A semi-truck driver who failed to slow down along with the surrounding traffic plowed into eight vehicles before he was able to stop his rig.
Police say that a semi-truck driver did not slow down as everyone else reduced speed in a construction zone on Interstate 24 in Paducah. The rig rear-ended a Toyota Highlander, causing it to overturn. Then the truck continued barreling forward through traffic, eventually coming to rest against a concrete median. A 4-year-old girl in the Toyota died almost instantly. Nine other people were seriously injured in the second fatal collision on this stretch of Interstate 24 in under a month.
“It appears lack of attention is the main cause of this and most other collisions,” remarked Paducah Police Chief Brian Laird. “Drivers need to be aware of their surroundings and pay attention to signage and reduced speed limits.”
Truck Driver Duty of Care
Frequently, fatigue or distraction causes runaway wrecks like the one in the above story. Both problems are serious issues among truckers, and both conditions violate the duty of care.
Most shipping and transportation companies pay drivers by the load and not by the mile. So, truck drivers must stay on the road as long as possible in order to make money on each trip. The economic pressures to drive while fatigued are bad enough. Recently, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has made this problem worse. This agency has rolled back a number of HOS (Hours of Service) requirements. So, truck drivers can legally stay on the road even if they are dangerously fatigued.
Driving after being awake for eighteen consecutive hours is like driving with a .05 BAC level. That’s well above the legal limit for commercial operators in Kentucky and most other states.
There’s also a correlation between using a hands-free device while driving and driving while intoxicated. Most truckers assume that this behavior must be safe, since it’s legal in all states. But drivers who use hands-free gadgets while they are behind the wheel are visually and cognitively distracted. They take their eyes off the road and their minds off driving.
Now, here’s the alcohol connection. Both hands-free devices and alcohol affect judgement skills. Alcohol gives people an artificial sense of euphoria, and hands-free devices give drivers a false sense of security.
Distraction and fatigue are two examples of driver impairment. The duty of care requires motorists to be mentally, physically, and otherwise fit before they get behind the wheel.
Furthermore, since truck drivers are commercial drivers, they usually have a higher duty of care than noncommercial operators. This higher duty of care makes it easier for a Lexington personal injury attorney to establish negligence, or a lack of care, as outlined below.
Driving while sleepy is usually legal in most states. So is driving while using a hands-free device. Reckless driving laws could technically apply to these situations. But police officers hardly ever issue such citations in these contexts.
Therefore, victim/plaintiffs must use the ordinary negligence doctrine to obtain compensation for their injuries. If a breach of duty causes injury, the tortfeasor (negligent driver) is legally responsible for damages.
These damages usually include compensation for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Additional punitive damages are often available in commercial operator cases as well. These damages punish negligent actors and deter future misconduct.
The shipping, transportation, or other company which owned the truck, as opposed to the driver, is normally financially responsible for damages. The respondeat superior rule applies if:
- Employee: Although most truckers are owner-operators for most purposes, they are employees for negligence purposes. Any meaningful employer control, such as dictating the departure or destination point, is the key.
- Scope of Employment: Somewhat similarly, any act which benefits the employer in any way is within the scope of employment. For example, in a workers’ compensation claim, injuries incurred during a company softball game are within the scope of employment. The employer benefits because the employees are happier.
Vicarious liability theories like respondeat superior are especially important in catastrophic injury claims. Typically, individual drivers don’t have enough insurance coverage to provide fair compensation in these situations.
Wrongful Death Claims
When a vehicle collision claims the life of a young child, no amount of money can possibly make up for that loss. So, from this perspective, maximum compensation is basically irrelevant. But from another perspective, maximum compensation could make all the difference. As hinted above, damage awards convince truck drivers, and truck companies, to change the way they do business. That change could save the life of another little girl.
Wrongful death claims are much more complex than injury claims. That’s especially true if the decedent was a small child. Survivors are entitled to compensation for things like lost future emotional support. These items are very difficult to calculate.
To make this process easier on everyone, most attorneys partner with psychologists, accountants, and other outside professionals.
Injury victims are usually entitled to substantial compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lexington, contact the Goode Law Office, PLLC. We routinely handle matters in Fayette County and nearby jurisdictions. #goodelawyers