As a Missouri auto accident attorney, I tell clients considering a lawsuit against the government to be extra careful and get started extra early. Government agencies, from city and county governments to Washington, D.C., are generally harder to sue than private companies because of a legal theory called sovereign immunity. This allows them to put extra barriers—often a requirement to exhaust administrative remedies—between the injured person and relief. In Furry v. United States, David Furry and Diane Nye of Illinois filed suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act after they were injured in a crash with a Postal Service truck. Furry and Nye allege that Ronald Williams, a substitute letter carrier, ran into their 1978 station wagon, but the district court found no direct evidence proving his negligence and the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.
Furry, Nye and their daughter were in the station wagon on a rainy day in 2007 when visibility was limited. Williams, a recently hired Postal Service employee, was sitting in a mail truck parallel parked on the same street, with the front of his truck sticking out. Furry and Nye didn’t see the mail truck hit their car, but they felt it, and physical evidence shows that the left front bumper of the postal truck hit the right rear of their car, causing property damage. After the crash, Williams drove several car lengths away, got out of the truck and offered $500 to the couple not to report the accident. He repeatedly worried out loud that he would be fired, and declined to call the police to report the accident. Nye wrote down the number of the vehicle, and they eventually called the local police to report the crash. The police did not take any photos or physical evidence. After questioning by police, Williams resigned from the Postal Service.
After exhausting administrative remedies, Nye and Furry sued for $45 million in damages. Williams did not appear at the bench trial, but testified by deposition that the postal truck was not moving at the time, and said it was “mystical” that it hit the back of Furry’s car. The court ultimately ruled that there was not enough evidence that Williams was at fault for the collision, since Furry and Nye never saw the crash and no other evidence established it.
On appeal, Furry and Nye argued that there was only one possible cause for the accident—Williams driving into the back of their car. The Seventh Circuit disagreed, saying the lack of evidence presented at trial did not permit the court to infer that Williams caused the crash. As the trial court pointed out, the crash could have been caused by hydroplaning or a sideswipe, and no expert testimony was prepared to show these were less likely. They also argued that Williams’s testimony was not credible, thus proving their version of events, but the Seventh agreed with the district court that this was not persuasive. Furry and Nye declined to subpoena him, thus denying the judge a chance to observe his demeanor, and lying on some issues does not mean he lied about all issues, the court said. Finally, they argued that negligence could be inferred because Williams fled the scene, but again, the Seventh found there were alternative explanations. Thus, it upheld the district court.
As a St. Louis car crash lawyer, I believe that an experienced attorney could have addressed some of the problems that led to Nye and Furry losing their case. For example, understanding how courts make their decisions might have spurred them to subpoena Williams rather than rely on his deposition testimony. Similarly, while it’s certainly useful to the case that Williams had a strange explanation for the crash and fled the scene, those facts weren’t adequate to support their case; they also needed to establish causation with some kind of witness, physical evidence or expert. And in a footnote, the Seventh observed that Furry and Nye failed to make use of Williams apologizing, which could be used as an admission of guilt, and failed to argue that his offer of $500 was an admission of guilt. As a southern Illinois auto accident attorney, I can use information like this to strengthen a client’s case.
Carey, Danis & Lowe represents clients in southern Illinois and across Missouri who suffered serious injuries or lost a loved one because of another driver’s bad decisions. For a free, confidential consultation, call us today at 1-877-678-3400 or send us a message online.
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