Taking on the issue of truck driver negligence, the Wisconsin Supreme Court recently decided it was not erroneous for trial court to allow evidence and testimony underscoring that truck drivers are professionals who are trained and skilled for the job they do.

truckingThe court in Dakter v. Cavallino rejected the notion that it was error to instruct jurors that the standard of care was to be considered that which a “reasonable and prudent truck driver would use under the same or similar circumstances.” The truck driver, who lost the case at trial, had tried to argue the court wrongly imposed on him a heightened duty of care.

“Duty of care” is a standard element in every negligence case. In order to prove negligence, one must show there was a duty of care, defendant breached that duty and plaintiff suffered compensable injury as a result. Here, the trucker argued he should be held to the same standard as any other driver, and outlining his “special skill” and “training” made it seem as if he was held to a higher standard. The state high court did not agree.

According to court records, the underlying truck accident occurred in May 2008. Plaintiff was driving a passenger vehicle and was preparing to turn left at an intersection. Truck driver was traveling in the opposite direction, and was preparing to continue straight. As plaintiff made his turn, he was struck by the 65-foot truck.

Several facts leading up to the crash are in dispute, but we do know plaintiff sustained serious injuries as a result of that collision.

Plaintiff and his wife sued for negligence.

Both sides agreed that the standard of ordinary care applies to truck drivers of semi-trailer trucks. They did not agree, however, that jurors should hear expert witness testimony regarding the special knowledge and skill possessed by drivers of these trucks. Trial court sided with plaintiff on this issue, noting all drivers are required to maintain speed, proper lookout and adequate control of the vehicles they drive. To this point, the expert witness testimony was allowed.

One of those testifying for plaintiff was a man who trains truck drivers. He noted two mistakes this truck driver allegedly made. The first was not reducing his speed, as he would have needed to do with an empty trailer, which require more time to stop safely. Further, evidence of the road conditions at the time of the crash indicate the pavement was wet. Standard truck driver training is that when the pavement is wet, the driver must reduce his or her speed by one-third. Defendant did not do that in this case.

Similarly, the other two expert witnesses testified truck driver was traveling at an unsafe speed while operating a large vehicle while approaching an intersection in rainy weather.

Jurors returned a $1.1 million verdict for the plaintiff, finding defendant negligent.

Upon appeal, the appeals court determined the jury instruction given was erroneous, but not prejudicial – which is what would be needed to grant a whole new trial.

However, the state supreme court found there had been no error in the instruction or in the introduction of plaintiff’s expert witness testimony. The $1.1 million verdict was affirmed.

If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.

Additional Resources:

Dakter v. Cavallino , July 7, 2015, Wisconsin Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

$24M Damage Award for Florida Fatal Crash, July 7, 2015, Fort Myers Truck Accident Lawyer Blog