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Wyoming Supreme Court Upholds Default Judgment In Truck Accident Injury Claim – Rosty v. Skaj

By March 9, 2012Trucking Accidents

As a Missouri semi truck accident attorney, I frequently advise my clients to make sure they follow up on every notice they get from a court, no matter how trivial or frightening. When you ignore notices from the court, you run the risk of serious consequences. If you’re involved in a lawsuit, that includes losing by default when you fail to show up — and you can rarely convince the courts to reconsider. That’s what happened to Vincent Rosty in the Wyoming Supreme Court’s
Rosty v. Skaj. Rosty was responsible for a dump truck that was knocked into gear at the wrong time, pinning Shari Skaj against the side of a motor home. Skaj and her husband sued Rosty, who failed to respond or otherwise defend himself. The court awarded default judgment and damages to Skaj, triggering a motion to set aside the judgment by Rosty. The Wyoming Supreme Court upheld the denial but struck down an award of punitive damages.
Rosty was delivering roofing supplies in the truck, which he stopped in an alley behind Skaj’s home. He left the truck idling and its transmission in neutral when he got out of the truck, but failed to use the parking brake. As a result, when some roofing material slipped and knocked the truck into gear, the truck leaped forward and hit Skaj, pinning her to the motor home. She was severely injured. Rosty freed her and carried her into her home, but left her on the couch and drove the truck back to the office of his employer, R&R Roofing. Her husband found her at some later point and sought medical attention. A blood sample from Rosty showed signs of previous cannabis and methamphetamine use. The Skajes sued Rosty, R&R and R&R’s owner, Steve Rosty. The latter two defendants filed an answer, but Rosty never did. The court ultimately entered default against him and dismissed the other two defendants with prejudice.
The Skajes sought a default judgment. Just before a hearing on this, an attorney for Cornhusker Casualty Company appeared on Rosty’s behalf, moving against default judgment and noting that the attorney had been unable to locate Rosty. He suggested that Rosty may not have been properly served and moved to set aside the default and continue the hearing. The continuance was denied and the hearing progressed, ultimately awarding the Skajes about $811,000 in compensatory damages and $75,000 more in punitive damages. Rosty later appealed, arguing that he was not properly served and should have been permitted to set aside the default or granted relief from the default judgment.
The Wyoming Supreme Court ultimately disagreed, finding that service on Rosty was proper. It started by finding that Rosty’s appeal was timely, over Skaj’s objections. However, it went on to find no violation of Rosty’s due process in the way the case was served. Rosty claimed that the Skajes were required to serve him after he entered his appearance but at least three days before the hearing, but the court pointed out that this would make the system unworkable in cases where no appearance had been entered. Furthermore, it said, Cornhusker, on behalf of Rosty, had gotten ample notice of the case, and indeed defended R&R and Steve Rosty. Rosty argued that while papers were properly served at his home, his mother, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, was not competent to receive service. The court disagreed, finding incompetence not proven by the supporting affidavits he offered from family. Thus, he was not entitled to set aside the default. However, the high court struck down the punitive damages, saying the trial court failed to consider Rosty’s wealth or financial condition.
As a St. Louis tractor-trailer accident lawyer, I’m not surprised to see the high court upholding damages against Rosty. No one likes to have their time wasted, and courts often consider it a waste of their time when defendants appear at the last minute and attempt to rearrange a hearing that was scheduled far in advance. This may be appropriate if there’s a good reason for the delay, but as a rule, courts will be skeptical about what’s a good reason. There’s a sense that the defendant was irresponsible for sleeping on his or her rights. That’s why it’s absolutely vital for injured people who are pursuing truck accident cases to be diligent about meeting deadlines and following the advice of their southern Illinois big rig accident lawyers. In truck crashes, the other side will be represented by experienced, well-funded attorneys, who will make sure the deadlines are met, so failing to do the same puts you at a disadvantage.

If your family has suffered a loss or a serious injury because of a negligent truck driver, call Carey, Danis & Lowe to discuss a potential trucking accident lawsuit. For a free, confidential case evaluation, send us a message online or call toll-free at 1-877-678-3400.
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