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Tractor-Trailer Accidents Often Raise Complex Legal Questions


Commercial trucking accidents present a unique set of legal challenges for victims. These trucks are subject to a complex web of federal and state regulations. In addition, establishing just who is legally responsible for an accident–the driver, the truck owner, the company who hired the truck, etc.–can take weeks or months of investigation before a lawsuit may even be filed.

Judge Declines to Dismiss Wrongful Death Lawsuit Brought by Wife of Commercial Truck Driver

A federal judge in Jackson, Tennessee, is presently hearing a truck accident case that raises some interesting questions regarding the rights of a victim who may not have been authorized passenger in the vehicle at the time of the crash.

Here is a brief explanation. The victim was married to the driver of a commercial tractor-trailer, who is one of the defendants here. The victim wanted to travel with her husband, although she was not herself a licensed commercial truck driver.

At the time, the husband was employed by a commercial transportation company, which is another defendant. The company required the victim to sign a statement waiving any potential liability of the company–or its insurance company–in the event she was injured while riding as a passenger in the truck. This document also stated that her signature was necessary for her “to be able to rise with [her husband] as a passenger.”

The husband subsequently got into an accident while driving his tractor-trailer on Interstate 40 in Tennessee. The accident killed his wife and two people occupying another vehicle involved in the crash. The wife’s son (from a prior marriage) subsequently filed a wrongful death lawsuit, naming the husband, his employer, and other defendants.

Before the judge, the defense moved for summary judgment. They pointed to not just the wife’s signed statement–which purported to absolve everyone except the husband from liability–but also evidence that indicated the husband and wife both were “under the influence of methamphetamine” at the time of the accident. The defense argued that the wife’s drug use meant that she was “at least 50 percent at fault in causing her injuries and death,” which would bar her estate from recovering any damages under Tennessee’s comparative negligence rule.

The judge disagreed with the defense’s assumptions and denied summary judgment. As the judge explained, methamphetamine is not like alcohol. It is unclear just from the concentration of methamphetamine in the blood whether or not a person is “intoxicated.” And although the husband and wife both exhibited signs of drug use, it was equally impossible from the available evidence to establish they took drugs at the same time–which would be relevant, as the wife would be considered negligent if she knowingly got into a truck with an intoxicated driver.

As for the wife’s purported waiver, that document is governed under Kentucky law. The judge noted that Kentucky does not allow individuals to contract away their right to sue a defendant for “willful or wanton negligence,” which the estate here has alleged. There was also a “lack of consideration” which would make the statement a binding contract, the judge said. As noted above, the wife signed the statement so she would be legally permitted to ride in her husband’s commercial truck. But the statement itself did not comply with federal safety regulations, the judge said, so the wife was not permitted to be in the truck and therefore never received the “benefit of the bargain.”

Speak With a Knoxville Truck Accident Lawyer Today

Tractor-trailer accidents are not simple fender benders. If you are involved in such a crash you need assistance from a qualified Knoxville personal injury lawyer. Contact the offices of Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette, Attorneys at Law, if you have been injured in a truck accident and require immediate legal assistance.



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