The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals recently affirmed the dismissal of a wrongful death case filed against an allegedly negligent truck driver who was involved in a deadly car accident back in September 2012. The lawsuit was filed in federal court on behalf of an entire family who was killed in the tragic accident, which occurred on Interstate 80 near the Nebraska-Colorado border. Although the plaintiffs received a financial settlement from other defendants involved in the accident, the recent ruling prevents the victims from collecting any compensation from the truck driver whose negligence caused the traffic jam that eventually resulted in the fatal crash.
A Fatigued Driver Doesn't Stop for an Upcoming Traffic Jam
In the early morning hours of September 9, 2012, the family was traveling westbound on Interstate 80 between the Nebraska towns of Potter and Sidney. They approached a line of cars that were stopped because of an accident less than a mile ahead. Shortly after the family's cars came to a stop at the end of the line, a semi-truck approached from behind, without slowing for the stopped traffic. The semi-truck slammed into the stopped cars at 75 miles per hour, virtually demolishing both cars and killing all of the occupants: two adults, two children, and an unborn child.
It was discovered during the investigation that the driver who crashed into the family had been driving for at least 14 straight hours before the accident, in violation of federal regulations. The representatives of the family reached a settlement with the truck driver who directly caused the accident, and they also filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the driver of the truck who negligently caused the accident that slowed traffic down to begin with.
The Courts Rule in Favor of the First Truck Driver
This defendant accepted responsibility for the initial accident that stopped traffic, but he denied liability for the second crash that killed the family. His attorneys argued that the negligence of the second driver, who failed to slow down for visibly stopped traffic, was an efficient intervening cause in the chain of events between the first crash and the family's death, so the first driver should not be responsible for damages from the second crash. Both the district court and the Eighth Circuit agreed with the defense, ruling that the second driver's negligence was the legal cause of the accident, and it broke the causal connection between the first driver's negligent conduct and the death of the family. Because of these rulings, the plaintiff's claims against the first truck driver will not be heard.
Illinois Law and Intervening or Superseding Causes
In Illinois, a defendant can be relieved of liability for a claim if he or she can show that an action of another person is a superseding cause (sometimes called an efficient intervening cause) of the injury. For another person's negligent conduct to be a superseding cause, the defendant must prove that the negligent actions of the third party could not have been anticipated by the defendant and that they directly resulted in the plaintiff's injury. Defendants and insurance companies commonly succeed in avoiding liability for accidents by arguing for the existence of a superseding cause, and accident victims must be prepared to fight back against this theory.
Do You Need Legal Advice?
If you believe you have been the victim of a truck accident, contacting an attorney sooner rather than later can increase your chances of obtaining a fair recovery. The Illinois accident attorneys at the Cavanagh Law Group have experience facing the toughest arguments defendants and their insurance companies use to avoid responsibility for accidents, and our track record shows that we can get results for our clients. At the Cavanagh Law Group, we represent clients in most personal injury and wrongful death cases, including highway accidents.