Mother sues Weather Channel for $125 million over storm chaser's death

By Glenn Minnis | Apr 1, 2019

LUBBOCK, Texas (Legal Newsline) – Attorneys for the mother of a man killed in a violent Texas collision with two Weather Channel storm chasers have filed a $125 million wrongful death lawsuit.

Filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas on March 25, the suit by Karen Di Piazza, mother of storm chaser Corbin Lee Jaeger and the representative of his estate, names the Weather Channel and the estates of Kelley Gene Williamson and Randall Yarnall, who also died in the crash, as defendants, along with others.

The plaintiff is represented by Lubbock, Texas, firm of McCleskey Harriger Brazill & Graf LLP and the Law Offices of Robert A. Ball in San Diego.

"The Weather Channel had the opportunity to pull these two individuals off the road or hire a competent, law-abiding driver," the suit states. 

"Instead, The Weather Channel made Williamson and Yarnall television stars, breaking laws, driving on private property, driving off road, in ditches, through hail storms, driving the wrong way on freeway ramps, on the wrong side of the roadway, through red lights and stop signs, all to increase the sense of danger to their television audience and sell advertising and have a hit show. The result was the death of a young man, Corbin Lee Jaeger."

The suit states all three victims were out seeking footage as part of the work that they did on March 28, 2017, when the black Chevy Suburban transporting Williamson and Yarnall raced through a stop sign near Spur at speeds as high as 70 mph and struck 25-year-old Jaeger's Jeep Patriot.

Stars of The Weather Channel-aired “Storm Wranglers” show, Williamson and Yarnall were live-streaming on the network’s Facebook page at the time of the accident, the suit states.

While both The Weather Channel employees had gained a national following without the benefit of having any formal training for the work that they did, Di Piazza was quoted in the Washington Post saying that her son, who worked as a certified storm spotter for the National Weather Service, “had such a deep passion for the weather since he was a young child.”

From Missouri, both Williamson and Yarnall were cattle farmers who the lawsuit contends had a history of "reckless driving."

Not long before the deadly episode, The Washington Post reported a producer for the network had exchanged long text messages with another storm chaser on the subject of the two’s reckless nature, with the producer vowing to make her bosses aware of growing concerns about the two.

At the time of the accident, the suit states that Jaeger had the right-of-way and was driving away from the direction of the tornado when Williamson and Yarnall’s “equipment-laden Suburban” barreled straight ahead into Jaeger.

The suit adds that the windshield of Williamson and Yarnall's vehicle was seriously obstructed by equipment that included a radar screen, cellphone, video camera and computer.

“Unfortunately, Williamson and Yarnall, who were chicken farmers and cattle ranchers by trade, became the story, taking the life of Corbin Jaeger with them,” the lawsuit states.

Weather Channel officials have declined to directly comment on the pending litigation, only adding in a statement to The Washington Post: “We are saddened by the loss of Corbin Jaeger, Kelley Williamson and Randy Yarnall. They were beloved members of the weather community and our deepest sympathies go out to the families and loved ones of all involved.”

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The Washington Post U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas

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