While it might be tempting to assume commercial carriers step up and compensate trucking accident victims for their injuries, the truth is far more ominous. Trucking companies recognize they face a heightened risk of liability because of the permanent life-altering injuries and carnage caused by semi-truck crashes. When a fatigued driver or poorly maintained semi-truck causes a collision between a big-rig and a passenger car, trucking companies rely on investigators that can be dispatched quickly, experienced insurance defense attorneys, industry experts, and extensive litigation resources. Trucking accident victims sometimes go uncompensated because they lack legal representation. In this blog, our experienced Miami tractor-trailer accident lawyers review a federal appellate court decision that involves multiple defense strategies often used in trucking accident lawsuits.
There are situations where a truck driver and trucking company have no basis for disputing liability, so the defense will focus on contesting damages as evidenced in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit decision of Guzman v. Jones. The plaintiff was injured when his vehicle was struck by a tractor-trailer driven by one defendant and owned by another defendant (the trucking company). The trucking company conceded liability based on both negligence and vicarious liability (Florida law permits an employer to be held liable for the negligence of an employee for injuries caused in the course and scope of employment).
The commercial carrier requested the plaintiff submit to an independent medical examination during the discovery phase of the lawsuit. The plaintiff’s attorney approved the medical exam, but surgery was performed on the plaintiff’s back prior to the exam being conducted. The court openly acknowledged that these exams are far from independent because the purpose of the evaluation is to prove the plaintiff is misrepresenting the extent or existence of his injuries. Insurance carriers and trucking companies often will try to link severe injuries to pre-existing medical conditions or causes or accidents that occur after a trucking collision.
Truck accident victims can partially derail such a defense by seeking prompt medical attention and following through on treatment. While the most pressing issue with putting off diagnosis and treatment is that it might result in a less positive prognosis, delays also can open the door to claims other causes were responsible for a plaintiff’s injuries. Although this defense tactic cannot be entirely preempted by following this suggestion, some cases are lost because the defense successfully disputes the severity of the plaintiff’s injuries.
Another litigation strategy used by trucking companies and insurers in tractor-trailer accident lawsuits involves a different aspect of the Guzman decision. The trucking company alleged that the surgery on the plaintiff’s back constituted “spoliation of evidence.” Spoliation in broad terms refers to the loss, alteration, or destruction of evidence. Spoliation of evidence law varies from state to state, but judges can impose a range of sanctions that include attorney fee awards, adverse inferences regarding the evidence, unfavorable determinations involving specific issues or defenses, and even default judgment in favor of the aggrieved party.
The trial court in Guzman denied the request to find the plaintiff’s back surgery constituted spoliation of evidence, so no sanctions were imposed. The jury returned a verdict in the amount of approximately $1.3 million with about a million dollars being allocated toward past medical expenses. The defense appealed the trial judge’s refusal to sanction the plaintiff for spoliation. However, the appellate court found the judge acted within his discretion. Although the outcome was favorable to the plaintiff in this case, these situations can turn on subtle differences in the facts. Further, variations in the law between jurisdictions also can affect the results. In this case, the plaintiff notified the defendant before the surgery was performed and provided scans of his back showing the condition of the spine prior to the surgery, but the outcome arguably might have been different without these facts. These complex nuances make it essential that trucking injury victims seek prompt legal advice to protect their legal rights and to learn about their options.
Greenberg, Stone, & Urbano: Seeking Maximum Recovery for Trucking Accident Victims and Families
Our Miami trucking accident injury attorneys at Greenberg, Stone & Urbano offer the assistance you need to pursue the results you desire. For over 130 collective years, our firm has assisted accident victims in personal injury and wrongful death actions across South Florida. We seek to obtain compensation for your tangible and intangible damages, including medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more. Our skill and dedication have earned us an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell and recognition as one of South Florida’s top firms by the Miami Herald. Call us at (888) 499-9700 or (305) 595-2400 or visit our website to schedule your initial consultation.