Most people probably assume that a party cannot be liable for causing a trucking accident unless they are an “actual cause” of the crash, but our Miami-Dade truck accident attorneys recognize that the legal concept of causation is more complicated. The issue of “proximate cause” constitutes an important issue in a fair number of trucking accident lawsuits because multiple defendants often attempt to shift fault for the crash to another party. One way to understand proximate cause is to understand that a variety of factors or a chain of events might cause an accident, such that any of the factors or events could be viewed as contributing to the collision. In simple terms, the principle of proximate cause often amounts to a legal conclusion about the foreseeability of the collision.
Although proximate cause constitutes an issue that is too complicated to explain fully, our Florida trucking accident lawyers would like to call attention to a recent decision that illustrates how important this issue can be in trucking litigation. In Sunbelt Environmental v. Gulf Coast Truck and Equipment, the plaintiff had his arm amputated while riding his bike after being struck by a garbage truck. After the plaintiff had entered into a settlement with Sunbelt, the company filed a third party lawsuit naming the manufacturer of the truck and the company that installed a tarping device designed to prevent debris from spilling from the garbage truck.
Sunbelt’s complaint contended that the manufacturer of the truck and the company that installed the tarping device were liable based on theories of negligence and strict liability. Plaintiff allegedly crashed his bike when his clothing got snagged on the tarp device’s arm. Both Sunbelt and the tarp device installer filed a motion for summary judgment. They contended that they were not responsible for the crash because it was caused by the negligent operation of the truck by the driver. Sunbelt and the tarp device installer alleged the commercial driver failed to pass at a safe distance (i.e. 3 feet) and neglected to reduce his speed.
The motion for summary judgment filed by the defendants was granted in the trial court based on the court’s finding that the vehicle exceeded the maximum width for the truck under Florida law. Because Sunbelt as the owner of the vehicle had a duty to ensure the truck met legal standards, the trial court ruled that summary judgment was appropriate. The court further supported its conclusion based on evidence that Suncrest used its employees to replace the tarping arm a few years before the incident.
On appeal, the First District reversed the trial judge because the lower court made no determination regarding the proximate cause of the accident. While the conclusion of the court implied that the tarp arm caused the accident, the court failed to reach a factual finding that the proximate cause of the accident was the illegal width of the truck rather than the operation of the vehicle by the truck driver.
This crash like many collisions that involve large trucks could have been caused by multiple factors, so the court needed to make a factual determination regarding which factors proximately caused the accident. When trucking litigation involves multiple parties, proximate cause might involve the conduct of multiple parties, including the trucking company, owner-operator, commercial driver, shipper, semi-truck manufacturer, independent maintenance company, and other entities. Proximate cause can impact which parties are determined to be liable. This determination might be critically important because it impacts which insurance policies and assets are available to satisfy a judgment or settlement.
If you or someone you love is injured in a crash involving a large truck, our Miami semi-truck accident lawyers at Greenberg, Stone & Urbano offer the assistance you need to obtain the results you desire. With over 130 collective years of experience representing policyholders 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 Florida trucking accident 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 consultation.