The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed a $2.13 million judgment favoring a woman who suffered a permanent injury in a trucking accident that killed her fiance.
The case stems from a 2008 trucking crash in which a tractor-trailer driver stopped his truck on the interstate after hitting a deer, but he failed to immediately activate the truck’s emergency flashers or deflective triangles behind the truck or near the remains of the deer. He got out to examine the damage and then got back in his truck and at this time activated the emergency flashers. It was at this same time that the plaintiff, a passenger in a vehicle driven by her fiance, approached and, while attempting to avoid the dead deer, lost control of the vehicle and slammed into the parked truck.
The plaintiff suffered serious injuries, while her fiance died at the scene. She sued the trucking company and driver for her injuries. At 22 years old, she suffered severe traumatic brain injury, ruptured spleen, multiple skull fractures, permanent facial nerve palsy, scarring on her forehead, deafness in one ear, and memory loss. She continues to have trouble learning new things, suffers migraines and balance problems, and is at increased risk of early-onset dementia.
Jurors determined the defendants were 30 percent liable for the plaintiff’s injuries. While her damages totaled $7 million, the trucking company defendants were ordered to pay 30 percent (their proportional liability), which worked out to $2.1 million.
As our Gary injury attorneys can explain, in Indiana, tortfeasors are ordered to pay damages in proportion to their own liability. The system here is modified comparative fault with a 51 percent bar. Per I.C. 34-51-2-6, a plaintiff will only be barred from the recovery of damages if he or she is more than 50 percent at fault. In this case, though, the remaining 70 percent of negligence was not the plaintiff’s – it was her fiance’s, since he was the one driving. Therefore, the defendant trucking company was still required to pay its 30 percent share of the damages.
Jurors found the defendant was negligent for their failure to activate the truck’s emergency flashers or deploy reflective triangles or flares. The plaintiff had alleged the defendant was in violation of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Regulations Section 392.22.
The defendant appealed the trial court’s verdict, arguing this section was not applicable because the driver wasn’t engaged in interstate commerce at the time of the incident. The trucking company also argued the trial court erred in finding the defendant driver owed a duty to warn other motorists not only of his stopped truck but also of the deer, that the plaintiff failed to prove the negligence of the driver was the cause of her injuries, and that the jurors’ award of damages wasn’t supported by evidence presented at trial.
The state court of appeals affirmed. As far as the lack of sufficient evidence allegations, the court held that jurors, as triers of fact, are entrusted to weigh the evidence and draw reasonable inferences. Verdicts can only be overturned if there is no evidence on the elements of the plaintiff’s claim to support the verdict, and that wasn’t the case here. On the issue of duty of care, the court held this was a matter of fact (rather than a question of law) properly decided by jurors. Furthermore, the court found the federal carrier regulations cited were applicable in this instance.
Indiana Injury Attorney Burton A. Padove handles personal injury claims throughout northern Indiana, including Highland, Gary and Hammond. Call Toll Free 877-446-5294.
Sandberg Trucking Inc. v. Johnson, May 11, 2017, Indiana Court of Appeals
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Indiana Hit-and-Run Crash Victims Deserve Compensation, May 17, 2017, Indiana Trucking Accident Lawyer Blog