Articles Posted in Truck Accidents

Earlier this week, Indiana State Troopers responded to a call where a semi-truck had rolled over onto a police car near Indianapolis. According to a report by 14News.com, the accident occurred on eastbound I-70. Apparently, the truck driver was near the police cruiser when it began to change lanes. Before the truck completed the lane change, however, the driver suddenly veered back into his own lane and crashed into the police car. As the semi-truck lost its load of steel sheets, the two vehicles spun out of control. Eventually the semi-truck came to a rest on top of the police cruiser.Both drivers, as well as a passenger in the police cruiser, were taken to the hospital for examination. All involved are in stable condition and are expected to recover. Police suspect that the semi-truck driver’s medical condition may have contributed to the accident. The driver was cited for an unsafe lane change.

Semi-Trucks Can Be Hazardous

Semi-trucks carry all kinds of goods across the country and are vital to our economy. However, the fact that so many of the drivers are under constant pressure to get to their destinations quickly can sometimes mean that commercial drivers are on the road when they shouldn’t be. This concern has led lawmakers to enact rules and regulations that require semi-truck drivers get a certain amount of rest during their trip. However, in some cases, these requirements are ignored and when they are, these semi-truck drivers are putting all drivers around them at risk.
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We recently addressed a wrongful death lawsuit brought in federal court that invokes Nebraska’s fetal death statute, and how that law differs from corresponding statutes in Indiana. The lawsuit, Baumann v. Slezak, et al, also asserts a cause of action for alleged violations of federal commercial truck driving regulations, including restrictions on the number of hours a driver may be behind the wheel without a break. Indiana law has allowed for evidence of regulatory violations in order to prove a claim of negligence, although such evidence may not be sufficient to establish liability by itself.

The Nebraska lawsuit arises from a September 9, 2012 accident on westbound Interstate 80 in western Nebraska. A family traveling through the state in two separate cars was stopped at the rear of a line of traffic, which had backed up nearly a mile because of an accident involving two semi-trailers. Another semi-trailer collided with the back of one of the family’s vehicles. This propelled the car into the family’s other car, which collided with another vehicle. All occupants of the two vehicles died in the accident. The truck driver, Josef Slezak, was allegedly driving at seventy-five miles per hour, and did not slow or stop prior to the collision.

The family’s legal representatives filed suit against Slezak and his employer, alleging negligence per se and violation of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations. The two regulations cited in the complaint prohibit operating a commercial motor vehicle while impaired, such as by fatigue, and regulate the length of time a vehicle operator may drive without rest. The hours-of-service (HOS) regulations prescribe maximum lengths of time a driver can be on-duty or behind the wheel before a required period of time off duty. According to the complaint, Slezak had arrived at a trucking terminal in Milwaukee, Wisconsin at 10:49 a.m. on September 8, and left after less than three hours off duty at 1:49 p.m. The accident occurred more than eighteen hours later, at around 5:19 a.m., and about 920 miles away.
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A Nebraska law allowing wrongful death claims for unborn children is getting its first test in a federal lawsuit. The suit, Baumann v. Slezak, et al, arises from a multi-vehicle accident that killed a family of four and their unborn child. It asserts causes of action for negligence and violations of federal trucking regulations. Several states, including Indiana, have passed statutes allowing wrongful death claims for unborn children at various stages of gestation, and courts in other states have recognized causes of action related to fetal death.

The accident giving rise to the lawsuit occurred on westbound Interstate 80 during the early morning of September 9, 2012. Traffic had become backed up for about a mile after two semi-trailers collided at about 4:30 a.m. One semi-trailer had become disabled and pulled onto the right shoulder. The driver, Vladimir Zhukov, however, allegedly left the trailer in a lane of traffic. Another semi-trailer driven by Keith Johnson reportedly collided with Zhukov’s trailer. The impact killed Johnson and caused his tractor to catch fire. The accident blocked all westbound lanes of the highway, creating a significant risk of further accidents for vehicles forced to stop on the highway.

Christopher and Diana Schmidt were traveling to California from Maryland with their two children, and Diana Schmidt was seven-and-a-half months pregnant with a child they had named Ethan. Diana Schmidt was driving a 2007 Toyota Corolla with the two children, and Christopher Schmidt was following her in a 2010 Ford Mustang. They were at the rear of the line of cars stopped because of the semi-trailer accident, with the Corolla stopped behind another semi-trailer, and the Mustang behind the Corolla. A semi-trailer driven by Josef Slezak approached the stopped traffic reportedly travelling at about seventy-five miles per hour. Allegedly without slowing or stopping, Slezak’s vehicle collided with the back of the Mustang at about 5:19 a.m., propelling it into the Corolla. This pushed the Corolla under the trailer in front of it. All four members of the Schmidt family and their unborn child died in the impact.
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In Person v. Shipley (No. 20S03-1110-CT-609), the Indiana Supreme Court agreed with the trial court that an engineering expert was qualified to provide expert testimony on the cause of a lower-back injury the plaintiff suffered when his tractor trailer truck was rear-ended by the defendant’s Buick sedan.

The engineer’s qualifications included an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering, a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering, time spent as an assistant professor at a school of medicine, and time spent teaching courses in biomechanics that cover the musculoskeletal system and the principles underlying the calculations he used for his testimony. The Court explained that the expert was qualified to provide expert testimony because his “engineering background, his knowledge of velocity and changes in speed upon impact, and his experience in reviewing these types of cases made him qualified to offer his opinion as to the change in speed or velocity of [the Plaintiff’s] tractor-trailer.” The Court also agreed that the expert was qualified to give his opinion that the accident did not cause the plaintiff’s lower-back injury because, although the expert was not a medical doctor, the expert’s opinion focused on “the science of engineering and physics as opposed to the science of medicine.” Therefore, his education, background, training, and knowledge of the effect of forces on the musculoskeletal system made him qualified to render his causation opinion under Rule 702.
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