Articles Posted in Truck Accident Cases

Earlier this month, an appellate court in Florida issued a written opinion in a truck accident case involving an accident caused while the owner of the truck was present in the cab but not operating the truck. The court was required to determine if the truck’s owner should have his liability reduced under a state law that limits an owner’s liability to $100,000 when liability is based only on the fact that the owner loaned the vehicle to another person who negligently caused the accident. The court ultimately determined that the owner did loan the vehicle to the driver and limited his liability accordingly.

The Facts of the CaseTruck on Highway

The plaintiffs’ daughter attempted to pass the truck owned by the defendant. As their daughter began to pass the truck, she was in a passing zone, but as she entered her own lane of travel, she was in a no-passing zone. When she crossed back into her lane of travel, she noticed another vehicle was stopped, waiting to make a left turn. She quickly applied her brakes and was able to stop; however, the truck behind her was not able to stop and rear-ended her. The plaintiffs’ daughter was killed in the accident, and her parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit against both the truck’s driver and its owner.

As it turns out, the owner of the truck had been driving but previously asked the passenger to drive while he took a nap in the back.

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In New Mexico personal injury cases, there are several types of awards that a successful plaintiff may be awarded. The most common type of damages is compensatory damages. These damages include amounts for lost wages, medical expenses, and pain and suffering. Compensatory damages are designed to put the plaintiff back into the position in which they were before the accident resulting in their injuries.

Truck DriverThe other category of damages available in some New Mexico truck accident cases is punitive damages. Unlike compensatory damages, punitive damages are designed to punish the defendant for especially reprehensible conduct and to deter other potential defendants from engaging in similar conduct. Punitive damages awards are often significant, but obtaining them can be difficult.

In New Mexico, punitive damages require a showing that the defendant’s conduct was “willful, wanton, malicious, reckless, oppressive, grossly negligent, or fraudulent and in bad faith.” New Mexico courts use several factors in determining if punitive damages are appropriate. Essentially, courts will look at the type of harm suffered and the level of reckless disregard the defendant exhibited when determining if punitive damages should be awarded.

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Truck drivers are almost always employed by a private trucking company. These trucking companies generally provide training and set routes and designate responsibilities and job requirements for the truck driver employee. As a result, when a truck driver causes an accident due to their own negligence, it is sometimes possible to hold the trucking company liable for at least some part of the damages that the victim incurred.

Truck on HighwayIn order to succeed in a truck accident case against an employer, a plaintiff can rely on the theory of vicarious liability. This theory encompasses the idea that employers can be responsible for the acts of their employees. In order to succeed in a claim of this nature, the plaintiff must be able to establish that the truck driver was acting within the scope of employment when they acted negligently. In certain cases, trucking companies will try to avoid liability by arguing that the truck driver was an independent contractor, and therefore the company should not be held responsible. However, an experienced New Mexico plaintiff’s attorney can assist accident victims in challenging this defense.

It is also important to note that in certain instances, employers may be held liable under a unique and separate theory of liability. This may occur when the plaintiff can establish that the company negligently trained, hired, or maintained their equipment. If a trucking company does not provide proper upkeep of a vehicle, and the lack of upkeep is what caused or exacerbated the accident, the company may be held liable. Moreover, it is the responsibility of the trucking company to provide the employee with proper job training. If the company fails to do this, it may be held liable if the employee causes an accident due to lack of training or supervision. Finally, trucking companies should be diligent in their hiring practices. This includes properly screening applicants and ensuring that they possess the skills necessary to safely operate a truck. If a trucking company fails to do this, once again, they can be held liable for any accident that their employee causes.

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Earlier this month in Alabama, an appellate court discussed when it is appropriate for a lower court to set aside a default judgment that has been entered in favor of a plaintiff when the defendant failed to respond to the plaintiff’s lawsuit. The recent case discussed the three-factor test applied in Alabama, which is similar to the two-factor test applied in New Mexico courts.

