Anytime there is a multi-vehicle collision, the question of fault can be a tricky one to establish.
However, where there are key facts disputed and even differing expert witness opinions, a case should be allowed to proceed to trial so that jurors can weigh the various issues of fact. Only when there is no question of fact and the case can be decided as a matter of law should a trial court grant summary judgment to one party or another.
Recently, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled a trial court and appeals court erred in granting and then affirming summary judgment in favor of a defendant involved in an accident that resulted in the death of one motorcyclist and the serious injury of a motorcycle passenger. In reversing the summary judgment, the state high court in Fargo v. Hays-Kuehn paves the way for the multiple-vehicle crash case to be considered by a jury.
Interestingly, the one defendant against whom the case is pressing forward never had any collision contact with the motorcycle on which the two motorcyclists were riding. However, the allegations is that defendant’s negligent actions in operating a motor vehicle were the proximate cause of the crash and therefore of the subsequent death and injuries.
According to court records, the fatal motorcycle accident occurred in July 2008.
There were three vehicles driving in succession on a rural, two-lane highway. We’ll call them A, B and C.
Vehicle A was first in line. She slowed and then stopped as she approached an intersection to wait for oncoming traffic to clear before making a left turn. The motorcyclist was one of those vehicles that was approaching at highway speeds.
Vehicle B was in a larger truck. Rather than slow down or stop behind Vehicle A, she continued to operate her vehicle at highway speeds in order to pass Vehicle A on the left.
Meanwhile, Vehicle C was behind Vehicle B. Because Vehicle B did not slow down or signal before quickly moving into the left lane, she did not realize she was fast-approaching a stopped vehicle. By the time she realized what was happening, she attempted to avoid a collision by swerving into the opposing lane. However, as she did so, she took note of the motorcycle that was fast-approaching. In an attempt to avoid crashing with the motorcycle, she then swerved back into her lane.
This evasive maneuver failed. Vehicle C ended up striking Vehicle A and then soon after striking the motorcyclist. The impact of that collision caused both the operator and rider to be thrown from the bike. The operator of the motorcycle died at the scene, while the passenger sustained serious personal injury.
Authorities with the state highway patrol determined although Vehicle B didn’t collide with anyone, her failure to reduce her speed or to complete a safe passing was the cause of the crash. However, they also cited Vehicle C for following too closely.
Plaintiffs (the injured passenger and surviving family members of the decedent) initially filed a lawsuit against all three drivers, but later pared it down to the case against solely driver of Vehicle B.
Defendant requested a summary judgment, asserting Vehicle B could not have known Vehicle C was directly behind her and that she would follow into the oncoming lane of traffic and strike a motorcycle.
Trial court granted her request and appeals court affirmed.
However, the state supreme court reversed because the question of which driver proximately caused the crash is a matter of fact that should be weighed by a jury – not a matter of law to be decided before trial by a judge.
If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
Fargo v. Hays-Kuehn , June 30,2015, Oklahoma Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
SeaBright Ins. Co. v. Lopez – Work-Related Car Accident, July 4, 2015, Fort Myers Motorcycle Accident Lawyer Blog