Articles Posted in Legal Concepts in Truck Accident Cases

Last month, an appellate court in California issued a written opinion in a truck accident case that is of interest to Maryland truck accident victims because it deals with how courts should handle evidence of a plaintiff’s marijuana use at a personal injury trial. Ultimately, the court determined that admitting the fact that the plaintiff had previously used marijuana, but not within the 36 hours leading up to the accident, would not be proper. Thus, the court prevented the defendant’s expert witness from testifying to that effect.

Semi-Truck on HighwayThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was driving southbound on the highway in the evening hours. The defendant was a truck driver who was also traveling on the highway, although in the opposite direction. The defendant had previously pulled off the highway to take a nap and was pulling back onto the highway when he struck the plaintiff’s vehicle.

The plaintiff has no recollection of the accident, although his passenger testified that the truck suddenly appeared in their lane, and, despite the plaintiff’s attempts to avoid the truck, he was unable to do so. The plaintiff suffered serious injuries and was hospitalized as a result. During his hospitalization, he was asked if he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. He responded that he occasionally smokes marijuana but had not within the past 36 hours.

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Whether it be a police car issuing a citation to a motorist or an ambulance responding to the scene of an accident, emergency vehicles are frequently seen on the side of Maryland highways. While these emergency vehicles necessarily must park on the side of the highway for a number of reasons, the reality is that while a vehicle is parked on the side of the highway, the chance of causing a Maryland car accident increases.

Fire TruckOperators of emergency vehicles should follow certain precautions when leaving their vehicles on the side of the highway. For example, emergency vehicles should be pulled as far off the highway as possible to avoid obstructing traffic. When traffic must be obstructed, the operator of the vehicle should make sure that the vehicle’s emergency lights are activated to ensure that passing motorists take notice of the vehicle’s presence. Additionally, traffic should not be obstructed in a manner that leaves approaching motorists with insufficient time to come to a complete stop, such as around a curve or immediately after the top of a hill.

While state and local governments enjoy immunity in some Maryland car accidents, if a government employee acts negligently while carrying out a job-related task, immunity may not attach.

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Truck drivers, as well as the companies that employ them, have a duty to ensure that the vehicles they use to transport goods across the country are well-maintained and in good working order in order to prevent hazards to other motorists. Part of this duty requires truckers to double-check that their rig is safe to drive after each stop.

Dirty TireWhile it may seem that equipment failures on large trucks are rare, the opposite is true. Many of the parts on a semi-truck are rated at certain speeds, and when a driver exceeds that speed, there is an increased risk of equipment failure. Of course, any part of a semi-truck can fail, but tires are the main culprit and present the most serious risk of causing a serious or fatal accident.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration estimates that of the roughly 14,000 truck and bus accidents occurring between the years of 2009 and 2013, approximately 200 were caused by tire blow-outs. In some cases, tire blow-outs are due to manufacturer errors, but blow-outs can also be caused by user errors. For example, if a truck driver fails to ensure that a tire is properly inflated or drives on a tire that is too worn, blow-outs are more likely to occur.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in California issued an interesting opinion in a truck accident case that required the court to determine if the company that employed a truck driver who was responsible for a serious accident could be liable for punitive damages. Ultimately, the court concluded that under some other set of facts, punitive damages may be appropriate, but, given the facts presented in this specific case, they were not.

Trucker's ViewThe Facts of the Case

In 2014, the plaintiffs were driving through a construction zone on Interstate 14 when they were struck by a truck. The plaintiffs filed a personal injury lawsuit against the trucking company that employed the driver, arguing that the company was liable for the driver’s actions because he was an employee working within the scope of his employment at the time of the accident. Additionally, the plaintiff claimed that the company was negligent for hiring the truck driver in the first place, given the driver’s checkered past. The plaintiffs sought punitive damages on each claim.

In support of their negligent hiring claim, the plaintiffs introduced evidence that the truck driver had previously been convicted of drug offenses and had a significant history of traffic offenses. There was also a report that the truck driver had been found to be traveling at 99 miles per hour while on the job just a week prior to the accident.

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Whenever anyone is injured in a serious or fatal truck accident, the injured party or their family may be eligible for monetary compensation upon a showing that the semi-truck driver’s negligence was the cause of the accident and of their injuries. In some cases, the trucking company can also be named as a party to the lawsuit.

OverpassThese truck accident lawsuits require an injured party prove four main elements:

  1. That the truck driver owed the accident victim a duty of care;
  2. That the truck driver violated that duty of care by some action or failure to take a required action;
  3. That the truck driver’s violation of the duty he owed to the plaintiff caused the plaintiff’s injuries; and
  4. That the plaintiff suffered some identifiable injury.

The first and last element are generally easily met. However, the second and third elements may involve significant litigation in some cases, especially where the semi-truck driver claims that he was not at fault for the accident and that it was some other event that caused the accident victim’s injuries.

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After any accident, an injured motorist and any passengers are entitled to file a personal injury lawsuit against the party they believe to be at fault for causing the accident. In many cases involving private citizens named as defendants, the process is a fairly straightforward one, requiring only that the motorcyclist prove that the defendant’s negligence caused their injuries. However, when the at-fault party is a government employee or contractor, there may be issues of immunity that must be overcome.

