Kentucky Court of Appeals Affirms Jury Verdict in Semi-Truck Crash Case: Werner Enterprises, Inc. v. Northland Ins. Co.

by Mandy Hicks

The Kentucky Court of Appeals has upheld a jury’s verdict in a lawsuit over a tractor-trailer accident. In Werner Enterprises, Inc. v. Northland Ins. Co., three tractor-trailers were involved in a Webster County, Kentucky crash. All three vehicles were apparently headed in the same direction when several coal trucks passed them in the left hand lane. According to evidence offered at trial, a cloud of dust obscured the vision of each semi-truck driver after the coal trucks hit a bump in the roadway.

After being passed by the coal trucks, the first truck stopped in the roadway and the three big rigs collided. The coal trucks were not involved in the collision. Following the crash, the driver and passenger of the first semi-truck filed a personal injury and property damage claim against the driver and owner of the second tractor-trailer. In turn, the driver and owner of the second vehicle sought damages from the driver of the first truck, his insurance company, and the owner of the coal trucks.

Following a jury trial, the driver and owner of the second big rig were held fully responsible for the accident. The owner of the tractor-trailer who was held liable for the collision then filed an appeal with the Kentucky Court of Appeals. According to the second truck’s owner, the trial court committed an error when it allowed a state trooper to testify as an expert regarding human factors that allegedly played a role in the collision. The company also claimed that the lower court should have entered a directed verdict in its favor.

On appeal, the Kentucky Court of Appeals stated it would defer to the trial court’s decision and reverse the case only if exceptional circumstances existed. Then the Kentucky appeals court addressed the appellant’s argument that the trial court had improperly allowed the law enforcement officer to testify about human error by stating that the company had failed to object at the trial court level and preserve its right to challenge his testimony. The court also held that the state trooper’s testimony was permissible because he did not render an opinion regarding who actually caused the collision. In addition, the Kentucky court said the trooper’s testimony was more likely to assist jurors in reaching a decision than create prejudice against the owner of the big rig. Next, the appellate court dismissed the argument of the owner of the second tractor-trailer that the trial court erred when it refused to enter a directed verdict in the company’s favor. The court stated the question of whether or not the parties acted reasonably prior to the accident was a question of fact for the jury. The appeals court said that a defendant is only entitled to a directed verdict if it would be clearly unreasonable for jurors to rule against the party after reviewing the evidence in its entirety.  After examining the evidence that was offered by each party at trial, the Court of Appeals of Kentucky affirmed the decision of the lower court and upheld the jury’s verdict.

If you were injured in collision with a tractor-trailer, the seasoned Kentucky personal injury attorneys of English, Lucas, Priest & Owsley may be able to assist you. To speak with a personal injury lawyer about your case, call us at (270) 781-6500 or contact us online.

Additional Resources: Werner Enterprises, Inc. v. Northland Ins. Co., Ky: Court of Appeals 2014

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