Articles Posted in Truck Accidents

The Virginia Supreme Court recently affirmed a lower court’s decision in a wrongful death claim stemming from a single-vehicle accident that took the lives of both occupants. According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff, the administrator of the estate of one of the occupants, filed a lawsuit against several parties, including the other occupant of the vehicle. The lawsuit contends that the other occupant fell asleep at the wheel of his tractor-trailer, thereby causing the accident that killed the plaintiff. In response, the defendants argued that the plaintiff was the driver.

On appeal, the court reviewed several of the plaintiff’s arguments, including that the lower court erred in excluding portions of the medical examiner’s autopsy report and the plaintiff’s experts’ opinions regarding the driver’s identity. The plaintiff sought to introduce evidence from the Chief Medical examiner, where she concluded the cause of the defendant’s death was blunt force trauma. Her report relied on the police report to tell her who was driving the tractor-trailer in the case.

The plaintiff argues that under Virginia Code § 8.01- 390.2, medical examiner reports shall be received as evidence in court. Therefore, although the examiner’s report stems from her opinions based on the police report, it should be admissible. Statutory interpretation requires a court to review the plain language of a statute unless the terms are ambiguous. In this case, the court found that nothing in the statute provides that a medical examiner is permitted to make an opinion on an ultimate fact in issue. Further, the statute does not permit medical examiners to base opinions and facts from information garnered through lay testimony. Therefore, the court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the statute should be construed to admit the medical examiner’s opinion solely because the opinion is in a report.

When someone is injured due to the alleged negligence of another, the injured party may be able to pursue a claim for compensation under the legal theory of negligence. To succeed in a negligence claim, a plaintiff must be able to establish four elements: duty, breach, causation, and damages.

The “duty” element is easily met in many Virginia personal injury cases, especially those involving injuries that occurred as a result of a car accident. This is because all Virginia motorists have a general duty to safely operate their vehicle within the confines of the law. However, in other contexts, a plaintiff must present evidence establishing that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care.

A recent federal appellate opinion illustrates the concept of a legal duty. In that case, the plaintiff was a truck driver who was injured when another employee allegedly ran over his foot while loading the plaintiff’s truck with a forklift. The forklift, which was owned by the plaintiff’s employer, did not have a back-up alarm. The plaintiff’s employer had contracted with the defendant maintenance company to perform all necessary maintenance on the machine, including preventative maintenance.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a car accident case requiring the court to interpret the language of a statute defining an “uninsured vehicle” for the purposes of determining whether an accident is covered under an underinsured vehicle clause of an insurance policy. The case presents an important issue for Virginia accident victims insofar as it illustrates the difficulties victims may have when dealing with insurance companies after a serious accident.

Ultimately, the court concluded that the accident fell within a policy exclusion because the vehicle the plaintiff was operating at the time of the accident was “furnished for his regular use.”

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff worked for a logging company. As a part of his job duties, he would transport lumber using a large company-owned truck. The agreement between the plaintiff and his employer allowed for the plaintiff to keep possession of the truck after work hours, although in practice the plaintiff usually dropped the truck off at his workplace before heading home for the day.

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Before a Virginia truck accident case reaches trial, it goes through several other stages. One of the most important stages of a personal injury case is the pre-trial discovery phase. During pre-trial discovery, each party is able to request certain information that the requesting party believes the opposing party has in its possession. While certain information and documents are privileged, in most cases, parties must provide what is ordered by the judge.

Of course, much of the information sought during pre-trial discovery may be considered harmful to the party ordered to release it. However, that does not change the requirement that ordered evidence be handed over to the opposing side. Indeed, under Virginia Supreme Court Rule 4:12, a court can impose a number of sanctions against a party that fails to comply with a court’s discovery order, including precluding the party from making certain arguments, admitting certain evidence, or in some cases, striking the party’s filings.

A recent appellate decision illustrates how seriously courts take discovery requests and the serious consequences one plaintiff faced when she filed notice of her expert witnesses four months after the deadline.

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Personal injury lawsuits have certain elements that must be proved before an injured party is able to recover financially for their injuries from the at-fault party. Generally speaking, these four elements are duty, breach, causation, and damages. Thus, a plaintiff must prove that the defendant breached a duty of care that was owed to the plaintiff and that this breach was the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.

