Motorist struck by tractor-trailer on route not designated for trucks

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Case in Point

December 28, 2010

Motorist struck by tractor-trailer on route not designated for trucks 

The plaintiffs alleged that the truck driver’s employer was vicariously liable for his negligent operation of the vehicle and his negligence in traveling on a highway that was not designed for tractor-trailers. Suit also claimed that the defendant had failed to properly train the driver, who was inexperienced and allegedly could not read a map sufficiently to plan a route properly. The parties settled before trial for $1.25 million. Ritchie v. Averitt Express, Inc.

As Mark Ritchie, 34, was driving to work on a narrow, curving, two-lane highway, he encountered an oncoming tractor-trailer operated by Phillip Milton for Averitt Express, Inc. The tractor-trailer occupied two-thirds of the highway, extending into Ritchie’s lane, but he could not avoid the truck because there was a steep curve to his right. As the truck passed, several of the trailer’s right wheels struck the left side of Ritchie’s car. Although he was wearing his seat belt, he was shaken side-to-side as the wheels traveled along the length of his car.

Ritchie suffered severe pain in his lumbar region and was diagnosed with a compression fracture at L1-S5. When conservative treatment failed to alleviate his pain, he underwent surgical implantation of a metal cage into the disk space. He continues to suffer from pain and a limited range of movement in his back. His past medical expenses totaled $120,000, and he will incur unspecified future medical expenses.

At the time of the incident, Ritchie was earning $65,000 annually as a warehouse manager. He returned to work about two weeks later with accommodations from his employer, but he missed periods of work intermittently because of pain and the need for surgery. His lost earnings totaled about $30,000. He had recently started lawn mowing and beef cattle businesses but had to abandon those ventures. He will likely have to retire from his current job earlier than planned or switch to a lower-paying, more sedentary job. His lost future earnings are estimated at $450,000.

Ritchie and his wife sued Averitt Express, alleging it was vicariously liable for Milton’s negligent operation of the truck and his negligence in traveling on a highway that was not designated for tractor-trailers. The plaintiffs were prepared to show that Milton had ignored a large sign warning “sharp turns ahead for trucks” and cautioning truck drivers to use an alternate route.

The plaintiffs also alleged that Averitt Express failed to properly train and supervise Milton. They contended that he was inexperienced, could not read a road map sufficiently to plan a route properly, and could not identify highways that were not designated for tractor-trailers.

The plaintiffs were also prepared to show that the defendant had been aware for many years that its drivers disregarded the routes provided for them and traveled on roads not designated for tractor-trailers. The plaintiffs asserted that the company did not punish drivers who were caught using nondesignated highways.

The parties settled before trial for $1.25 million.

Citation: Ritchie v. Averitt Express, Inc., No. 3:10-cv-00210 (W.D. Ky. Oct. 28, 2010).

Plaintiff counsel: Eric P. von Wiegen and Lisa E. von Wiegen, both of Lexington, Kentucky.

Plaintiff experts: Ronald E. Kirk, accident reconstruction, Raleigh, North Carolina; Paul J. Paxton, trucking, Pensacola, Florida; and William Baldwin, economics, Lexington.


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