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One Wrong Step: Struck On the Highway

I. Death by Truck

Truck drivers have been described as occupying a cherished place in American history. Some of this is because people know how dangerous driving a big rig can be. One reason people have become acutely, and painfully aware, of the number of truck accidents or semi-trucks that careen, clip or veer off the road or collide into other vehicles is the prevalence of cell phones and cameras these days. Dash cameras in particular have caught some horrific trucker-involved accidents, where police officers, safety or law-enforcement standing on the side the road have been struck by trucks and other vehicles. While these are not always semi-truck accidents, there is an interesting case that raised issues about shared responsibilities, for when people are on the sides of the roads after an initial accident.

It’s also worth noting the truck collision that actually resulted in the death in the following case, was not necessarily the same party that entirely caused the accident to begin with. Instead, a domino effect of parties often share the cause and effect of a semi-truck or commercial truck driver accident. See if you can decide how easy it is to separate the guilty parties.

John H. had just purchased a new Lincoln Continental at a shop in Lowell. The sale that seemed to go smoothly enough. Unfortunately, John H, was only hours away from a fatal accident involving a trucker flatbed collision. The car had been shipped from the Ford factory with optional turbine spoke wheels. When John had returned to the dealership, he found that the department employees had replaced the spoke wheels, which he loved, with standard steel wheels. He asked those wheels to be replaced as well as having the car undercoated. As the truck accident attorney would later show, the dealership’s normal procedure was to have driven this new car before making official delivery to a purchaser. The truck accident Attorney used both shop records and depositions to show that this test drive had not been done. This road test was going to become a crucial bit of evidence when the case went to trial.

II. Nowhere to Hide

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration points out that almost 40,000 people die every year in motor vehicle crashes. Yet, the number of pedestrians hit by cars is in its own way even more staggering. In the United States, there’s a pedestrian killed almost every two hours. There’s also a pedestrian injured every eight minutes in traffic crashes. In fact, this epidemic of vehicles hitting pedestrians, or people outside of their vehicles, accounted for almost 14% of all traffic fatalities involving motor vehicle or truck or vehicle traffic crashes.

III.   Unseen Victims

John received possession of his Lincoln, with the correct spoke wheels, right around the close of workday. So, at a few minutes past five, he was cruising away from the dealership with his new car, north on Interstate 85, headed towards Charlotte. He had just gotten onto 85 from north carolina Highway 7’s Lowell Exit – McAdenville Road – just down from the South Fork River bridge.

The truck accident attorney later obtained testimony from James Whitby, who was driving a van onto 85 from the Lowell exit. Whitby was to be a key witness when the truck accident attorney went on to represent the estate of John in a wrongful death action. Whitby’s testimony was that there was one passenger vehicle between his van and John’s Lincoln. As a wheel came off of the Lincoln, the passenger car whipped around John’s car and then came to a stop up in front of both following vehicles. Whitby went back to help John, when he noticed a commercial flatbed truck quickly approaching from about a quarter of a mile away. Within a matter of seconds, and with no real time to react, the commercial truck ran into the back of Whitby’s van, knocking it into John’s automobile. John was trapped between the van and the car at the time of the collision and was instantly killed.

IV.  The What Ifs of Proving An Accident: Lug Nuts and Bolts

Accident reconstruction is a crucial part in proving liability. In this case, an expert truck accident attorney helped use an expert to prove what happened to cause the wheel to come off John’s Lincoln. A detailed examination of the left rear wheel assembly showed that the lug bolts had not been stripped or in any way damaged (presumably that relieved the factory). The brake drum had come loose, probably from vibration, and then fell down on the lug bolt threads. This drop resulted in causing the lug bolts to spin off, in turn causing the wheel to come off. Another expert called by the truck accident attorney showed that this drop/cut/loosen was consistent with how the right-hand thread would unscrew, as the wheel rolled forward. The weight of this evidence allowed the truck accident attorney to almost conclusively prove that the lug nuts had not been tightened properly on the wheel studs by the dealership.

Conclusions:   

One of the key arguments at trial by the dealership, and eventually at the Supreme Court of North Carolina itself, was if the trucker’s negligence essentially shielded the dealership from any liability for the death.

Under the law, the importance of proximate cause is the vital set of facts that often allows conclusions to be drawn. These causes are best developed from expert’s opinions, and expert review of circumstances. At the same time, proximate cause can be subject to some competing experts’ interpretation(s), and ultimately is almost always a question of fact, left to the jury. In this case, “YES,” the truck accident attorney was successful in making sure that the jury was allowed to hear whether or not negligence should be apportioned between the dealership and the trucker. The dealer could not hide its potential part in the chain of the accident.

A significant number of vehicle/truck-on-pedestrian collisions, or roadway bystander fatalities, happen at night. In this case, road conditions were why the truck accident attorney carefully stressed the time of day and road conditions. These factors are often precipitating bits of evidence that make or break a case against the negligent truck driver or semi operator. Similarly, an experienced truck accident attorney will also investigate the prior safety record and any training issues or vehicle safety citations that may have been warning signs of a truck hazard on wheels.

So if you, a family member or a loved one have been hurt in a truck or semi-tractor trailer vehicle accident—or have questions about insurance claims or need help related to a motor vehicle insurance policy, or involving related claims or your legal rights or hearings, please contact us.  You will speak with a truck accident attorney who can best answer your questions.  There is never a fee for this initial consultation.

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