I-95 Trucker Sideswiped and Killed a Man Tending to His Immobile Truck
Our client was a tractor-trailer operator who stopped on the paved shoulder of Interstate 95 (I-95) in the City of Emporia to check the safety of his load. At the same time and place, the defendant – also a commercial truck driver – veered off the interstate highway lane of travel and struck/sideswiped our client as he stood beside his truck trailer examining it. Our commercial truck driver client died from his injuries at a local hospital within hours of the collision. His widow retained our Virginia and North Carolina wrongful death lawyers to investigate the circumstances of the collision and represent her and their family, which included several young minor children.
In cases like this, involving a North Carolina resident involved in a wrongful death that occurred inside the state of Virginia, our dual-licensed Virginia and North Carolina attorneys have the kind of experience necessary to consider personal injury legal issues in both bordering states.
Trucking injury and wrongful death related content:
Virginia State Police spoke with the commercial truck driver who struck our big rig operator client at the scene, and the other truck driver indicated that he had no recollection of the minutes leading up to the truck collision (the potentially responsible truck driver did not suffer injuries himself). Other than a brief conversation with his trucking company employer, these were the only statements the sideswiping truck driver made about the deadly collision that caused our client’s wrongful death.
However, the potentially responsible truck driver died several days after this collision from medical complications arising from an underlying illness, one not caused by this particular trucking accident. This meant within a very short time after the trucking collision, both truck drivers had died.
Key Legal Strategies
In representing the estate of the truck driver, Virginia and North Carolina truck accident injury attorney Randy Appleton quickly analyzed the options on where a wrongful death lawsuit could be filed, which came down to a decision on whether to file the case in either Greensville County Virginia Circuit Court (a state court) or United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia – Richmond Division, a federal court. Randy has been licensed in both Virginia and North Carolina courts for decades, and has successfully handled major trucking injury and death cases.
Considering the speed at which the case might be resolved, Randy quickly realized it would be best to file the lawsuit in Virginia federal court because this court has historically been the fastest federal docket in the United States and this would help obtain a recovery for the widow and some of the minor children as quickly as possible.
The second major legal strategy involved obtaining medical records of the potentially responsible truck driver, because it was obvious that he had an underlying medical condition which he died from, that might have had an impact on his ability to operate the commercial truck in the first place. Commercial truck drivers are required to obtain a commercial driver’s license and they must undergo periodic physical examinations and will not be cleared to operate commercial trucks if they have any major health condition that could seriously impact their driving capabilities. One question Randy Appleton needed to get answers to was whether the truck driver had possibly concealed his medical condition from his trucking company employer and from the doctors conducting any physical examinations in connection with his commercial driver's license (CDL).
As soon as the suit was filed, Virginia/North Carolina wrongful death attorney Randy Appleton sent a request for production of documents to the trucking company seeking the at-fault truck driver's medical records. In addition, Randy pursued other medical records he learned of, by document subpoena in Georgia, after tracking down some of the medical doctors that treated the truck driver who died within a week of the collision.
After he obtained pertinent medical records, truck accident attorney Randy Appleton retained a medical doctor in order to establish that the truck driver knew or should have known that his pre-existing medical condition could interfere with his driving capabilities. We filed suit against the truck driver's employer on the basis that their driver was negligent in sideswiping our truck driver client, but the trucking company lawyer’s contended that their driver had what is called a sudden medical emergency which can create a legal excuse for carelessness or negligence, but it must be sudden, and it must not be a foreseeable medical condition as to the truck driver operating their truck before the collision occurs.
Our team of experienced truck accident lawyers were prepared to show that this was not a sudden medical emergency but rather a condition that was well known to the truck driver, and should have been known to his employer as well. In fact, the specific sudden medical emergency claimed was that the driver had a heart attack even though it had never been diagnosed in the days after the collision before the truck driver actually died from separate causes.
The potentially responsible truck driver, through his employer, also claimed that there was contributory negligence on our client who was tending to his tractor-trailer. The defendant's argument was that our client should not have been on the shoulder, and should have placed warning cones around his tractor-trailer before he was struck and killed.
In addition, our attorneys hired a trucking liability and safety expert to analyze all of the Virginia State police evidence, to travel to the scene of the collision, and to develop facts and evidence about what happened. He provided all of this information to our firm attorneys and was prepared to demonstrate that the negligence of the sideswiping truck driver operator was the cause of the collision and death of our client. Typically, an expert witness on trucking cases looks at the location, speed of the vehicles, sight lines and the throw of headlights, including bright head lamps and regular head lamps, and provides details that will help our personal injury attorneys prosecute this type of commercial trucking case.
Result - Successful Resolution Providing Financial Security for Our Client's Family
The federal court mandated a pretrial settlement conference with a United States Magistrate Judge. Our firm attorneys prepared detailed written materials to provide the magistrate judge so that he could understand the strength of our case and the immense loss to the widow and to the young children having lost their father.
The case did not settle at the first settlement conference presided over by the U.S. magistrate Judge. However, in the period of time immediately after that conference, the parties agreed to settle the case for $2.25 million.
Our work did not end with the negotiation of the settlement because Randy Appleton was instrumental in helping the widow set up structured settlements that provide for growth of the settlement funds for the minor children so that at age 18 these funds increase in value and are maximized tax-free. How those settlement funds grow over the years should be carefully considered by experienced personal injury lawyers.
The wrongful death settlement was approved in Virginia, but the widow and estate representative resided in North Carolina. This meant considerations of how the settlement monies were to be divided to the wrongful death beneficiaries under either VA or NC law was important.
Accordingly, Randy worked with the widow to set up personal injury structured settlements that provide for the growth of the settlement funds in favor of the young minors. If the funds were not placed into a structured settlement, they would have instead be deposited into the clerk's office and held in an account with a very low interest rate. The specific type of structured settlement that was created was called a "pooled trust fund" that allows the parents to have access to a small portion of the settlement funds necessary to raise the children in the case of emergencies, or for schooling or clothing needs.
Settlement amount: $2.25 million (including portions in structured settlements for minor children)
Law Firm Staff
- Randall E. Appleton, Attorney
- Ed Booth, Attorney
- Becky W. and Roz H., Paralegals
- Eastern District Federal Court, Richmond, VA
- October 2016