As a St. Louis semi truck accident lawyer, I was pleased to see a verdict upheld that held a truck driver and her dispatcher legally liable for a death and the serious injury to a child. In Two Rivers Bank and Trust v. Atanasova, the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declined to reverse the judgment in favor of Kayla Holtkamp, her two-year-old son K.H., and the mother of her fiance, Christopher Davis. Davis was killed, K.H. was permanently disabled and Holtcamp suffered a vertebral fracture when Holtcamp’s car hit a tractor-trailer traveling well below the speed limit with its lights off at night. Atanasova, the driver, and dispatcher Venture One appealed the judgment and the denials of several post-trial motions, but the Eighth upheld the Iowa district court.
The crash took place around 7 p.m., when it was already dark. Holtcamp was driving on a highway between 58 and 62 miles per hour when she crested a hill and confronted Atanasova’s truck, which was traveling at 30 to 40 miles per hour. Witnesses later testified that the truck had no lights on the side or rear of the trailer, and that the truck had been parked in a “weird place to stop.” Atanasova also testified later that her cell phone records showed an active call during the time of the accident. The accident killed Davis and caused an open skull fracture for K.H., causing a coma and serious ongoing medical needs. Holtcamp suffered a spinal vertebra fracture causing ongoing chronic pain. At trial, the jury found Holtcamp 10% responsible and Atanasova 90% responsible, and awarded a total of $3.68 million to Holtcamp, K.H., K.H.’s father and Davis’s mother.
The defendants appealed several judgments, including a jury instruction, evidentiary rulings and motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict or a new trial. The Eighth ultimately rejected all of these arguments. On the jury instructions, defendants argued that an instruction involving failure to keep a proper lookout should not have been given, because the hill would have prevented Atanasova from seeing behind her. The appeals court disagreed, noting that Atanasova could have looked behind her before merging into traffic or driven forward until there was enough room to be sure no car would be surprised. The defendants also argued that the court should have admitted evidence of Holtcamp’s past marijuana use, but the Eighth found that the danger of prejudice to Holtcamp outweighed any probative value to that evidence. The district court was also right to exclude evidence of a citation to Holtcamp for following too closely, since she was disputing it as a “sudden emergency.” And it found no clear error supporting a new trial or judgment notwithstanding the verdict.
Though the opinion didn’t make too much of the causes of the accident, as a Missouri tractor-trailer accident attorney, I found them pretty significant. Atanasova apparently did not fight the inclusion of evidence that she was on the phone while driving or that her lights were out. Either one of these alone could form the basis of a strong trucking accident lawsuit, and both are against federal trucking safety regulations. (Hand-held phones were banned while trucks are in motion, as of Jan. 2.) These laws are in place to protect the public, and it’s not surprising that the public I in danger when truckers drive in blatant violation of them, or trucking companies permit violations. As a southern Illinois big rig accident lawyer, I’m pleased that the injured people in this case were able to get some relief.
Carey, Danis & Lowe represents clients across Missouri and southern Illinois who suffered serious injuries or lost a loved one because of unsafe or illegal behavior by truck drivers and trucking companies. If you’d like to tell us about your situation and discuss your options, call us today at 1-877-678-3400 or send us a message online for a free consultation.
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