What Happened: Our client was a professional truck driver who lost his life in Shenandoah County, Virginia (VA) when he was hit alighting from the tractor trailer cab he was in the assess the damages after his co-driver struck another vehicle. The conditions on Interstate 81 (I-81) were foggy with a light rain. The tractor trailer for a different, out-of-state commercial trucking firm ran over the decedent on the roadway, after an impact with a passenger vehicle. A terrible fire ball ensued killing our client.
A lawsuit was filed under the Virginia wrongful death statute with the sole statutory beneficiary being the decedent's adult son. The son has certain intellectual handicaps and lived with his mother, the ex-wife of the decedent. The mother became the young man's conservator under the law of the state where they lived. This guardianship allowed her to help manage the grown child's financial affairs including the prosecution and settlement of the wrongful death litigation.
Key Legal Strategy: We had to address the question of exactly who was at-fault in this complicated collision. There were various vehicles that were involved. We consulted with an accident reconstructionist expert to understand exactly what the duties of each truck driver were under the facts. We analyzed the rules of the road to determine what the standard was for the professional drivers under the circumstances of limited visibility. Being commercial drivers with CDL's, they had to comply with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, which includes specialized rules about large truck operations. For example, there is a rule that says if there is limited visibility, then the driver is to use "extreme caution" and even pull over if conditions are bad enough. So, the analysis of the weather and the effect on the drivers was a key inquiry in our initial investigation.
We also looked at what the Virginia State Police found as to each vehicle, including things like the lights, brakes, and tires on the big rigs involved. The trooper in the crash report found some of the equipment had balding tires and inoperative lighting.
We hired an economist who was able to show the economic loss to the adult child of the decedent who was quite dependent on his father's advice and help. Although his Dad bought his son some clothes and provided meals out on a regular basis, more importantly he spent quality time with his son. This amount of time in the role of a friend, advisor, and helper has real economic and emotional value. The economist helped us to develop the numbers to prove to the insurance company the monetary aspect of the loss.
In preparation for the mediation, we put together a strong audiovisual presentation which included video clips of key family members to describe the nature of the relationship between father and son that was lost. The nature of the videos really brought home to the insurance claims representatives for the trucking firm that this was a real person with terrible grief whose life had been permanently altered when his best friend and protector was killed.
John C. - Attorney
Roz Hughes - Paralegal
Kelly K. Farley - Legal Assistant
Investigator: Donald Case
Court: Richmond Circuit Court, removed to the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia, Harrisonburg Division.
Date: April 2010