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Assessing Fault

As one can imagine, 18-wheeler accidents are rarely completely the fault of one party or another. For example, while the driver of an 18-wheeler may have been driving recklessly, the victim could have contributed to the incident by staying in the 18-wheeler’s blind spot. A recent Texas case sheds light onto how these types of cases are handled.

In Westfreight Systems, Inc. v. Heuston, the driver of the 18-wheeler at issue had just dropped off his load and was leaving a job site. He decided to leave through the entrance gate and not the exit gate, onto a highway. As the driver backed out of the site, the 18-wheeler was positioned so that it blocked both lanes of the darkened highway. Such a manoever was against the policies of the company which employed the truck driver. What is more, this manoever took place on a dark night, and while the truck had lights which made it visible, its reflective tape was soiled and dirty, which made the truck less visible than it should have been.

Suddenly, the victim approached on the highway. Although it was dark, the night was clear and there was nothing obstructing the view of the victim, the victim plowed right into the truck. The victim died as a result of the collision. It was noted at trial that the victim should have been able to see the truck blocking the highway from at least half a mile away.

The victim’s estate sued the truck driver. At trial, the court was faced with a situation – what to do in a situation like this, where both the driver of the 18-wheeler and the victim were both partially negligent?

In situations like these, which are common in 18-wheeler accident cases, Texas has a principal of damages called comparative negligence. What this means is, when both parties to an accident did something wrong, a jury will assign a percentage as to how much they contributed. If their mistake contributed less than 50% to the accident, they can recover damages; however, their damages will be reduced by the percentage that the jury finds that they contributed to the accident.

In the present matter, the jury found that the truck driver was 80% to blame for the accident for ignoring company policy and blocking both lanes of a highway. The victim, on the other hand, was found to be 20% to blame, for not seeing the truck or slowing down. As such, the victim was allowed to recover, since the victim contributed less than 50% to the accident, and the jury found that the victim would have recovered $2,150,000.00 had the victim done nothing wrong. Since the victim was found to be 20% to blame, the victim’s award was reduced by 20%, to a little under $1,800,000.00.

As demonstrated by Westfreight Systems, Inc., even if a victim did something to help cause the accident, the victim may be able to still file suit and gain a recovery. The victim should just be aware of the fact that their damages may be reduced by the amount they happened to be negligent.

If you or a loved one have been injured in an accident, Call Carabin Shaw for more information.  

Visits with the Attorney are by appointment only. Main office San Antonio, Texas.

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