Over the course of time, courts have developed a framework for determining when a defendant owes a plaintiff a duty of care. For example, most motorists owe other motorists with whom they share the road a duty to operate their vehicle in a safe manner. However, that duty is not unlimited. Specifically, the duty only covers those who could be foreseeably injured by the defendant’s negligent conduct. A recent case explains this concept in more detail.

Ready v. RWI Transportation:  Foreseeability in a Chain-Reaction Accident

A truck operated by an employee of RWI Transportation caused an accident on the highway when he made an improper lane change. As a result of the accident, the truck and another vehicle ended up blocking several lanes of travel, causing a significant traffic back-up.

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Most personal injury lawsuits are based on the theory of negligence. In essence, these lawsuits claim that one party, the defendant, is liable to another party, the plaintiff, as a result of some kind of negligent act or failure to act on the part of the defendant. In order to prove a negligence lawsuit, a plaintiff must show that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty that was violated by the defendant’s actions.

Good Samaritan laws act to limit the liability of those who happen across an emergency and try to help but end up causing more harm in the process. The idea behind these laws is that the government wants to encourage people to help others in peril, so immunity from civil liability is given to those who try to help, even if their attempts end up causing additional injuries. However, there are limits to Good Samaritan laws. Generally, Good Samaritan laws do not apply if the actor was grossly negligent or reckless in providing the care. Another issue that may come up is exactly which conduct is covered under a Good Samaritan law. A recent case looks at one example of how a Good Samaritan law may affect a plaintiff’s right to recover compensation.

Carter v. Reese:  A Truck Rolls Backwards, Crushing a Man’s Leg

Carter, a truck driver, slipped and fell after unloading his rig. His leg became stuck in the gap, and he was unable to free himself, so he called out for help. Reese heard Carter’s cries for help and came to assist. Carter told Reese to get into the truck and put it in drive so that he could get his leg free. Carter told Reese to be sure not to put the truck in reverse.

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Earlier this month, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit issued an opinion affirming a product liability plaintiff’s jury verdict in the amount of $1,200,000. In the case, Quilez-Velar v. Ox Bodies, Inc., the court determined that the lower court properly admitted the plaintiff’s expert witness testimony and that the jury’s verdict should stand.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs in the case were the surviving family members of a woman who was killed when her car slid under a garbage truck that had not been properly fitted with a safe under-ride guard, which was supposed to prevent vehicles from sliding under the rear of the truck in the event of this type of accident. The evidence at trial showed that the truck was owned and operated by the local government, but the under-ride guard was manufactured by the defendant. The plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the manufacturer of the guard only and did not proceed against the government.

At trial, the plaintiffs had an accident reconstructionist testify that he knew of an alternate design that “would have been [a] safer design in the instant accident.” The defendant admitted that the expert was properly qualified as an accident reconstructionist, but it challenged the expert’s testimony, arguing that he did not conduct the necessary tests to be qualified as an expert on the subject. The trial court reviewed the expert’s report and determined that his “conclusions are well-explained, and its use of crash-test data appears appropriate.” The court also explained that the defendant did not adequately explain why the expert should have conducted additional tests. The judge admitted the expert’s testimony.

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Many serious auto accidents involve a truck driver or another motorist who is working as a paid driver when the accident occurs. These commercial drivers are held to a high standard when driving, and they are assumed to have the training necessary to be able to safely operate their vehicles in all types of circumstances. Often, when a commercial driver is found to be at fault, it is because they lack the necessary training or support that should have been provided by their employer. In such cases, the driver’s employer may also be held liable by anyone injured as a result of the driver’s negligence.

Employer liability will not automatically be present in all cases involving a paid driver. There must be some act of negligence on the employer’s part. For instance, this could be a failure to train the negligent driver, or a failure to maintain the truck in a safe working condition. It could also result from an employer’s failure to provide the necessary support for the driver. In each of these cases, a court may determine that both the driver and their employer are at fault in the accident.

Court Upholds Employer Liability in Fatal Truck Accident

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a case against a trucking company owner. The court determined that the employer was also at fault in the fatal accident, and that the jury’s verdict in the amount of $3 million should be applied against the employer as well as the truck’s driver.

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