The good news is that my duty is done for this week. The lawyers were very good at defining what the case was about, so while this morning was somewhat frustrating listening to some testimony, it didn’t take long to hear the case and deliberations took an hour.
Biggest laugh of the day was after the following interchange:
Lawyer: What is the significance of that door?
Witness, looking slightly confused: To go in and out of the building.
The case was about a car accident. A headboard had fallen off a truck and was lying in the middle of the highway. The driver of the vehicle, the plaintiff, swerved to the right to go around the headboard, lost control of his vehicle and crossed the left side of the lane into oncoming traffic where he hit a pickup truck and trailer. There were a lot of damages and personal injury involved. The plaintiff was filing a claim against his uninsured motorist portion of his insurance policy, and the insurance company was the defendent. Both agreed that because the truck and driver had never been identified, the accident could be covered by that clause.
The lawyers agreed that the driver of the truck that had lost the headboard was negligent. But two of the witnesses were there to testify that the headboard came from this white pickup truck that also lost other material later on down the highway.
It was a “gorgeous spring day”, the driving conditions were good. We heard testimony (from the plaintiff’s witnesses) that at least 5 other vehicles had swerved or driven over the headboard without incident. Both sides agree that the plaintiff was not speeding. Skid marks indicate that the vehicle was “sideslipping” just prior to the headboard but there were no brake marks on the freeway. Post accident inspections did not show any mechanical failure on the part of the vehicle.
So, we needed to determine:
1) Was the headboard in the road a direct cause of the accident?
2) Was the plaintiff negligent?
3) Did this negligence a direct cause of the accident?
4) If yes to 2 and 3, what percentage is can be attributed to each cause?
We determined that the plaintiff was negligent. There was an emergency clause, which says that in the event of an emergency, reasonable action cannot be considered negligent. I argued that something in the road does not constitute an emergency. In fact, the plaintiff testified that the item was “no big deal” and that he felt no “duress”. The plaintiff’s attorney stressed that his client had driven semis for several years and drove the same route for the past 5–he was an excellent driver. Most important though was the fact that the headboard had been on the road for several minutes with a number of cars successfully navigating their way around or over it. There was no evidence that there was anything different about this situation, other than the driver and the vehicle. And while in Minnesota, accidents don’t necessarily mean that there’s fault, something caused the vehicle to cross the line into oncoming traffic. We felt that it was overcompensation on the driver’s part.
And yes, this was a direct cause of the accident. Had he not overcompensated, or as everyone stipulated, lost control of his vehicle, he wouldn’t have hit the other vehicle.
We had a tough time with the last question. If we give the driver any liability over 50% he gets nothing. If we give anything 50% or less, he gets his claim. It was difficult to say that both factors were of equal blame because of the fact that several cars had managed to get through the area successfully. It was also very hard to separate our sympathy and emotions from this because the plaintiff did spend 7 weeks in the hospital (and works for a company that I happen to know provides pretty crappy health insurance). However, we were instructed to keep those factors out of our decision.
In the end we assigned 70% to him and 30% to the headboard.