Verdicts & Settlements

Motor Vehicle Accident

$650,000

In this action, the female plaintiff in her mid 30s, was a passenger in a car proceeding in the middle lane of a highway containing three lanes in each direction. The plaintiff claimed that the defendant host driver negligently impacted with a car driven by a non party individual that was situated in front of the host vehicle in the middle lane while attempting to pass the non party driver. The plaintiff contended that as a result, the host driver lost control, ricocheted off the median divider and traveled back across the three lanes of travel where it was struck by a tractor-trailer. The plaintiff further contended that the driver of the tractor-trailer had stolen the commercial driver’s license and that the co-defendant trucking company negligently failed to comply with regulations regarding required background checks and training the driver. The plaintiff contended that if the truck driver had been properly trained and if he had been paying proper attention, he would have been able to avoid striking the host car as it traveled across the highway. The plaintiff maintained that the initial impact with the median divider was relatively slight and that as a result of the severe impact with the tractor-trailer, she suffered a fracture of the hip which required an open reduction and the insertion of hardware. The plaintiff also contended that she sustained a fracture to the non-dominant shoulder. The plaintiff, who is the single mother of four children, contended that she will suffer permanent pain and restriction which causes great difficulties caring for her children. The host driver, who was killed in the accident, had $125,000 in coverage.

The evidence disclosed that as the defendant host driver attempted to pass the non party driver situated in front of him on the right, the impact with the rear of the car in front and that the host vehicle traveled out of control into the median divider. The plaintiff maintained that this initial impact was relatively light, and that the driver of the car in front, which also struck the median divider, did not suffer injury. The plaintiff maintained that as the host vehicle traveled back across the highway, it was struck in the right lane by the truck with great force, causing particularly sever impact damage.

The trucking company was out of business as of the time of deposition, and the former owner did not testify in discovery. The individual whose license was displayed to the investigating officer denied that he was the driver, and that sometime earlier, his commercial license was stolen. The witness identified the thief as someone whom he met when both were incarcerated. The plaintiff maintained that the actual driver was hired by using the stolen license and that the trucking company did not perform the required background check. The plaintiff also pointed out that the actual truck driver did not have a valid commercial license and did not receive the required training.

The plaintiff’s accident reconstruction expert maintained that if the truck driver had been paying adequate attention and had he been properly trained, as required by federal regulations, he would have seen the situation unfolding in time to stop before striking the host vehicle.

The defendant’s accident reconstruction expert disputed this conclusion and denied that the truck driver could have avoided the collision. The defendant’s investigating officer had found that the host driver only was at fault. The plaintiff established that the officer was not aware that the truck driver had fraudulently displayed the commercial driver’s license to the officer and would have argued that in view of this factor, no weight should be given to the officer’s findings.

The plaintiff suffered a fractured hip that required an open reduction and the insertion of hardware. She also suffered a fracture of the non dominant shoulder. The plaintiff would have also presented a bio-mechanical engineer who would have maintained that virtually all of the injuries occurred as a result of the impact with the tractor-trailer. The expert related that the damage suffered by the host vehicle upon initially impacting with the median divider was slight, and that the damage sustained by the car in front from striking the divider was also slight. This car in front did not have a second impact and the driver was not injured.

The plaintiff’s orthopedic surgeon maintained that the plaintiff will permanently suffer pain and some difficulties ambulating because of the fractured hip and that she is at risk for the early onset of traumatic arthritis. The expert further contended that the plaintiff will permanently suffer pain and limitations as a result of the shoulder injury itself. The plaintiff had also suffered a forehead laceration and contended that the resulting moderate scar is permanent in nature as well.

The plaintiff is the single mother of four young children. The plaintiff contended that because of the injuries, she suffers extensive pain and limitations when caring for her children on a daily basis. The plaintiff, who was a nurse’s aide, returned to work several months after the accident. The plaintiff has since ceased working, but the plaintiff made no future income claims. The case settled prior to trial for a total of $650,000, including the $125,000 policy limits of the host driver and $525,000 from the trucking company’s carrier.

REFERENCE
D.D. vs. Reid, et al. Docket no.: ESX-L-10855-99; July, 2003.
Attorney for plaintiff: Charles A. Cerussi of Red Bank and Manhattan.

COMMENTARY
The plaintiff, who was able to obtain $525,000 of the $650,000 settlement from the trucking company, notwithstanding the clear negligence of the host driver who precipitated the accident by losing control and initially striking the median barrier after he impacted with the car in front while attempting to pass this car, stressed that the individual actually driving the truck had stolen the license and used it to obtain the job with the trucking company. In this regard, the plaintiff emphasized that the trucking company had not performed the required background checks and ascertained whether this individual had received the required tractor-trailer training, arguing that this factor resulted in his failure to take evasive action, which the plaintiff’s accident reconstruction expert had found would have been effective.

Additionally, the plaintiff, in this case in which the host vehicle first struck the median divider and then impacted with the truck, argued that in view of the evidence that the car being driven by the non party driver in front of the host had also impacted with the divider caused no injury to the driver, and the evidence of unusually severe impact damage to the host vehicle after being struck by the truck, it was clear that the second impact had caused the injuries. Finally, if the case had been tried, the plaintiff would have also argued that if the jury could not allocate the extent to which each collision caused injury, the defendants should be held to be jointly and severally liable.