Articles Posted in Automobile Accidents

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In a recent case, a court decided that a gas station could be held liable after a driver who was delivering gas was injured on the gas station’s property. A tanker driver who had just delivered a load of gasoline to the station was hit by another car and later brought a lawsuit against the other driver, the gas station, and the gas station’s manager.

Gas PumpThe driver had parked his truck at the station in the area for delivering gasoline. He also placed three traffic cones by the truck. He then went into the store to fill out some information about the delivery, made the gas delivery, and went to another part of the station to measure the station’s tank levels as required by the station owner. He took one of the cones with him and placed it in the area where he was measuring the tanks. While he was measuring the levels, he dropped a tank cap into the well and got onto his hands and knees to pick up the cap. As he was doing this, another car backed into him.

A trial court originally found the gas station and its manager were not liable and granted summary judgment in their favor. The court said the driver’s knowledge of the danger was greater than or equal to the gas station’s knowledge of the danger. The driver appealed.

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Police officers, like most government employees, are entitled to immunity from certain personal injury lawsuits under the doctrine of government immunity. This may even be the case when a police officer’s actions result in a serious injury or death. Government immunity does not apply in all situations, but in most cases, it will apply by default unless the injured party is able to show that the government employee’s conduct was reckless, intentional, or otherwise not qualified for immunity. A recent case illustrates how a court may apply government immunity to a police officer’s actions, defeating a personal injury plaintiff’s case.

Police CarAgrabrite v. Neer:  The Facts

Agrabrite was involved in a car accident when she was struck head-on by another motorist who was fleeing from the police at the time of the accident. The other motorist died in the collision, and Agrabrite was seriously injured. Agrabrite filed a personal injury lawsuit against several of the police officers involved in the chase, claiming that they were responsible for her injuries.

Before the case was submitted to a jury, the police officers sought summary judgment. They claimed that, as government employees, they were entitled to immunity from the lawsuit. In response, Agrabrite argued that the “wanton and reckless” conduct exhibited by the officers prevented immunity from attaching to the officers’ conduct.

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A few weeks ago, an appellate court in New York issued an interesting opinion in a car accident case discussing the ever-present element of foreseeability in personal injury cases. In the case, Hain v. Jamison, the court ended up agreeing with the trial judge that the plaintiff’s wife’s death was a foreseeable consequence of the defendant farm owner’s negligence in allowing an animal to escape.

CalfThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff in this case is the husband of a woman who was struck and killed by a passing car as she tried to help an escaped farm animal that had wandered onto the road. After his wife’s death, the plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against both the driver of the car that struck his wife as well as the owner of the escaped animal. This opinion deals with the question of whether the farm owner’s alleged negligence in failing to properly maintain a fence to secure the animal could foreseeably have caused the death of the plaintiff’s wife.

The trial judge initially denied the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, but that decision was reversed on appeal to the intermediate appellate court. That court held that the defendant’s alleged negligence “merely furnished the occasion for, but did not cause, [the plaintiff’s wife] to enter the roadway, where she was struck.” The plaintiff appealed to the state’s highest court.

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Earlier this month, a federal appellate court issued a written opinion stemming from a car accident involving a drunk driver, his passenger, and the company that insured both of them. In the case, Peden v. State Farm, the court reversed a lower court’s ruling that had held State Farm did not unreasonably delay payment to Ms. Peden. As a result of the court’s decision, the case was remanded back to the trial court to proceed toward trial.

Parked VanThe Facts of the Case

Mr. Graf had just bought his fiancée a new van for her birthday. To celebrate the occasion, the couple gathered friends for a small party, where alcohol was served. The plaintiff, Peden, was one of the couple’s friends.

At some point during the evening, Peden and several others got into the van so that Mr. Graf could take a picture of the group in the new van. However, Mr. Graf then got into the driver’s seat and took the car on a joy ride. He crashed the van, seriously injuring Peden, who then filed a personal injury lawsuit against Graf.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Mississippi issued a written opinion in a truck accident case involving two separate accidents. In the case, Ready v. RWI Transportation, the court ultimately affirmed a judgment in favor of the defendant truck driver, who had caused a collision about three-quarters of a mile ahead of where the plaintiff was injured when he slammed into the back of another vehicle that was stopped in traffic caused by the first accident.

Truck TiresThe Facts of the Case

A truck driver employed by RWI Transportation caused an accident when he made an improper lane change on the highway, colliding with another vehicle. Both vehicles were disabled as a result and came to a rest in the middle of the road, blocking traffic. A long line of traffic formed behind the accident.

Mr. Ready was driving toward the accident when he crashed his vehicle into a UPS truck that had stopped in the far-right lane due to the traffic caused by the accident up ahead. Ready then filed a personal injury lawsuit against RWI Transportation and its truck driver, claiming that the driver of the truck was negligent in causing the accident and that the initial accident was the cause of the subsequent accident between his vehicle and the UPS truck.

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One of the biggest hurdles personal injury plaintiffs face before initiating a lawsuit is determining which parties to name as defendants. Of course, a plaintiff does not want to frivolously name parties who had nothing to do with their injuries, but a plaintiff’s failure to name all potentially liable parties from the beginning can cause delays down the road. In some cases, it may even prevent a plaintiff from adding that party at a later date.

