Gross Negligence in Trucking Accident Cases – What You Should Know
Large trucks are a necessary evil on our roads – they carry the goods we need, but they are also dangerous – according to a federal safety agency, in 2020, 4,998 large vehicles were involved in fatal crashes. When a truck is involved in an accident, the person or people who are injured have legal rights. Those who are injured typically sue the trucking company for negligence and gross negligence. Negligence is a commonly understood term – it generally means that the person failed to exercise reasonable care. But what about gross negligence? What does this term mean in a trucking accident case? Recently a federal court issued an opinion regarding gross negligence in a trucking accident case.
In Jezek v. RE Garrison Trucking, Inc. involved a truck accident in which the trucker was driving through a construction zone and crashed into the back of the plaintiff’s Ford F-150. Virtually all other facts surrounding the crash are disputed. The distance between Plaintiff’s and Defendant’s vehicles in the moments preceding the crash was disputed. Defendant’s speed at the time of the crash was disputed. Plaintiff’s braking as a potential contributing factor to the crash was disputed. The direction of The truck driver’s attention at the time of the crash was disputed. Whether The truck driver was braking or accelerating at the point of impact was disputed. There is video evidence of the crash, but according to the court it did not definitely resolve these disputed facts. The defendants moved for summary judgment on the plaintiff’s claims.
The Court began its discussion by summarizing Texas law with respect to gross negligence of tractor-trailer drivers as follows:
Texas courts have repeatedly made clear that whether a driver is operating a car or truck, acts that support a finding of ordinary negligence, such as a party’s failure to obey traffic laws, will not support a finding of gross negligence. It is well established that “[a] driver’s actions must be considerably more extreme, often involving multiple conscious acts or omissions, to support liability.” But while DeHaven, and many of the other cases cited by Defendants in their briefing, offer insight into the high bar of gross negligence and the kind of factors that courts consider when assessing allegations of gross negligence, those cases are all highly fact intensive and none of them offer bright line rules.
Turning to the facts here, the court noted that the truck driver indisputably crashed into the back of Plaintiff’s Ford F-150 while driving his tractor-trailer at night amidst stop-and-go traffic in a construction zone. Plaintiff alleges that the truck driver was following too close behind Plaintiff’s F-150 and that he was driving at an unsafe speed. Plaintiff further alleges that the truck driver accelerated into stop-and-go traffic without looking where he was going and that he accelerated into Plaintiff’s F-150 without braking. Plaintiff’s allegations are supported by, among other sources, the truck driver’s own deposition. Moreover, the video of the traffic accident does not obviously refute Plaintiff’s allegations.
While the defendants offer their own evidence to contradict Plaintiff’s allegations, the Court found that at this stage it “may not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence.” Rather, the Court must “draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party.” Accordingly, the Court concluded that Plaintiff has pointed to evidence of specific aggravating factors which elevate the accident in this case above the kind of “garden-variety collision” that would preclude a gross negligence claim. Therefore, since a reasonable jury could accept Plaintiff’s evidence and return a verdict of gross negligence against The truck driver, the Court denied the defendant’s summary judgment motion on the gross negligence claim.
This case demonstrates that gross negligence is a fact-intensive issue and will rarely be dismissed on summary judgment. If you or a loved one have been seriously injured in a trucking or commercial vehicle accident, call attorney Josh Borsellino at 817.908.9861 or email him here for a free, confidential, no-obligation consultation.