MailboxAs a general rule, government agencies and their employees are entitled to immunity from personal injury lawsuits arising out of any actions related to the performance of a government function. While this seems like an extremely broad grant of immunity, the reality is that there are many exceptions to the general rule. For example, if a government employee is acting recklessly or is in violation of the law at the time of the accident, immunity will not likely attach.

Even if government immunity is not likely given the circumstances of the accident, it is advisable that anyone injured by a government employee contact a dedicated personal injury attorney prior to filing a case. For example, plaintiffs filing lawsuits against government agencies and their employees generally must comply with additional procedural requirements or risk that their case is prematurely dismissed.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Alabama issued a written opinion discussing the situations when a court should issue a default judgment when a defendant in a lawsuit fails to respond to the plaintiff’s claim. In the recent case, the appellate court ultimately reversed a lower court’s default judgment after applying a multi-factor test.

Logging TruckThe Facts of the Case

The defendant, a semi-truck driver, was backing a load of logs into his driveway when the plaintiff crashed into his truck. At the time of the accident, the truck was blocking all of the lanes of travel. The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the defendant, which the defendant failed to answer. After approximately three months, the court issued a default judgment in favor of the plaintiff.

Two months after the default judgment was entered, the defendant submitted a motion to the court, asking it to set aside the judgment. In support of his motion, the defendant submitted an affidavit from a witness to the accident, stating that the defendant had taken reasonable precautions, including placing cones and using the truck’s four-way flashing lights. The defendant also claimed that, on the day of the accident, he notified his insurance company about the accident. The defendant explained that he thought this meant that the insurance company was investigating the accident and that no further action was needed on his part. The trial court denied the motion, and the defendant appealed.

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According to a recent article, a driver was severely injured on a highway in Maine last month in an accident involving a tractor-trailer. The injured driver was driving behind the tractor-trailer in an SUV when the truck unexpectedly slowed and tried to turn around in a vehicle turnout reserved for police and other government vehicles. The injured driver swerved to avoid crashing into the rear of the tractor-trailer, but he lost control of the vehicle and crashed anyway. In the article, the Maine State Police stated that the driver of the truck faces criminal charges for endangering the life of another driver.

No U TurnIn Maryland, drivers who cause a serious bodily injury to other drivers may face criminal charges. Drivers may also be liable for damages in civil court if the driver is found to be negligent. A driver is negligent if he or she fails to take reasonable care while operating a motor vehicle, and this failure causes an injury to another person.

Maryland law provides for two types of damages. Economic damages compensate injured drivers or passengers for out-of-pocket costs like lost wages, unpaid medical expenses, and decreased future earnings. Non-economic damages, which are sometimes referred to as damages for “pain and suffering,” are also available to injured parties who can no longer enjoy life as they did before being injured.

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Semi-trucks and other commercial vehicles and the employees operating them are required to abide by various safety regulations and guidelines that may not apply to normal drivers. Companies and drivers can be cited by state transportation authorities if an inspection or accident reveals violations of the driving or equipment regulations established by the authorities. Companies or drivers with repeated or excessive violations may face administrative consequences, especially in the event of an accident related to the violation.

UnderpassThe Role of Previous Safety Violations in an Accident Lawsuit

The victims of a Maryland semi-truck accident may discover that the commercial vehicle or driver involved in their crash has been cited in the past for a safety violation that relates to the apparent cause of their own accident. As the plaintiff in a Maryland truck accident lawsuit, the accident victim may be able to introduce evidence of previous safety violations to demonstrate the defendant’s negligence in causing the accident. Evidence that a defendant has repeatedly violated safety regulations in the past should give the plaintiff an advantage in making the case for damages. However, this evidence will not necessarily be admitted without litigation over its admission.

Punitive Damages and a Pattern of Gross Negligence in Maryland and D.C.

In some jurisdictions, an accident victim may be entitled to additional damages above and beyond the economic and noneconomic damages relating to their injuries from the accident. In Maryland, punitive damages may only be awarded in a negligence lawsuit by showing actual malice, but in Washington, D.C., punitive damages can be awarded when a defendant has acted in willful disregard of the plaintiff’s rights and was reckless toward the plaintiff’s safety. In some cases, it could be argued that a pattern of gross negligence by a defendant who was guilty of repeated safety violations that resulted in an accident justifies an award of punitive damages to the plaintiff.

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Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of New Mexico issued a written opinion holding that the statute of limitations in a product liability case filed against a car manufacturer may be tolled if there is a showing that the manufacturer fraudulently concealed information that could give rise to the claim. In the case, Estate of Brice v. Toyota Motor Company, the court reversed a trial court’s ruling that the plaintiff’s case was filed beyond the applicable statute of limitations and allowed the case to proceed toward trial.

The Facts of the CaseGas Pedal

Back in 2006, a Toyota Corolla driven by Alice Brice inexplicably accelerated into an intersection, where it was struck by a semi-truck. The vehicle caught fire, and Brice ultimately died as a result of the injuries she sustained. Approximately three years and 11 months later, her estate filed a product liability lawsuit against Toyota, the manufacturer of her vehicle.

In a summary judgment motion, Toyota asked the court to dismiss the case against it, arguing that it was filed too late. Under New Mexico law, wrongful death actions of this sort must be filed within three years from the date of the death. The plaintiff responded that Toyota had known about the sudden-acceleration problem but had acted to conceal the safety issue, preventing the plaintiff from realizing that there was a potential claim. The plaintiff also explained that as soon as the information became available, the lawsuit was filed without delay.

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