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Brown v. Davis - Legal Duty of Care in Boston Accident Case

In most Boston car accident cases, the issue of negligence is central. Negligence involves proof that:

  • Defendant owed a legal duty of care;
  • Defendant breached that duty;
  • Defendant's breach of duty caused plaintiff's injuries;
  • Plaintiff's injuries resulted in compensable harm.

That first element - that defendant possessed a legal duty of care - usually is fairly simple in crash cases because all motorists have a duty to operate their vehicles in a manner that is not potentially harmful to others.

At The Law Offices of Mark E. Salomone, our injury attorneys in Boston recognize there may be some instances in which this legal duty of care is expanded.

The recent case of Brown v. Davis, before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, is a perfect example.

According to federal court records, plaintiff - the widow of a man struck and killed by a logging truck in December 2011 - alleged the truck driver and the truck driver's employer/ uncle/ road partner were negligent in causing her husband's death.

She won her case at the trial level, with the jury returning a $3 million verdict in favor of the plaintiff and the two children her husband left behind.

When the second defendant (the truck company owner) appealed, the question was whether he owed a legal duty of care to take additional precautions to prevent the wreck. The appellate court ruled that yes, he did have this additional duty and there was sufficient evidence for the jury to find he failed in this duty and thus was negligent in causing decedent's death.

At the time of the crash, the truck driver and his uncle/ truck company owner routinely drove across state lines to deliver large logging equipment. When they did this, there were a few bridges that had to be shut down before the logging truck could proceed because the load was so wide.

The local custom at a particular bridge in Illinois was to have the driver contact local law enforcement and request assistance in assuring all local bridge traffic be stopped while the log truck passed. The uncle and his nephew/ driver knew of this practice, but preferred to instead "close" the bridge on their own.

The uncle would drive separately in a pickup truck, traveling ahead of the logging truck to the base of the bridge. He would then halt all traffic and then give the driver the green light when the coast was clear. The pair had reportedly done this "hundreds" of times on this particular bridge.

On the day in question, the uncle set out ahead of his nephew, and got to the bottom of the bridge. He stopped traffic there and gave his nephew the all clear. The problem was, up farther ahead was an area from which vehicles could enter onto the bridge from a local gas station. The uncle did not block that traffic.

The decedent entered from that location. The logging truck and decedent's pickup truck collided. The equipment that had been on the back of the logging truck became unhinged, fell off and struck decedent's vehicle, killing him.

The plaintiff's widow argued the uncle was individually liable but also vicariously liable for the actions of his nephew as his employer.

Jurors decided both the uncle and nephew were liable, and the appeals court agreed. The appeals court ruled the trial judge had not abused its discretion in denying defense's motion for a new trial, and there was sufficient evidence to prove defendant was liable for decedent's death.

Normally, a motorist wouldn't owe a duty to make sure other motorists are safe from oncoming traffic. However in this case, by rejecting a law enforcement escort and taking on that role himself, defendant assumed that responsibility and was therefore liable.

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