Because I work with the victims of Missouri accidents involving large commercial trucks, I know how destructive a trucking crash can be. That’s also true when the crash is between two trucks, as it was in Turner v. Andrew, a decision of the Kentucky Supreme Court. Coy Turner Jr. was driving a feed truck for his employer, M&W Milling, when the vehicle’s movable augur came loose and hit a dump truck driven and owned by Billy Andrew, owner of Billy Andrew Jr. Trucking LLC. The opinion doesn’t note that anyone was hurt, but Andrew later brought suit against Turner and M&W for the damage to his truck and the loss of income caused by the damage. After Andrew failed to comply with discovery, the trial court granted Turner judgment on the pleadings, but the Court of Appeals reversed. The Kentucky Supreme Court vacated that, saying a trial court should make findings of fact before ending the case.
The accident took place in April of 2007, damaging one of seven dump trucks owned by Andrew’s LLC. Andrew filed suit in early 2008, but failed to respond to M&W’s requests for production or interrogatories. After two motions to compel, the trial court ordered Andrew to produce the requested records by Sept. 17, 2009. After he failed to comply, M&W moved to dismiss. No ruling was made on that motion, but the trial court granted several motions by M&W arguing that Andrew had repeatedly failed to produce documents required for the litigation. As a result, all evidence supporting Andrew’s lost business income claim and his property damage evidence was excluded. M&W then was granted judgment on the pleadings because no evidence could support a financial judgment against it. Andrew appealed, and the Court of Appeals reversed, saying Andrew could present enough evidence to overcome summary judgment, and also that he could properly pursue the lost business claim as an individual, since he was the LLC’s sole owner.
The Kentucky Supreme Court took up the issue and vacated the appeals court’s ruling. The only proper party to bring a lost business income claim is the party that lost the income, the court said—which is the LLC in this case. Under Kentucky jurisprudence, even a sole owner like Andrew cannot slip in and out of the LLC when convenient, the court noted. And because tax documents were never produced in discovery, the court said, it’s impossible to tell whether Andrew as an individual was effectively the business. The high court directed the trial court to consider this issue on remand, if the lost business income claim survived discovery sanctions. On that issue, the Supreme Court said the trial court dismissed the case as essentially a discovery sanction. To do that, it said, the court should have made findings of fact and law, as required by past Kentucky cases. Thus, it sent the case back to trial court to reconsider sanctions and make those findings.
It would be interesting to see whether there’s an explanation for Andrew’s apparent failure to pursue discovery in this semi truck accident lawsuit. Discovery is the part of a lawsuit when each side must give the other documents that are relevant to the case (with some exceptions for things like attorney-client privilege). Failing to comply makes it very difficult to have a lawsuit, and gives the court a good reason to penalize the party that fails. An experienced tractor-trailer accident attorney will understand these things and help the client deal with potential problems, such as illegal discovery requests or problems obtaining the records.