As a southern Illinois tractor-trailer accident lawyer, I was interested to see an appeals court decision on the unusual topic of when defendants can be held liable for setting the stage for a serious crash. In Blood v. VH-1 Music First, the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declined to overturn a ruling that trucker Dennis Hernandez cannot be sued for causing the traffic jam in which another trucker, Milinko Cukovic, rear-ended a vehicle occupied by David and Paul Blood, two brothers. David Blood sued Cukovic and his trucking company, which in turn filed third-party complaints against Hernandez and several entertainment-industry entities for which he was working. Blood subsequently added them to his case. The federal district court for southern Illinois ultimately granted summary judgment to the Hernandez defendants, and Blood appealed.
It is undisputed that Hernandez caused the initial accident on Interstate 57 in 2008, causing the West Frankfort fire department to close the northbound lanes and back up traffic for several miles. Four hours after the crash, David and Paul Blood slowed and stopped for this traffic, but truck driver Cukovic failed to stop behind them and slammed into their car. Paul Blood died and David Blood was seriously injured. David Blood and the estate of Paul Blood filed separate but similar claims against Cukovic and T.E.A.M. Logistics, his trucking company. The defendants removed the cases to federal court and then added the Hernandez defendants, alleging that their negligence in the first accident proximately caused the second accident. Blood then added the Hernandez defendants as direct defendants and settled with the Cukovic defendants. The district court then granted summary judgment to the Hernandez defendants, and Blood appealed.
The Seventh Circuit started by noting that Illinois law controls this case, and thus its job was to determine what the Illinois Supreme Court would do. Ultimately, it found no proximate causation by the Hernandez defendants as a matter of law. Citing several cases involving multiple car accidents in succession, the Seventh found that to hold defendants like Hernandez liable, there must be a clear chain of causation between the wrongful act of the first tortfeasor (in this case the Hernandez defendants) and the accident. In addition, the actions of the second tortfeasor (in this case the Cukovic defendants) must be a reasonable response to the conditions created by the first. Neither is true in the case, the Seventh found. Four hours had passed between the Hernandez accident and the Blood-Cukovic accident, breaking the causal chain. But even more important, the court said, was the fact that Cukovic’s actions could not be considered reasonable: He drove into a stopped car at 55 mph. Thus, it affirmed the summary judgment order for the defendants.
One thing that interests me about this case, as a St. Louis big rig accident attorney, is the fact that Blood adopted the Cukovic defendants’ position that the Hernandez defendants were liable. While Blood may have stood to gain financially from suing potentially deep-pocketed entertainment companies, the Cukovic defendants also stood to gain from having Blood’s claim diverted to or split with a third party. It’s possible that adding the Hernandez defendants to his claim may have even been a condition of Blood’s settlement with the Cukovic defendants. If that’s true, I hope Blood did not settle for less than the value of his claim, with the expectation of more to come. I believe it’s part of my job as a Missouri semi truck accident lawyer to prevent clients from accepting this kind of settlement.
If the negligence of a trucker or trucking company caused serious injuries in your family and you’d like to discuss it with an experienced attorney, call Carey, Danis & Lowe. You can reach us toll-free at 1-877-678-3400 or send us a message online.
Similar blog posts:
New Jersey Appeals Court Upholds Ruling Requiring Trucking Company to Cover Accident – IFA Insurance Co. v. American Trucking
Man Injured in Semi Hit-and-Run
Fuel Truck Accident Shuts Down Highway