In Brown v. Davis, decedent was killed on a bridge crossing over the Mississippi River between Illinois and Missouri. His injuries occurred when a huge “log skidder” tractor fell off of a large truck and onto his vehicle.
The truck was driven by one defendant for his uncle, another defendant, who owned a logging company, also named as defendant. Plaintiff was decedent’s wife and mother of his two children. She alleged defendant’s were negligent because driver failed to exercise due caution, the owner of the vehicle failed to block oncoming traffic and the company was vicariously liable.
According to court records, the crash happened in 2011. The nephew driving the vehicle was an independent contractor who was delivering the log skidder owned by his uncle’s company from Illinois to a buyer in Missouri.
The two-lane bridge over which he had to cross is 20-feet wide. The log skidder is 10 feet wide, so the vehicle had to cross the center line, encroaching on the opposite lane, to pass.
At trial, the local sheriff testified the practice had been that for wide loads to cross that bridge, the company had to call law enforcement and file a request for oncoming traffic to be stopped. The driver knew about this practice and so did his uncle. However, driver stated he preferred to “close” the bridge on his own, sending another driver out ahead to block the opposite lane. He testified he had crossed this bridge carrying similar large loads “thousands” of times before, often with his uncle with him.
His uncle would cross first in a pickup truck and close the lane until the large load was safely across. The pair had reportedly done this together “hundreds” of times. The uncle testified he sometimes called law enforcement and sometimes blocked traffic himself.
On this particular day, they decided to block traffic themselves. The uncle went ahead in his pickup truck. Nephew drove slowly onto the bridge and then pulled over onto the shoulder to wait for his uncle to tell him the path was clear. After he got the “all clear” phone call, he continued.
However, as soon as he crossed under the first superstructure, he spotted a car coming fast at him from the other direction. He tried to move over quickly, but instead struck the side of the bridge with the log skidder, causing it to rip loose from the trailer and fall onto the oncoming car. The impact killed the driver.
Although the uncle had stopped at one portion of the bridge, he admitted he would not have been able to stop oncoming traffic from a nearby motel parking lot and two gas stations that were closer. That’s where it’s believed decedent was traveling from.
After the jury verdict finding negligence and vicarious liability and awarding $3 million in damage, the uncle and his company appealed. (The driver did not appeal.)
Defendants argued the driver’s negligence in speeding broke the chain of causation. However, both the lower court and the appeals court disagreed, finding defendant’s failure to stop decedent’s car from driving onto the bridge in the first place was the primary cause of the truck accident, exacerbated by the negligent warning given to driver.
Call Fort Lauderdale Injury Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
Brown v. Davis, Feb. 23, 2016, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
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