Fourth Circuit Affirms Verdict for Trucking Company in Motorcycle-Truck Crash – Scott v. Watsontown Trucking Co.

By July 19, 2013July 18th, 2019Trucking Accidents

As a Missouri tractor-trailer accident attorney, I frequently represent people who have suffered very serious injuries in crashes with large trucks. Because 18-wheelers are so much larger and heavier than ordinary cars, they can do extremely serious damage even in a relatively slow-speed crash with a passenger car. For a motorcycle rider—who is already more vulnerable than the average car’s driver—a crash with a commercial truck could easily be fatal. So I was interested to see the decision of the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a motorcycle-truck crash. In Scott v. Watsontown Trucking Co., Michael Scott of Virginia sued truck driver William Miller and his employer, Watsontown, for negligence. The jury found no liability for the defendants after evidentiary rulings that were adverse to Scott, and the Fourth Circuit affirmed. In July of 2010, Miller made a left turn at an intersection in Richmond, Virginia, and collided with Scott’s motorcycle. Scott suffered injuries that were not detailed in this opinion. He sued under various negligence claims. In essence, the district court later wrote, the dispute was over whether Miller had a green light when he made his left turn—and if not, whether Scott was responsible for any contributory negligence. Scott’s own counsel ultimately failed to call Scott to testify, and Scott didn’t even come to court. An expert medical witness testified that Scott’s chronic pain was exacerbated by sitting. At the end of trial, asked the court to instruct the jury that it could infer from an important witness’s unexplained failure to testify that the testimony would not be favorable. The court ultimately agreed to this over Scott’s objections, and the jury found for the defense. Scott moved for a new trial to no avail. The Fourth Circuit found that Scott’s arguments on appeal were ultimately allegations that the court erred in giving the “missing witness” instruction. It disagreed, finding no prejudicial error in the jury instructions. The district court noted that Scott’s attorney appeared to have engaged in substantial gamesmanship, by putting Scott on a witness list and then not calling him. He also requested the missing witness instruction before later objecting to it. And, the district court wrote, Scott’s counsel noted that a proposed subpoena from the district court was untimely (which was true). Thus, the court found no abuse of the court’s considerable discretion. It further ruled that the qualifications for the “missing witness” instruction had been met: his testimony would have been material, and the court found that his testimony was more available to himself than the defense. Thus, it affirmed the lower court. As a St. Louis semi truck accident lawyer, I suspect the Fourth found it vital that the district court believed Scott’s attorney attempted to game the system. If so, that’s a shame, because the record doesn’t show any reason to worry that the case was weak on its own merits. When making an “unprotected” left turn—meaning one without an arrow, requiring the turning driver to yield—the turning driver must yield to oncoming traffic. Thus, Miller would likely have been at fault unless Scott broke a material traffic law—and this was the only chance to prove it. As a southern Illinois tanker truck accident attorney, I am sorry that injuries that are probably serious will likely not be properly compensated. If your family suffered a death or a catastrophic injury because of a truck driver’s negligence, don’t wait to call Carey, Danis & Lowe for help. You can reach us through our website or call toll-free at 1-877-678-3400. Similar blog posts: Trucker Criminally Charged in November Roadside Death of Illinois State Trooper Trucking Accidents Involving Motorcycles Increase as Spring Sets In Missouri Truck Accident Kills Amish Buggy Rider: Graphic, Tragic Example of Why Truck Crashes Are Not a “Fair Fight”