Our Virginia truck accident injury client was a tractor-trailer operator who suffered fatal injuries when another big rig driver veered off the interstate and struck our client as he examined his trailer.
The deceased man had stopped on the paved shoulder of I-95 in the City of Emporia to check the safety of his load. He was completely out of the far right lane of traffic, but the other commercial truck driver sideswiped him anyway. Our client initially survived the collision but died within hours of being transported to a local hospital.
The other truck driver did not suffer injuries and only spoke briefly with Virginia State Police at the scene of the collision. All he told investigators was that he had no recollection of the minutes leading up to the crash. The at-fault driver also had a short conversation with his own trucking company before dying himself from an illness.
- Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim in Virginia?
- More Commercial Truck Drivers Operating Despite Poor Health
- When Is Mediation Required in Virginia Personal Injury and Wrongful Death Cases?
Key Legal Strategies
The family of the truck driver we represented lived in North Carolina. They hired us because we are dual-licensed in Virginia and North Carolina to handle truck accident cases.
Our first decision was to file wrongful death claims in the federal district court in Richmond, VA. That court has a deserved reputation for quickly moving cases to a conclusion, and achieving a rapid settlement for the widow and several young children of the deceased truck driver was essential.
We next needed to obtain medical records for the commercial truck driver who ran off the side of I-95 and killed our client. That man’s own death from an existing illness several days after the crash strongly suggested that symptoms of his medical condition caused him to lose control of his vehicle.
Obtaining and maintaining a commercial driver’s license requires passing periodic physical examinations. By law, drivers will not be cleared to operate commercial trucks if they have any major health condition that could seriously impact their driving capabilities. Our Virginia truck accident attorneys needed to determine whether the at-fault truck driver had concealed his medical condition from his trucking company and the doctors who conducted his CDL physicals.
Once the records were delivered under subpoena, our attorneys hired a doctor to review the material and report whether the at-fault truck driver likely knew or should have known he was not healthy enough to operate a commercial truck safely.
The insurance company argued that the at-fault driver was not ill and only experienced a “sudden” medical emergency -- specifically, an alleged heart attack. The insurer also accused our client of contributory negligence by not staying in the cab and not placing reflective cones around his stopped tractor-trailer.
We countered these arguments by, first, noting that a medical emergency can only be deemed “sudden” if a driver does not realize he has a medical condition. We next pointed out that the at-fault driver did not die from a heart attack.
Last, we enlisted a trucking liability and safety expert who analyzed the police report, visited the site of the collision and concluded that a healthy truck driver should have been able to see and avoid sideswiping our client. This determination was based on factors like the speed of the at-fault driver’s vehicle, lines of sight along the stretch of interstate and the throw of the headlights on the at-fault driver’s truck.
Following a number of pretrial motions, the federal magistrate hearing the case ordered the insurance company to enter into mediation. This reflected the magistrate’s belief in the strength of our wrongful death claims and his recognition of the immense, and avoidable, loss suffered by our client’s widow and children.
Two rounds of mediation resulted in an agreement to settle all our Virginia truck accident client’s claims for $2.5 million. Our work did end there, however.
We helped the widow set up a structured settlement arrangement called a pooled trust fund. This allows funds to accumulate tax-free in accounts that her children can access once they turned 18. She also has limited access to the funds for paying for her young ones’ education, living expenses and medical care.
Court and Date: U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, October 2016
Staff: Randall E. Appleton and a second staff attorney