Articles Posted in truck accident

An important part of a personal injury case can be determining the physical condition of the plaintiff. A New Mexico federal trial court recently decided an insurance company defendant’s motion seeking an independent medical examination of the plaintiff.  The court tried to balance the parties’ rights because there were several points of disagreement including duration and scope and, ultimately, granted the motion in part and denied it in part.

Allegedly the plaintiff, who was a passenger in the bed of a pick-up truck on the day of the accident, suffered serious and permanent injuries after the truck she was in rolled off a washed-out dirt road.  She sought to recover damages from an insurance company on the basis of failure to pay underinsured motorist insurance benefits that she alleged were due to her.  Her lawsuit included claims for breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing, breach of fiduciary duty and violation of the New Mexico Unfair Insurance Practices Act and the New Mexico Unfair Practices Act.  The insurance company defendant responded by, among other things, seeking a court order requiring the plaintiff to undergo an independent medical examination with no restrictions under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 35.

Under Rule 35, a federal court may order “a party whose mental or physical condition . . . is in controversy to submit to a physical or mental examination by a suitably licensed or certified examiner.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 35(a)(1). The Rule tries to balance the rights of parties as its provisions reflect.  For example, court orders under the Rule “may be made only on motion for good cause and . . . must specify the time, place, manner, conditions, and scope of the examination, as well as the person or persons who will perform it.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 35(a)(2). Under cases construing the Rule discussed by the court, the party requesting the examination must show that the physical or mental condition of the party to be examined is in controversy and that good cause exists for the examination.  Additionally, the court explained that the showing of good cause is to be a greater showing than that under other discovery rules because a mere relevance standard would render the good cause requirement meaningless.  The court also explained that, while Rule 35 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure should be construed liberally to allow discovery, how it is to be applied in a particular case is within the “sound discretion” of the court.

The U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico recently ruled against a plaintiff in a New Mexico wrongful death suit that was based on a successive entrustment theory of liability.  The ruling came in the context of resolving a motion for summary judgment brought by one of the defendants, a company that had an independent contractor agreement with one of the individual defendants pursuant to which she was operating a truck to transport cargo.  Allegedly in violation of the agreement, the driver picked up her father as a passenger, who went on to drive the truck and cause an accident resulting in the death of her employee who was asleep in the truck’s bunk bed when her father lost control of the truck.

The mother of the deceased employee, as personal representative of his estate, sued her son’s employer, the employer’s father, and the company that had leased her son’s employer the truck.  She sued in New Mexico state court and then the lessor of the truck removed the case to federal court.  The lessor brought a summary judgment motion.  Resolution was to be based on New Mexico law because the underlying truck accident occurred in New Mexico.

The lessor defendant argued to the federal district court that the driver of the truck at the time of the accident was not its employee under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations; that it was not negligent in its own right for its training of its independent contractor who had entrusted the truck to her father, and that it should not be held liable for the successive entrustment of the truck by its independent contractor to her father.  The court accepted these arguments reasoning that the driver at the time of the accident was not an employee and there was no evidence that the alleged lack of training by the lessor of the authorized driver of the vehicle contributed to the entrustment of the vehicle. Reviewing New Mexico state law, the court also concluded that New Mexico does not recognize a cause of action for negligent entrustment based on multiple, successive entrustments.

Claims are subject to dismissal through summary judgment when a party can establish that there are no genuine issues of material fact with respect to the claims, and the claims cannot succeed as a matter of law.  A summary judgment motion can seek the dismissal of a complaint in its entirety or be a partial summary judgment motion directed at some of the claims asserted in a complaint.  In a recent case, plaintiffs filed suit against the driver of a tractor trailer and the freight line that owned the vehicle he was driving at the time of the collision with the plaintiffs’ vehicle.

The plaintiffs asserted claims of negligence, negligence per se, and negligent entrustment and sought an award of punitive damages.  The defendants removed the case from the New Mexico state court in which the plaintiffs had filed their complaint to a New Mexico federal district court, and they filed a motion for partial summary judgment with respect to the plaintiffs’ second amended complaint.  The defendants asserted that the record supported the dismissal of the negligent entrustment and punitive damages claims as a matter of law.  The plaintiffs did not file a response in opposition.  Still, the Court had to assess whether the defendants had met their initial responsibility of demonstrating a basis for partial summary judgment.

The Court studied the evidence that the defendants had submitted and their arguments.  With respect to the negligent entrustment claim, the defendants had argued that the record did not support liability because the undisputed facts showed that the driver did not have a record of citations for traffic violations and had passed a drug test on the day of the accident.  The record before the Court also showed that the driver had only been in one accident previously, in which a vehicle had backed into the truck he was driving, had conducted a pre-trip inspection of the tractor trailer, was not using his cell phone at the time of the accident, was driving with low beams, was not exceeding the speed limit, and had tried to avoid the plaintiffs’ vehicle before the collision occurred that had given rise to their alleged damages.  With this record before it, the Court accepted the defendants’ contention that there was no evidence presented that the owner of the truck knew or should have known that the driver would operate it in a manner that would create an unreasonable risk of harm to others.  As a result, and without evidence to counter by the plaintiffs, the Court was amenable to granting the defendants’ motion for partial summary judgment with respect to the negligent entrustment claim.

New Mexico residents share the roads with commercial vehicles, including trucks.  Among concerns are accidents caused by truck driver fatigue.  There are resources available to educate truck drivers, who are often under pressure to drive longer hours by their employers.

Technology in the shipping and trucking industries is rapidly advancing. Tesla debuted in November 2017 an electric semi-truck, expected to be manufactured two years from its introduction, which includes autonomous driving capabilities.  An article by Fortune discusses features including Enhanced Autopilot, which is designed to allow a vehicle to stay within a driving lane, match the speed of the vehicle to traffic conditions, and even change lanes without the help of the driver.

Tesla’s new electric semi-truck could dramatically change the shipping and truck driving industries by bringing down costs. It is environmentally friendly and promoted on bases including that a single charge could power a truck for 500 miles while carrying a load of 80,000 pounds.  The Tesla technology could also be used as part of a system described as “platooning,” in which a series of trucks follow a lead truck and synchronize speeds and routes via the use of sensors and RADAR technology.  The platooning system is thought to have advantages including reducing wind resistance and cutting down on emissions from trucks.