Published on:

Court Rules Expert Testimony Unnecessary to Prove Causation in Accident Allegedly Resulting from Poorly Maintained Truck and Shifting Load – Benitez v. Joseph Trucking, Inc, 58 So.3d 428 (Fla. 5th DCA 2011)

Testimony from witnesses with specialized knowledge is routinely used to provide evidence about complex or technical issues.  Certain lawsuits cannot be successfully pursued without the introduction of evidence provided by an expert.  For example, medical malpractice lawsuits cannot be successfully pursued in most jurisdictions unless a medical expert has evaluated the claim.  The medical expert also must establish the requisite standard of care and provide evidence regarding a breach of that standard.  One function of an experienced personal injury attorney is to determine whether expert testimony is necessary and to secure an appropriate expert.  A recent court decision involving a tractor-trailer accident considered the issue of whether expert testimony was necessary for the plaintiff to prevail.

The truck driver (plaintiff) filed suit for injuries suffered in a single vehicle collision when the tractor-trailer flatbed he was driving rolled over.  On the date of the trucking accident, the plaintiff picked up the large truck from Joseph Trucking and drove it to the shipper.  Six concrete slabs weighing 7200 pounds were loaded onto the tractor-trailer.  The concrete slabs did not constitute an atypical load based on past cargo transported on this large truck.  Wood planks referred to as “dunnage” were placed across the width of the trailer between the bed of the trailer and the concrete cargo.  Straps also were used to secure the cement slabs, which were three feet high and twelve feet long.

The plaintiff alleged that the trucking company owed a duty to adequately maintain the tractor-trailer and that unsafe maintenance rendered the tractor-trailer unsafe.  Benitez contended that the poor condition of the trailer resulted in one of the concrete slab collapsing the wood planks that comprised the trailer’s bed.  According to the amended complaint, the shift in the concrete slab caused the big-rig to become unbalanced, so it tipped over.  The trucking company defended based on allegations of comparative negligence.  The defendant contended that the cause of the crash included negotiating a curve at an unsafe speed and improper loading of the cargo.

The trial court bifurcated the issues of liability and damages.  The jury found the trucking company seventy percent at-fault and the driver thirty percent at-fault.  The trial judge subsequently granted the trucking company’s motion for a directed verdict based on a finding of insufficient evidence to establish that poor maintenance of the trailer caused the accident.

However, the 5th DCA reversed the trial judge and reinstated the jury verdict.  The court cited the following facts to support the jury verdict:

  • The tractor-trailer was in poor condition.  The trailer bed wood slats were warped and riddled with holes.
  • The trucking company could not furnish any maintenance records for the vehicle.
  • The driver was experienced and properly licensed.
  • The trucking company had knowledge of the poor condition of the trailer.
  • The driver was familiar with the road and route.
  • The trucking company used wood that deviated from industry standards to repair the bed of the trailer.
  • The concrete slabs were properly strapped.

Based on these facts, the court ruled that the jury could reasonably conclude that inadequate maintenance caused the crash.  The jury could reasonably find that deterioration of the trailer bed permitted wood slats to give way, so the cargo shifted and caused the truck to rollover onto its side.  While the defendant argued that expert testimony was needed to establish the cause of the tractor-trailer accident, the court observed that a lay jury was capable of determining causation based on the above facts.

If you have been injured in a big-rig crash, the Tractor-Trailer Accident Attorneys at Greenberg, Stone & Urbano offer the assistance you need to obtain the results you desire.  With over 130 collective years of experience representing commercial trucking accident victims across South Florida, our firm provides legal representation of unmatched excellence.  Contact our firm as soon as possible to start on the road to protecting your legal rights.  Our firm received an AV rating from Martindale Hubbell and was ranked as a top firm in South Florida by the Miami Herald.   Put our exceptional semi-truck accident injury lawyers to work on your case.  Call us at (888) 499-9700 or (305) 595-2400 or you can visit our website to schedule your initial consu

Contact Information