Two people are dead after a passenger car and semi-truck collided almost head-on as they traveled on Highway 425.
This wreck occurred near the Old Corydon Road intersection. According to the Henderson County Sheriff’s Department, 79-year-old Geraldine Watson tried to move from northbound Old Corydon onto Highway 425. In doing so, she turned into the path of an oncoming semi-truck. The truck “penetrated the passenger side of the car,” instantly killing Geraldine Watson and her passenger, 24-year-old Ryan Watson.
The semi-truck driver was not injured.
Head-On vs. Wrong-Way Wrecks
The facts are a bit unclear. But it appears that the above wreck was a combination of a wrong-way and a head-on crash. There is a significant difference between these two kinds of accidents.
A head-on wreck usually means that one driver was operating erratically, probably because of substance use, extreme fatigue, distraction, or another impairment, and drifted across the center line.
These wrecks are almost impossible for the other driver to avoid. Erratic drivers are unpredictable drivers. Since there is no way to know what they will do next, it’s very difficult to clear a path for them. Furthermore, everything happens so fast, most drivers have no time to react in these situations. So, these wrecks usually do not involve the last clear chance defense. More on that below.
Wrong -way wrecks are different. If one driver is simply operating on the wrong side of the road, other drivers often have a chance to avoid a collision. Well, maybe not in a situation like this one, but you get the point.
Apropos of nothing, the Bourne Identity filmmakers supposedly had over a dozen Mini Coopers at the start of production. Stunt drivers wrecked almost all of them while they filmed this sequence.
Apparently, Geraldine Watson made an illegal turn while moving from one road to the other one. So, in a hypothetical lawsuit, this case would combine portions of both claims.
A victim/plaintiff’s case in chief is usually the same in both head-on and wrong-way claims. It is illegal to operate on the left side of the road, even for a few moments. So, anytime tortfeasors (negligent drivers) cross the center line, except in an emergency, the negligence per se doctrine usually applies. Tortfeasors are liable for damages as a matter of law if:
- They violate a safety law, and
- That violation substantially causes injury.
Since the statute establishes the standard of care in these cases, victim/plaintiffs must only prove cause. That being said, a Lexington personal injury attorney usually presents additional evidence of negligence whenever possible, in order to obtain maximum compensation.
Ordinarily, all noncommercial drivers have a duty of reasonable care. That duty requires them to avoid accidents when possible. So, if a driver had a reasonable chance to avoid a wreck and did not take proper action, the last clear chance defense often applies.
This legal loophole flips responsibility for the wreck from the tortfeasor, who clearly drove on the wrong side of the road, to the victim, who was completely innocent of fault.
This defense often does not apply in practice. For example, there is a significant difference between the last clear chance and any possible chance. Victims are often unable to avoid these wrecks, especially if the tortfeasor was driving erratically or speeding. That’s another reason additional evidence is important, even in negligence per se claims.
Third Party Liability
When a semi-truck or other commercial vehicle is involved in a wreck, the respondeat superior rule usually applies. This doctrine holds shipping companies, transportation companies, and other vehicle owners financially responsible for damages if:
- Employee: Truck drivers are often technically independent contractors or owner-operators. However, since the truck owner controls these individuals in terms of things like route travelled, these people are employees for negligence purposes.
- Scope of Employment: Somewhat similarly, any act which benefits the employer in any way is usually within the scope of employment. That could include driving a bobtail truck (a truck without a trailer) back to a garage or warehouse.
Vicarious liability, or third-party liability, only attaches if the truck driver or other commercial operator was negligent. That negligence could be failure to avoid the crash or failure to apply breaks and reduce the impact. So, in the above story, the truck owner is only responsible for losses if the truck driver was negligent, according to the points discussed above.
Wrong-way or head-on crashes are extremely complex. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lexington, contact the Goode Law Office, PLLC. We do not charge upfront legal fees in negligence cases.