Logging TruckThe Facts of the Case

The defendant was a truck driver who was planning to unload cargo off his truck after backing the truck into his driveway. As he was lining the truck up to back it into his driveway, it necessarily was blocking all lanes of travel. The plaintiff, a minor, was driving a van and struck the defendant’s truck. The plaintiff was seriously injured as a result and filed a personal injury lawsuit against the truck driver.

After three months, the truck driver had not officially responded to the lawsuit and the plaintiff asked the court to enter a default judgment against the defendant. A default judgment is the court’s mechanism for ruling in favor of the plaintiff when the defendant fails to respond to the lawsuit. Because the defendant had not yet filed any response, a default judgment was entered in the amount of $550,000.

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The Ohio Supreme Court published a decision recently that rejected a plaintiff’s personal injury claim because the defendant was protected by the state’s Good Samaritan law, which broadly relieves any person who administers emergency care or treatment at the scene of an emergency from liability for negligence. The plaintiff had sued the defendant and alleged that he acted negligently when attempting to move the truck by which the plaintiff had been accidentally struck.

Semi-Truck

The Plaintiff Suffered an Injury After He Was Pinned Between a Truck and a Loading Dock

The plaintiff in the case of Carter v. Reese was a man who was seriously injured after the defendant found him pinned by a semi-truck and attempted to render aid and move the truck. The plaintiff’s lawsuit alleged that the defendant failed to operate the truck properly and worsened the plaintiff’s injuries by mistakenly putting the transmission in reverse after being told by the plaintiff not to do so, resulting in the plaintiff’s leg being broken and ultimately amputated.

The Defendant Was Protected By the State’s Good Samaritan Law

In response to the plaintiff’s personal injury lawsuit, the defendant cited state laws that are designed to protect anyone responding in an emergency situation and attempting to render aid or assistance. Since the defendant was responding to a random emergency and trying to help the plaintiff out of an emergency situation, he was found to be completely immune from liability for any injuries that were sustained by the plaintiff as a result of the defendant’s allegedly negligent operation of the truck he attempted to operate. The Ohio Supreme Court agreed with the lower court’s ruling that Ohio’s Good Samaritan statute protects both medical professionals and members of the general public from liability, whether they are rendering medical care or other emergency assistance.

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit recently published an opinion that reversed a federal district court’s decision in a wrongful death case that had been filed based on a fatal New Mexico semi-truck accident involving a tractor-trailer. The appellate court ruled that, for the purpose of determining insurance policy limits, the tractor and detached trailer involved in the accident are a single vehicle. The lower court had previously determined that the policy limits for both the insured vehicles involved in the accident could be accumulated to cover the plaintiff’s damages, but the appellate court disagreed. Based on the most recent appellate ruling, the insurance company will only be required to cover the policy limit of a single vehicle.

Big TruckA Disconnected Trailer Results in a Deadly Crash

The plaintiffs in the case of Ace v. Romero are the surviving family members of a man who was killed in a New Mexico accident involving a semi-truck and trailer insured by the defendant on a dark night in March 2011. According to the facts discussed in the appellate opinion, the deceased was driving on the dark highway and crashed into an unlit trailer that was in the middle of the road. The trailer had been attached to a tractor but somehow became disconnected, and the crash occurred before the truck driver was able to turn around and reconnect it to the rig. The plaintiffs later filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the truck driver and his insurance company, alleging over $2 million in total damages.

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An appellate court recently issued an opinion regarding a trucking accident lawsuit that hinged on jurisdiction. The lawsuit stemmed from a 2014 accident in which a SUV and a tractor-trailer were on a Texas highway. The SUV had an engine failure, and the car stopped immediately in front of the truck in the far right lane. The truck slammed into the SUV, and it was pinned to a wall. Both the truck and the SUV were seriously damaged, one of the SUV’s occupants was killed, and the other was seriously injured.

Supreme CourtThe trucking company filed a lawsuit against the SUV driver for property damage in one county. The family then brought a personal injury lawsuit against the trucking company in another county. Both parties argued that the case should be heard in the county of their choice. Both parties went on to file dueling pleas in their respective counties. The case went all the way to the state supreme court.

