Is a Commercial Trucking Accident Always the Fault of the Tractor-Trailer Driver?
In many cases, a commercial truck accident is the fault of someone associated with the larger vehicle, such as the driver or owner of the tractor-trailer. After all, given its larger size and weight, even the slightest mistake by the driver or defect in the truck itself can trigger a catastrophic accident.
But that is not always the case. Sometimes, the driver of the smaller vehicle is partially or entirely at fault. If the operator of a normal-sized car is driving erratically or creates a hazard in the roadway, even the most experienced trucker may be unable to avoid a crash. In that event, the car driver won’t be let off the hook just because he or she happened to be in the smaller vehicle.
Each case turns on its own facts, which is why it is so important to fully and thoroughly investigate any British Columbia trucking accident to determine who is properly at fault.
Godbout v. Notter: Truck Driver Collides with Black Car in the Middle of the Night
Consider this recent decision by a B.C. Supreme Court judge: On April 26, 2013, on Highway 1 just east of Chilliwack, a commercial tractor-trailer collided with a black Kia automobile.
The truck driver subsequently sued the Kia driver, alleging the latter was responsible for causing the accident. The trucker said he sustained serious injuries in the crash and sought a variety of damages.
Many of the basic facts were undisputed. Just before the collision with the truck, the Kia driver “lost control” of his vehicle and hit a barrier located between the eastbound and westbound lanes of Highway 1. The accident occurred at night in an area devoid of streetlights. As noted above, the Kia itself was black in colour, making it even harder for other drivers to see.
Yet, the Kia driver made no effort to “warn oncoming traffic of the hazard he had created.”
For his part, the truck driver was traveling down the highway when he observed a third vehicle “with its lights on and doors open.” To avoid hitting this car, the truck driver quickly moved into the left-hand lane, not realizing the Kia was there. This is when the collision occurred, causing the tractor-trailer to flip onto its side.
At trial, the truck driver testified that he realized he had “hit something,” but that he did not see the Kia beforehand. Nor did he see anyone “waving at him” or any hazard lights indicating the presence of a distressed vehicle in the left-hand lane. The truck driver further noted he was paying normal attention to the road and checking his mirrors at regular intervals.
Another driver on the road that night testified as a witness for the plaintiff. The witness came upon the stopped Kia shortly before the tractor-trailer collision. The witness said he “came close to hitting the Kia” and only avoided a crash himself after slamming his brakes hard. The witness further said the defendant told him he “had been tired and fell asleep” at the wheel.
Judge Relies on “Common Sense” Over Expert Reconstruction Reports
Justice Robert W. Jenkins of B.C. Supreme Court tried the truck driver’s personal injury case in December 2017. He issued his judgment on June 25, 2018.
Justice Jenkins found that the Kia driver was “negligent” in causing his vehicle to travel off the road and crash in the first instance. The defendant then “compounded” his negligence by leaving his car “sitting across a busy lane of traffic” at night “with no lights engaged so as to provide a warning to oncoming traffic.”
Both sides presented expert testimony from accident-reconstruction experts. The purpose of this testimony was to establish whether the tractor-trailer driver had–or should have had–enough time to see the Kia and slow down before colliding with the car. Justice Jenkins did not appear to find much value in this testimony, noting the experts’ conclusions were “speculative and based upon assumptions that could well be questioned.”
Instead, the judge relied on his own “common sense,” which told him the driver of a giant truck travelling at 100 km/h could not have reasonably maneuvered or stopped in time to avoid hitting the Kia. In support of this conclusion, the judge pointed to the third driver’s testimony that he also nearly hit the Kia while driving a vehicle that was much smaller and easier to maneuver.
Ultimately, Justice Jenkins concluded, the truck driver “could not have anticipated that he would encounter, in the dark, a vehicle sitting across the fast lane on a major freeway.”
Court Awards Damages for PTSD, Loss of Future Earning Capacity
Despite the severity of the accident, Justice Jenkins also found there was “little, if any, medical evidence” of physical injuries to the plaintiff. The court accepted evidence that the truck driver sustained severe psychological injuries in the form of post-traumatic stress disorder.
However, Justice Jenkins also noted that the plaintiff “has been very stoic and perhaps even stubborn, in avoiding acceptance of his injuries,” and that this partially represented a “failure to mitigate” his damages. Accordingly, the court awarded the plaintiff $175,000 for his PTSD and non-pecuniary damages, which was reduced by 10% to $157,500 owing to the failure to mitigate.
The court also awarded over $400,000 in additional damages. The largest single component of this award was $275,000 for the plaintiff’s “future lost earnings.” This was based on the judge’s findings that the accident “is an experience [the plaintiff] is quite likely to experience in the future if he continues to work as a truck driver.”
Call Preszler Injury Lawyers Today if You Have Been Injured in a B.C. Trucking Accident
Every trucking accident involves a unique set of facts and circumstances. It is important to never make assumptions about what you think might have happened. After seeking appropriate medical care, your first step should be to contact a qualified Vancouver auto accident lawyer who can assist you in conducting a proper investigation and taking legal action against any negligent parties.
Contact the Preszler Injury Lawyers today to schedule a free consultation with a member of our legal team to discuss your accident and how we can best help you.