Court Rules Truck Company Not Fully Liable for Faulty Repairs
Tuong Vi Le was a passenger in a minivan when a nearby tractor-trailer lost two of its wheels. The tire struck the side of the minivan injuring Tuong, who was pregnant at the time. Since she was pregnant, she could not get an X-ray or an MRI. She later discovered that she had injured her back in the accident and required surgery to relieve the chronic pain. Tuong sued the trucking company, Colonial Freight Systems and won a $500,000 jury verdict. The judge, however, reduced the verdict to $115,000 ruling that the motor carrier was only 23% responsible for the accident and their service repair shop, TravelCenters of America, was 77% responsible for the accident.
This is significant because the plaintiff initially named both companies in the lawsuit and dropped TravelCenters. This was obviously a mistake. Let’s take a look at how the decision played out and whether or not it was fair to the plaintiff.
Truck Had Suffered Mechanical Failure Before
The truck that caused the accident had been involved in a separate incident in which no one was injured. Apparently, the brakes caught on fire, damaging two of the tires and surrounding components. The truck was taken out of circulation and sent to TravelCenters for repair. Two weeks later, the truck was inspected by Colonial Freight. The inspector determined that there was nothing wrong with the vehicle and sent it out on delivery six days later. That’s when the accident occurred.
The judge ruled in favor of the motor carrier in large part because the trucking company had a reasonable expectation that the repairs would be made competently. According to the plaintiff, damaged bearings caused the wheels to dismount. The plaintiff argued that the trucking company had a nondelegable duty of care to ensure the safe operation of their vehicle. Further, they said that the inspector should have caught the problem before the truck was sent out on delivery.
The trucking company successfully argued that, in order to ensure that the bearings were undamaged, they would have had to take the entire wheel apart and then put it back together. There’s no regulatory requirement for motor carriers to take the wheel apart before allowing their trucks out on delivery. Hence, the plaintiff’s argument that the duty of care was nondelegable was rejected by the court and TravelCenters was allotted 77% of the blame.
Colonial Freight was allotted 23% of the blame due in large part to the fact that they only became aware of the fact that the trailer was inadequately serviced after the accident happened. Had they checked the invoice prior to the accident, they would have known that there was significantly less work done than would be expected after the initial problem.
The moral of the story is: Don’t drop plaintiffs from your lawsuit until you know how the court is going to rule.
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If you’ve been injured in a tractor-trailer accident or a defective tire accident, talk to the Coral Gables tire defect attorneys at Halpern, Santos & Pinkert today for a free consultation.