The court held in favor of the trucking company. The court stated that even if the trucking company’s conduct was inequitable, the family failed to allege that the trucking company’s behavior caused them a delay in filing. Ultimately, the court held that even if it is expected that parties may “race to the courthouse” to ensure that their forum is dominant, it is crucial that the race is not unfairly run.

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In early May 2016, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled on a products liability case surrounding a defective truck under-ride guard. According to the court’s opinion, the accident in question occurred in 2010 when a 28-year-old mother was driving near San Juan when her Jeep collided with a truck. Apparently, the front of the Jeep hit the truck from behind and “underrode” the truck’s main body. Sadly, the accident resulted in the truck slicing the woman’s head and face, which ultimately caused her death.

Truck on HighwayThe woman’s family members brought a lawsuit against the driver and municipality, claiming that the truck’s under-ride guard was defective. The plaintiff’s experts claimed that a large part of the truck was not protected by an under-ride guard and that the guard was not sufficiently designed to sustain impacts because it was not supported properly by the beams.

The experts concluded that the Jeep’s safety features were unable to perform effectively because the truck did not have appropriate under-ride guards. The experts also testified at trial that there are safer alternative guard designs for the truck in question. A verdict in favor of the plaintiff was handed down, and the defendants appealed on the basis of the jury’s damages award as well as the inclusion of the plaintiff’s expert testimony. However, the First Circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision to allow the expert testimony regarding the conclusion that safer alternatives to the under-ride guard existed at the time.

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The Court of Appeals in Maryland recently heard a case involving an injured plaintiff who was hit by a dump truck. The dump truck company was operated by an individual and owned by a trucking company. A third-party concrete company hired the trucking company to conduct some work on their behalf. Apparently, the plaintiff was crossing an intersection when he was hit by the dump truck. The injured plaintiff brought a claim of negligence against the driver, the trucking company, and the concrete company that contracted with the trucking company.

eighteen-wheeler-614201_960_720At trial, the plaintiff claimed that the companies engaged in negligent hiring and that the driver was negligent. The concrete company asked the court to exclude evidence that showed that the driver had a suspended license at the time of the accident. Additionally, the concrete company also wanted to exclude that the truck was not insured at the time of the accident. The lower court denied those requests and allowed a witness to testify regarding the driver’s insurance status.

Ultimately, the jury ruled in favor of the plaintiff. The case was then brought to the Court of Special Appeals. At that point, neither party disputed the fact that the lack of insurance was not relevant to any claim of ordinary negligence. However, the plaintiff contended that the lack of insurance showed that the concrete company did not use reasonable care in hiring the truck driver. The intermediate court reversed the circuit court’s decision, and the high court affirmed. It found that the admission into evidence of the seemingly irrelevant evidence of the driver’s insurance status was an error.

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Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of Mississippi issued an opinion in a wrongful death case filed by the surviving family members of a man who was killed in a truck accident. In the case, Moreno v. TLSL, the court ended up dismissing the case against the truck driver and his employer, citing a lack of evidence of the driver’s negligence.

railings-1171037The Facts of the Case

Three men were killed when the pickup truck they were riding in struck a semi-truck from the rear. This case was brought by the estate of the driver of the pickup truck. The facts of the case were in dispute, and three witnesses testified to quite different versions of what happened in the moments leading up to the fatal truck accident.

The truck driver testified that he had just merged onto the highway when he saw headlights in his mirrors. He estimated that the headlights were about three-quarters of a mile away. However, the lights approached quickly, and not long after that a vehicle slammed into the back of his truck. He estimated that he was going about 35 miles per hour and was in 5th gear at the time of the accident.

