The Supreme Court of Mississippi recently published an opinion affirming a state district court’s ruling that granted summary judgment to two defendants in a lawsuit based on a semi-truck accident. The high court rejected the plaintiff’s claim for damages against the driver of the truck, who caused a separate accident that occurred before the accident that injured the plaintiff. The plaintiff had filed suit against this particular defendant in an attempt to hold him responsible for an accident that was caused in part by the slowdown and traffic jam that resulted from the initial accident.
By affirming the district court’s granting of summary judgment to the defendant in this case, the court showed how a defendant may not be legally responsible for the result of his or her negligence if there is an intervening or superseding cause between the initial act of negligence and the alleged injury.
Two Accidents on a Busy Highway
The accident that injured the plaintiff in the case of Ready v. RWI Transportation, Inc. was the second of two closely linked crashes that were the subject of this litigation. According to the facts as discussed by the appellate court, the defendant was driving a semi-truck and negligently caused an accident with a pickup truck that was driven by a man who was not a party to this lawsuit.
About an hour later, and three-quarters of a mile from the first crash, a second accident occurred that the plaintiff claimed was the responsibility of the truck driver who negligently caused the first crash. The second accident occurred when the plaintiff, who was following another semi-truck, failed to slow down in time for the stopped traffic caused by the first accident, crashing into the semi-truck in front of him. Although a rear driver involved in a rear-end collision is generally responsible for following at a safe distance and maintaining the ability and attention to stop safely, the plaintiff filed suit against the semi-truck driver who caused the initial crash, as well as the trucking company that employed him.
The Defendant Is Granted Summary Judgment, and the Ruling Is Upheld on Appeal
In response to the plaintiff’s lawsuit, the defendant requested dismissal. He argued that he could not be held legally accountable for damages that resulted from his negligence if the damages were not foreseeable to him, and his actions were not the actual cause of the accident that injured the plaintiff.
The district court agreed with the defendant that the plaintiff’s lawsuit against him could not go to trial, ruling that the second accident was too far removed in time and distance to be a foreseeable harm that could be caused by the defendant’s initial act of negligence, and he owed no duty to the plaintiff. The plaintiff appealed the trial court ruling to the state supreme court, arguing that the existence of a duty between the plaintiff and the defendant should have been determined by a jury, rather than the judge.
The state supreme court rejected the plaintiff’s arguments and carefully explained the basic elements of a standard negligence case: duty, breach, causation, and damages. The court explained that while causation contains an issue of foreseeability that may appropriately be determined by a jury, the question of whether or not a duty is owed is one that can be solely determined by a judge as a matter of law. The court found that the trial judge did not abuse his discretion by finding that the defendant owed no duty to the plaintiff, based upon the time and distance between the two accidents.
Furthermore, the plaintiff’s own negligent conduct in failing to follow at a safe distance to prevent an accident in the event of a slowdown was more of a cause of his own injuries than the defendant’s negligence in causing the initial crash. With this final ruling by the highest court in the state, the defendant will not be held responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries.
Have You Been Injured in a Semi-Truck Accident?
If you or a loved one has been involved in a South Florida truck accident, the Miami accident attorneys at Friedman, Rodman & Frank can help you evaluate your case and determine if you may have a claim for damages. Our skilled attorneys understand the legal distinctions between cases with and without legal liability, and we will help ensure that you don’t waste time and effort pursuing a claim that is likely to get dismissed. Contact us now and schedule a meeting with a South Florida semi-truck accident attorney to find out if you have a case. The consultation is free, and there is no obligation to pursue your case if you choose not to do so. Call today at 877-448-8585 or contact us online to schedule a no-obligation consultation.
More Blog Posts:
State Supreme Court Refuses to Enforce Arbitration Clause Against Young Injury Victim, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, published November 3, 2016.
Court Sides with Plaintiff, Reversing Judgment for Defendant in Slip-and-Fall Case, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, published November 17, 2016.