Semi-Truck Crash Kills Teenager

by | Jul 20, 2022 | Car Accidents

Investigators believe that distracted driving contributed to a fatal head-on crash that instantly killed a junior at LaSalle High School.

Crews were called to River Road near Georgetown Road for the crash. The Fairfield Township Police Department says the boy was driving around a curve, crossed the center line and hit a semi-truck head-on. His car was then thrown off the road. The teen was pronounced dead at the scene. The truck driver was not hurt.

Investigators said the 16-year-old victim wasn’t wearing a seat belt.

Duty of Care

Before we discuss legal responsibility in head-on crash claims, which is a very complex issue, we should take a step back and examine the duty of care in these cases. The duty of care is the legal standard which dictates whether or not a driver was negligent and therefore responsible for damages in a truck crash claim.

Noncommercial motorists in Kentucky usually have a duty of reasonable care. This duty includes most of the things most of us learned in driver’s ed, such as:

  • Being physically and emotionally fit to drive (e.g. not intoxicated or dangerously fatigued),
  • Briefly inspecting the vehicle before pulling out of the garage,
  • Watching the road,
  • Obeying the written and unwritten rules of the road, and
  • Avoiding accidents when possible.

In contrast, truck drivers and other commercial operators in Kentucky usually have a duty of utmost care. Commercial drivers are practically insurers of safe conduct for any passengers and cargo they carry. 

Commercial drivers must also take affirmative steps to avoid wrecks. The pre-departure inspection is a good example. If a noncommercial driver’s tire is a little bald, the driver must address the issue soon. If a commercial vehicle has a bald tire, the operator must address the issue immediately.

Additionally, commercial drivers, especially truck drivers, must normally follow additional laws, like HOS (hours of service) regulations which are designed to prevent fatigued operation.

Fault vs. Liability

Since the duty of care is higher, it’s easier for a Lexington personal injury attorney to establish negligence, or a lack of care, especially in a head-on crash.

In these wrecks, investigators almost always fault the wrong-way driver. However, this preliminary finding often doesn’t hold up in court, mostly because of the last clear chance rule.

The duty of utmost care requires truckers to anticipate car wrecks. So, they mustn’t drive in the lane nearest oncoming traffic. Instead, they should stay to the right. Furthermore, they must always be ready to avoid an oncoming car or truck by steering quickly to the right.

The last clear chance rule also comes up in wrong-way wrecks. Legally, there’s a difference between a driver who veers into oncoming traffic without warning and one who is simply going the wrong way. It’s almost impossible for truckers or anyone else to anticipate a sudden crossover. However, if the driver is like lovable loser Dell Griffith, a driver, especially a trucker, should be able to anticipate a wreck and avoid it.

The comparative fault doctrine could come into play as well. Frequently in these cases, jurors determine that both drivers were partially at fault. Driver A shouldn’t have crossed the centerline and Driver B should have been more alert. 

Kentucky is a pure comparative fault state. Therefore, even if the victim was 99 percent responsible for the wreck, the other driver is still responsible for a proportionate share of damages.

Damages in a car crash case usually include compensation for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Additional punitive damages could be available as well, in some extreme cases.

The Seat Belt Defense 

Before pandemic lockdowns, the seat belt compliance rate was over 90 percent. During lockdowns, many drivers fell out of the bucking-up habit, mostly because many roads were practically empty. Like mist bad habits, this one is easy to form and hard to break. As a result, seat belt non-use is a bigger issue today than it was just a few years ago.

In some states, seat belt non-use is basically a form of the comparative fault defense. Unrestrained victims are legally responsible for their own damages, at least to the extent a seat belt could have prevented them.

The Bluegrass State is different. Seat belt non-use is only admissible for limited purposes. Pursuant to a case called Tetrick vs. Frasher, insurance company lawyers can stress the general duty to exercise ordinary care for one’s own safety. However, there’s no specific legal duty to wear a seat belt in Kentucky. So, the jury must decide if the breach of the general safety duty occurred, and if that breach was a substantial factor that caused or enhanced the victim’s injuries.

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.