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Late last month, a federal appellate released its opinion regarding a negligence case against a trucker, his employer, and company. The case stems from a tragic accident that occurred back in 2011. According to court documents, a man was killed when a log skidder fell off of a truck in front of him while he was crossing a bridge over the Mississippi River. One of the defendants was driving the truck for his uncle, another defendant, who owned the trucking company.

gavel-1238036The deceased driver’s wife brought a claim against the truck driver and the trucking company’s owner, who was supposed to be blocking traffic on the bridge. The plaintiff alleged that the defendants were negligent for not following protocol when they attempted to block off the bridge to oncoming traffic. She argued that the accident occurred because the traffic controller (the trucking company’s owner) did not properly direct the driver. In support of her claim, the plaintiff had the sheriff of the county testify. He explained that it is local practice for a driver who is crossing the bridge with a wide load to call law enforcement ahead of time so that they can control traffic, rather than try and control traffic on their own.

The defendant truck driver admitted to being negligent. The other defendant denied being negligent and contested the specifics of the plaintiff’s claim. The jury went on to award the woman a $3 million verdict, finding that all of the parties were negligent. Two of the defendants, the company and truck driver’s employer, filed a motion for judgment as a matter of law, arguing that there had been insufficient evidence to find them liable for the traffic controller’s negligence. The appeals court and Circuit Court both found in favor of the plaintiff, opining that the plaintiff established all of the necessary requirements of a negligence claim, and that the company and truck driver’s employer should have foreseen the risks of their transport.

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In previous posts, we have talked generally about the Tort Claims Act and how it applies to negligence lawsuits brought against the New Mexico government. To elaborate, many states, including New Mexico, are governed by the Tort Claims Act, which outlines when and how the government can be sued. This law provides certain exceptions to the immunity enjoyed by the government.

fire-truck-1479787It is important that individuals who wish to sue the government understand that even if their claim falls into one of the few enumerated exceptions, there are still very specific limitations on what they can recover.

For example, suppose an individual was injured because of a poorly maintained or designed roadway. At first glance, they may meet one of the exceptions, but the next step in the process is for the plaintiff to allege damages. This is where the limitations come into play. In New Mexico, a plaintiff is capped at $200,000 for damage to their property. Additionally, the cap extends to $300,000 for medical expenses and $400,000 for non-medically related damages.

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The United States District Court for Nebraska recently released an opinion regarding a tragic multi-vehicle accident that occurred earlier this past summer. According to the court’s opinion, a tractor-trailer driver was proceeding on a Nebraska highway when he hit an object on the highway. The tractor-trailer lost air-brake pressure, so the driver pulled over into the right-hand lane. Later, experts determined that it was possible that he could have pulled completely onto the shoulder, but the driver did put on his hazard lights and reflectors.

semi-mirror-1-1455724About 15 minutes later, another semi-truck crashed into the tractor-trailer. That driver did not slow down and unfortunately was killed at the scene of the accident. A fire ensued, and all of the lanes were blocked. A family that was driving on the highway in two separate cars stopped safely when they noticed the traffic jam. However, another tractor-trailer was driving about 75 mph and did not slow down. That driver ended up slamming into one of the family’s cars. That car ended up slamming into the other family car. The entire family died as a result of the accident.

The representative of the family in the cars brought a suit against the tractor-trailer driver and his employer as well as the semi-truck driver and his employer. Those parties filed a motion for summary judgment, asking the court to dismiss the case. The Circuit Court affirmed the granting of summary judgment, finding that the tractor-trailer driver was an “intervening cause,” and therefore the two other drivers were not responsible.

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The Court of Appeals in California reversed a lower court’s decision in Vargas v. FMI, where the driver sued the trucking company and claimed that it was vicariously liable for the injuries he incurred when the truck was involved in an accident.

old-truck-1357724-m.jpgThe Facts of the Case
The company in question hires individuals to transport goods throughout the United States. In this particular case, the company hired two individuals to transport some goods from California to New Jersey. During the cross-country trek, one of the individuals was driving while the other was resting in the sleeper berth. At some point, the driver lost control of the truck, and it ended up hitting a center divider. This accident caused the driver who was resting to suffer some serious injuries.

