A Washington jury awarded $15.5M last week in a 2004 truck accident case. The injuries, as the verdict suggests, were catastrophic. The auto accident caused the Plaintiff’s blindness. She continues to undergo surgical procedures to reconstruct her facial structure and is still in therapy to aid in her recovery from the brain injuries she suffered.
Given the catastrophic nature of these injuries, the amount of the award is no surprise; however, the party held primarily responsible for her injuries is U-Haul International, Inc. The jurors, apportioning liability as they do in a comparative negligence jurisdiction, found that U-Haul was 67% at-fault for Plaintiff’s injuries while they found the operator of the U-Haul trailer at 33%. The jurors also found U-Haul Company of Washington and the owner of the Texaco station where Mr. Hefley rented the trailer to be negligent.
The jury found that the operator had failed to secure materials in the U-Haul trailer he rented and as a result, an enormous piece of wooden furniture flew out of the trailer and smashed through the plaintiff’s windshield on the driver’s side. The jury found that the lack of instruction and clear warning to customers on how to properly secure materials they were transporting made U-Haul more at fault for the accident then Mr. Hefley’s failure to ensure the stability of the furniture he was transporting.
In their attempt to push responsibility for the accident to the Plaintiff, U-Haul’s lawyers apparently argued that Plaintiff was following too closely behind the U-Haul trailer and was drunk at the time of the accident. These efforts to shift blame back to a woman who suffered these kinds of catastrophic injuries backfired.
This accident has led to the creation of “Maria’s Law” in Washington which will hold future motorists to a higher threshold of accountability when accidents occur because of their failure to properly secure items in and around their vehicles.
Most of us on the roads are constantly dodging carpets, boxes, and construction equipment that made our roads sometimes look like Aisle #11 at Home Depot. Federal law requires truck operators to secure their loads, but these laws are not always enforced.
Often, failing to secure load cases are far less obvious. Plaintiff auto and truck accident lawyers are getting wiser to the notion that the parties loading, unloading, and providing instructions for loading and unloading are often culpable defendants where these issues are far more subtle than in this Washington case. It is the truck driver’s responsibility and the loader’s responsibility to secure the load as prescribed by the U.S. Department of Transportation and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Our lawyers have handled several cases and are familiar with the trucking experts, mostly engineers, around the country who specialize in safely loading vehicles. If you are a truck accident lawyer looking for experts in this regard, call me or drop me an email.