Expert witnesses can play a pivotal role in Jacksonville truck accident cases for all involved. In a recent personal injury lawsuit in Florida, the defendant appealed a jury verdict that awarded the plaintiff driver more than $8.2 million in damages for injuries he suffered in a collision with the defendant’s truck. The case arose early in the morning on the highway. The plaintiff was driving to work. The defendant’s truck driver, an employee, was backing up an 18-wheeled tractor trailer to deliver glass on that highway. While backing up, the truck was in a jack-knifed position; the cab was at a 90-degree angle from the trailer. Its hazards were on and both his headlights and running lights were on. The trailer was illuminated by reflective tape.
As the defendant truck driver backed up, he looked at his mirrors. He would later testify he believed no cars were coming. As he tried to straighten the cab to realign it with the trailer, he blocked the traffic flow and a few seconds passed before the plaintiff’s oncoming car hit the cab. The truck driver estimated the car was going 50-60 mph at the point of collision.
The plaintiff claimed his car was on cruise control at 50 mph, which was just under the speed limit of 55 mph He wasn’t distracted. However, there was no light on the road, and the truck appeared out of nowhere. Due to the crash, he suffered fractures of his heel, ankle and leg bones.
At trial, the defendant admitted its driver had been negligent in how he maneuvered the tractor-trailer, but claimed that the plaintiff’s injuries were bad because he’d been driving at a very high speed. The plaintiff presented an expert who investigated commercial vehicle collisions. He estimated that the plaintiff was 1400 feet behind a curve in the highway when the defendant started backing up. He said that the cab would have been visible nine seconds from the collision, but the reflective tape was irregular and would have been ineffective at its 45 degree angle. He also opined that the plaintiff might not have realized he was looking at a hazard when he came around the curve.
The defendant called a consulting engineer to be its expert. The defense expert opined that the plaintiff could have braked sooner and avoided the collision. He also held a nighttime simulation and said that there was no point while taking the plaintiff’s role in the accident during the simulation that he couldn’t see a flashing light. He also testified there might be multiple contributing legal causes of the collision.
The lower court ruled there was no fact for the jury to decide because it had been unanimous through all the experts. The defendant asked for a directed verdict on causation, liability, and comparative fault. The lower court ruled there was an outstanding factual issue of regarding perception and visual clutter. If the jury believed the plaintiff’s expert, they could find for the plaintiff. The jury found the plaintiff was at fault by 1% and the defendant was 99% at fault. The defendant asked for a new trial or a new trial for damages. The lower court denied.
The defendant appealed. The appellate court explained that both the plaintiff and defendant’s negligence was at issue below. Comparative negligence only reduces damages after liability is established. When a plaintiff is 100% responsible for his own injuries, the defendant’s actions can’t be a legal cause.
In this case, the defendant’s expert testified the plaintiff was the sole legal cause of his own injuries. The lower court had made an error in directing a verdict that the defendant’s driver was the legal cause of the plaintiff’s harm as a matter of law. The defendant’s expert had called into question whether the plaintiff’s distractedness was the only reason for his injuries. This was enough to send the question of legal cause to the jury. The court reversed the final judgment and sent the case back for a new trial.
If you were catastrophically injured in a collision with a truck in Jacksonville, you should consult experienced personal injury attorney Kevin Cobbin. Our firm represents people throughout Duval County and the surrounding areas. Call us at (904) 357-8448 or complete our online form.