The injured driver brought a suit against the trucking company, claiming that it was liable for his injuries because of the theory of vicarious liability. The lower court granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss the case, stating that the individual drivers were considered “independent contractors,” and therefore the company was not liable. However, the Court of Appeals found that the defendant did not establish that it fell into the category of parties that are protected from vicarious liability claims.
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Earlier this month in Albuquerque, New Mexico, a truck slammed into the side of a bus as a result of a serious accident. Local news reports have video footage of the accident as it occurred because there was a camera inside the bus. According to one news source, the truck was approaching a bus near Central Avenue and Unser Boulevard. Footage reveals that the truck neared the left side of the bus before the accident occurred. The truck driver proceeded to run a red light and slam into the side of the bus.

bus-on-the-run-1170123-m.jpgThe camera inside the bus showed the bus driver unfortunately getting slammed by the truck and subsequently smashing through the window. Luckily, no one besides the driver was on the bus at the time of the accident. However, both drivers had minor injuries. Furthermore, reports indicate that the bus driver was not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident. Traffic in the area was at a standstill and delayed for hours as personnel attempted to clean up the area.
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Tracy Morgan is still struggling after his serious brain injury from an accident that occurred several months ago. The Associated Press recently reported that the star was involved in an accident with a Wal-Mart truck in New Jersey and suffered leg, nose, ribs, and traumatic brain injuries. Apparently, the truck crashed into a limo that the actor was in. There were several individuals in the limo, and unfortunately one person was killed.

truck-1094965-m.jpgThe truck driver was charged with four counts of assault by auto and death by auto. Additionally, Morgan has commenced a lawsuit for compensatory and punitive damages against Wal-Mart. The company has argued that the victims were partly responsible for their own injuries because they were not wearing seatbelts during the time of the incident.

The initial investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board stated that the truck driver was driving 65 mph until about a minute before he slammed into the limo. The speed limit at the time of the incident was 45 mph. It is normally 55 mph, but there was construction during this particular period.
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An unfortunate man from Denver City, Texas was killed earlier this month after a brake drum fell off an oncoming semi-truck and crashed through the windshield of the pickup truck that he was driving. According to an article from KOB.com, the man was traveling on State Road 8 between Eunice and Hobbs in Lea County. The driver of the white semi-truck that the drum fell from did not stop after the accident and is being sought by the police for questioning. It is not known why the brake drum was able to fall from the truck.

brake-drum-866593-m.jpgDetermining Blame in the Accident
Although it can difficult to directly assign blame for a New Mexico semi-truck accident, it is nearly certain that the victim driving in the pickup truck in this case was not to blame. Since the semi-truck driver did not stop to assist the man or explain what happened to police, it may be difficult for the victim’s family to hold the responsible parties accountable for the accident. If the driver of the truck is not found, the victim’s relatives may still be able to receive compensation for their expenses and loss resulting from the accident, but it depends on the type of auto insurance that the man had.
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A Michigan case came up on appeal earlier this year, and the Court of Appeals in that state rejected the defendants’ claims that the jury’s verdict in favor of the plaintiff was not justified. The opinion in Button v. Tim Bills Trucking, Inc., Docket No. 306724 (Mich. App. 2014) was released last month and resulted in the jury’s verdict for the plaintiff of $1,360,645 being confirmed.

a-truck-1329363-m.jpgThe Accident
The plaintiff was driving southbound on US-131 in Michigan on May 1, 2008, when she moved into the left lane to pass another car. The defendant was driving a semi-truck in the left lane and collided with the plaintiff’s car after she merged. The plaintiff stated that she saw the semi-truck, and it was “quite a way back” in the lane before she entered, and she suggested that the truck was traveling too fast when it rear-ended her, which resulted in serious injury. Witnesses reported that the plaintiff’s car ended up in the median and flipped over several times after the collision.

The Legal Issue
The defendant truck driver claimed that the plaintiff turned directly in front of his truck and cut him off, resulting in the collision. The testimony of an eyewitness and an accident reconstruction exert hired by the defense suggested that the plaintiff may have merged directly into the passenger side of the defendant’s truck and was herself at fault for the accident. Other eyewitness accounts supported the plaintiff’s version of the accident, and the jury was therefore presented with conflicting evidence, as is common in New Mexico semi-truck accident cases.
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