$150 Million Settlement for SUV that Struck a Parked Tractor Trailer
Transportation companies operating in the US take note: a recent decision was made by award more than $150 million in damages to a 13-year-old girl whose parents and a brother died in 2009 after their SUV struck a tractor-trailer parked on the shoulder of a freeway in the US.
A Los Angeles jury made the award in October 2013, based on its finding that the truck driver and the trucking company were jointly negligent for parking on the side of Interstate 210 without engaging the truck’s hazard warning flashers or placing emergency warning devices/reflectors to indicate its presence. The truck also parked in an area signed for emergency stopping only, which the driver ignored in order to pull over and take medication for a severe headache.
While such an incident represents a worst-case scenario, it is a reminder for truck drivers to take into account a number of considerations at all times, including:
- Hazard Lights: If a driver has to pull over on the side of the road, make sure to use hazard lights and emergency reflectors.
- Time of Day: During daylight hours, a driver is required to deploy reflective triangles, fuses, or flares within 10 minutes of parking. The purpose of this rule is to ensure that the vehicle can be seen by other traffic.
- Location of the Highway: During daylight hours or where highway lighting is sufficient, warning lighting is not required within business or residential districts of municipalities. However, the vehicle must still be visible from a distance of 500 feet.
- Visibility: Where hills, curves or other obstructions to the view of the vehicle by traffic are within 500 feet, warning devices must be placed 100 to 500 feet prior to the vehicle to give ample warning to traffic. Ensuring that the vehicle is visible to traffic is the primary concern to parking along highways. Case law reveals that where a parked vehicle is visible at a reasonable distance, a driver has not acted negligently so as to be a substantial cause of an accident.
- Purpose for Stopping: While drivers are not expressly prohibited from stopping along highways for non-emergency reasons, the requirement that drivers activate emergency lighting while parked along a highway implies that parking in such an area should only be done in emergency situations. It is clear that states consider it dangerous for other traffic. Whether illness and/or fatigue constitute an emergency is unclear, therefor a driver should only park on the side of a highway if the risk of driving to a designated or permissible parking area outweighs the risk of staying along the shoulder.
Areas marked for emergency use only should be avoided unless there is absolutely no other reasonable option available to a driver. In light of the recent settlement noted above, it could be implied that drivers parking in these areas assume responsibility for any accidents that may result from creating a risk to other vehicles.
For more details and to access a full copy of the analysis of this settlement, please see Legal Overview & Implications of US Truck Freeway Parking Case by BC Trucking Association (December 5, 2013).
Tia Chisholm, HUB International TRANSPORTATION
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