supreme Court's opinion.

The Supreme Court voted 8-1 to reinstate the jury's verdict.

After a five-day trial, jurors unanimously found against the bus company and the insurance company, and awarded the Covel family members $2.8 million and $5,000 in punitive damages. According to evidence presented at the trial, the charter bus owned by the Rodriguezes was in need of brake work and the owners had been advised of the brake problem before the March 2001 accident on Interstate 35 near Goldsby.

Covel, who was from Moore, was driving north on Interstate 35 when his pickup was bumped by another vehicle, knocking it across the median, according to testimony during the trial. The pickup collided with a southbound charter-type bus carrying 21 passengers, including the owners. The bus was in the outside southbound lane and Covel's pickup and the bus collided almost head-on.

Initially it was speculated that Covel might have suffered a medical problem, causing his truck to veer out of control. But lawyers for Covel's family asserted that Covel's truck had been bumped from the rear by another driver.

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