Serious Trucking Accident Closely Follows Pennsylvania Superior Court Decision
National attention has recently surrounded the trucking accident involving several well-known comedians in New Jersey. After turning himself in, the driver of the truck admitted to authorities that he had been awake for over 24 hours. The driver worked for the large retailer, Walmart, which issued a statement that they believed the driver was following regulations and guidelines. Current national regulations attempt to encourage safety on the road by limiting the amount of total time on the road to 14 hours, requiring commercial drivers to work no more than 70 hours in an eight-day period, and imposing a 34-hour break every week. Federal regulations also mandate inspections of vehicles to ensure proper maintenance and safe transit of hazardous materials.
This closely follows a non-precedential decision by the Superior Court of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Kuchwara v. Williams. In that case a couple was injured in Scranton, Pennsylvania in a multiple-vehicle accident. A worker was driving his company’s dump truck when the brakes went out at the top of a hill. The truck drove into one car at more than 45 miles per hour, which then rear-ended the car transporting the affected couple. The wife sustained severe injuries, including lacerations to her face and fractures to her ankle, back, and leg. Numerous surgeries were conducted, but they ultimately could not completely erase the deep scars, constant pain, and altered gait.
The victim alleged the dump truck company failed to perform a pre-trip inspection and had not properly inspected the brakes, since only three of the eight brakes were working. Several other issues with the truck were also alleged, including too much play in the steering wheel, inoperable safety alarms, and no tag axle. All of the injured plaintiffs were awarded over nine million in compensatory damages and over a million in punitive damages. The trucking company and the driver appealed the ruling and large award, but the Superior Court affirmed the jury verdict.
One of the issues claimed by the appellants was the use of expert witnesses to provide an opinion along with an explanation of whether the driver’s and company’s behavior constituted “reckless indifference.” The company and driver claimed that they should have been granted a new trial because the trial court abused its discretion by allowing the testimony. The Superior Court pointed to Pennsylvania Rule of Evidence 704, which allows testimony in the form of an opinion or inference, even if it addresses the ultimate issue for the trier of fact. In personal injury suits, ultimate issues include deciding whether the at-fault party owed a duty to the injured person, whether that duty was breached, whether the injury was caused by the breach, and the total costs incurred by the injury. Testimony may be offered to assist the jury in reaching their collective conclusion, but it cannot directly make the conclusion for them. The Superior Court’s decision clarified that testimony may include opinion and a discussion of legal definitions, but this type of testimony did not interfere with the jury’s determination.
The Pennsylvania truck accident attorneys at Needle Law Firm have the litigation experience you need to successfully recover the damages you’ve incurred in any motor vehicle accident. For a free consultation today, contact our office at 570-344-1266.