ChefOne often overlooked party that can frequently be named in personal injury lawsuits arising out of car or truck accidents is the employer of the at-fault party. The legal doctrine that allows for this form of vicarious liability is called “respondeat superior.” Of course, this doctrine only applies if the at-fault driver was performing some employment-related duty when the alleged act of negligence took place. Since so much is at stake for both the plaintiff and a defendant employer, the issue of whether an employee’s actions can be imputed to the employer is often a hotly contested issue. A recent case out of California illustrates the point.

Jorge v. Culinary Institute of America

The defendant was a private, not-for-profit college that focuses on culinary and baking education. Da Fonseca was a chef trainer at the defendant’s campus in St. Helena. One day on his way home from work, Da Fonseca struck Jorge and one other person with his vehicle. Jorge died as a result of the injuries he sustained in the accident.

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In a case arising out of a federal court of appeal, a tractor driver was driving down a highway with a trailer attached when the trailer detached from the tractor. The tractor driver pulled over to reattach the trailer, but before he completed the turn, another car crashed into the trailer, killing the car’s driver. The driver’s estate filed suit. The tractor and trailer’s insurance company came to a settlement with the driver’s estate but agreed they would still litigate what the policy limits were.

TrailerIn this case, both the tractor and the trailer were insured by the same insurance company. The insurance company argued that the policy limited its liability to $1 million per accident, despite the number of insured vehicles involved. The driver’s estate argued that the policy covered $1 million per vehicle involved in the accident, bringing the limit to $2 million because both the tractor and the trailer were involved. Under the settlement terms, the insurance company agreed to pay $1,000,000 if the insurance company’s interpretation was adopted and $1,550,000 if the estate’s interpretation was accepted. The trial court found that the estate’s interpretation was correct, and the insurance company appealed the decision.

In a lengthy opinion that parsed the language of the insurance policy, the federal court of appeals found that the insurance company’s interpretation was correct and that the policy was limited to $1 million. It found that according to the state’s law and the terms of the policy, the policy was limited to $1 million per accident, regardless of the number of covered vehicles involved. Thus, the insurance company only had to pay $1 million to the driver’s estate.

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Florida drivers are required to carry certain levels of auto insurance in order to legally drive on public roads. The idea behind this requirement is that when an accident happens, and the person who causes the accident is not able to financially cover the costs incurred by the victim, the insurance company will cover the accident victim’s costs. However, insurance companies are not always willing to cover all the costs associated with an accident, or they may deny a claim altogether. When this is the case, the accident victim is permitted to file a lawsuit against the insurance company, asking the court to require the insurance company to hold up its end of the bargain.

Damaged CarA Recent Example of the Difficulties of Dealing with an Insurance Company After an Accident

In a recent case, Etherton v. Owners Insurance Company, an appellate court upheld a $2.25 million verdict in favor of the plaintiff after his attempted negotiations with his own insurance company were fruitless. The award consisted of the requested amount of $750,000 for the plaintiff’s injuries, as well as $1.5 million for the insurance company’s failure to settle the claim in a timely manner.

The Facts of the Case

Etherton was involved in an accident with another motorist, who happened to have very low limits on his insurance policy. Etherton settled with the other motorist’s insurance company for $250,000, but since he sustained serious injuries that required three surgeries, he sought additional compensation through his own insurance company under the underinsured motorist provision of his insurance contract.

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Earlier this month, a Mississippi appellate court issued an interesting opinion discussing the limits on government immunity. In the case, Mississippi Transportation Commission v. Adams, the plaintiff was the estate of a man who was killed when he inadvertently rode his motorcycle into a construction zone and was involved in an accident. The court ultimately denied the government’s assertion of immunity, holding that the specific negligent act at issue was ministerial rather than discretionary.

Road LineThe Facts of the Case

Adams was riding his motorcycle on Interstate 10 when he accidentally entered a construction zone. As he tried to exit the construction zone safely, he struck an area where the pavement was not level, lost control, and was thrown from the motorcycle. After he fell off the bike, he was struck by at least two other passing vehicles. He died as a result of the injuries he sustained.

His estate filed a negligence lawsuit against the Transportation Commission, a government agency, claiming that the roadway was unnecessarily dangerous because the construction zone was not properly marked. One of the claims alleged that the white lines leading into the construction zone had not been covered up. The agency asserted its government immunity as a defense to the lawsuit.

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In a dramatic shift from prior decisions, the Supreme Court of Arkansas recently released its opinion regarding the admissibility of seat-belt use evidence in civil lawsuits. The court found that the code that restricts the admissibility of a person’s failure to wear a seat belt violates the Arkansas Constitution.

street-296220_960_720The case arose from a 2011 car accident. Evidently, the petitioner/plaintiff was a passenger of a car driven by the defendant, who fell asleep at the wheel and caused an accident. The passenger brought a suit against the defendant, alleging damages for the injuries she suffered. The passenger also claimed that the driver was acting within the scope and course of his employment when the accident occurred, and she added the employer as a defendant as well. Both defendants filed answers that included the fact that the passenger was not wearing a seat belt as an affirmative defense. The plaintiff argued that the evidence should not be included because it violated a state statute that prevented such evidence. In turn, the defendants challenged the constitutionality of the state statute that restricts the admissibility of seat belt use or non-use in civil actions. Ultimately, the statute was held unconstitutional.

Applicability of the “Seat Belt” Defense in Florida

In the above case, the defendants attempted to use the seat belt defense in order to lessen the amount of damages for which they were liable. This defense has often been incorporated into various comparative fault systems. A number of states do not address the seat belt defense. However, Florida is one of the 15 states that allow a seat belt non-use defense.

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