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Brown v. Davis – $3M Car Accident Verdict Affirmed

The family of a man killed when logging equipment from an over-sized vehicle toppled onto his vehicle on a bridge over the Mississippi River prevailed recently in an appeal by the logging company and owner.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the jury’s award of $3 million in damages in Brown v. Davis, rejecting defense arguments that decedent’s own negligence in speeding broke the chain of causation set in motion by defendant’s failure to stop decedent’s car from entering the bridge in the first place.

This was an over-sized vehicle and it physically could not traverse the bridge without one wheel being partially over the center line. That meant opposite-direction traffic had to be stopped before the truck could proceed.

Decades-long local practice was for truckers who needed to cross to contact the local sheriff’s office for help accomplishing this. However, the driver and his uncle (owner of the logging firm) had hundreds of times simply taken it upon themselves to “close” the bridge.

One would follow ahead in a pickup truck and stop oncoming traffic. Then the truck would pass and they’d continue on.

On this particular day, uncle and nephew had the same plane. They met for breakfast. Then they checked the trailer to make sure the equipment was secure. The uncle then set out ahead of his truck driver nephew. Uncle drove onto the shoulder and called to tell his nephew the traffic was clear.

However, as the truck driver passed under the first superstructure of the bridge, he spotted a car coming “real quick” in the opposite direction. He tried to move over. However, he reportedly moved too far over because he struck the side of the bridge with the equipment (known as a “log skidder”).

When this happened, the heavy equipment ripped loose from the trailer and fell onto decedent’s car, killing him. He was a husband, father of young children and a successful local businessman. He was only 40-years-old.

Truck driver admitted negligence for the accident, so the main contested issue for jurors at trial was whether the uncle’s actions on the other end of the bridge were negligent.

Although the uncle contested negligence, he did concede at trial that he would likely not have been able to stop traffic from entering the road from a nearby hotel parking lot or from the two gas stations that were closer to the bridge.

The uncle also said he did not stay at the base of the bridge long after he gave his nephew the “all clear” because he believed he’d seen his nephew clearing the last superstructure. However, he later conceded he was probably mistaken.

He received word of an accident from his nephew while he was entering a local gas station to use the restroom.

Jurors at trial found in favor of the plaintiff, assigning liability to all three defendants (nephew, uncle and logging company) and awarding $3 million in damages.

Uncle and his logging company, which had been deemed vicariously liable, appealed, arguing plaintiff’s excess speed as he crossed the bridge was a significant factor in the crash. Federal appeals court disagreed, and the verdict was upheld.

Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.

Additional Resources:

Brown v. Davis, Feb. 23, 2016, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

More Blog Entries:

Cleveland v. Ward – Lost Income Proof for Self-Employed Crash Victim, Jan. 22, 2016, Orlando Car Accident Lawyer Blog

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