Kentucky Supreme Court Affirms Directed Verdict for Woman Hurt in Negligent Big Rig Wreck

by Mandy Hicks

In Wright v. Carroll, a woman who was seriously injured in a tractor-trailer crash filed a lawsuit in Elliott County Circuit Court against the driver of the big rig that struck her automobile. In her complaint, the woman accused the semi-truck driver of negligently maintaining the vehicle. She also alleged that the wreck occurred because the truck driver operated the vehicle in a negligent manner when he lost control of the 18-wheeler and entered her driving lane after navigating a blind curve in the road. In the initial trial, the jury sided with the tractor trailer operator, but that verdict was overturned by the Kentucky  Court of Appeals due to improper jury instructions.

According to the Kentucky Court of Appeals, the jurors should not have been instructed on the sudden emergency doctrine, since the tractor-trailer collision did not constitute an emergency that the driver could not have anticipated. As a result, the personal injury case was remanded for a new trial. Following a second trial, jurors again entered a verdict in favor of the truck driver. The trial court denied the woman’s motion for a directed verdict, and she appealed the jury’s decision. The Kentucky Court of Appeals held that the trial court should have granted the woman’s motion and ordered the lower court to hold an additional trial only on the issue of damages. The tractor-trailer driver then sought review by the Kentucky Supreme Court.

On appeal to the Kentucky Supreme Court, the big rig operator argued the appellate court violated the law-of-the-case doctrine because the court’s second opinion was contrary to the first opinion it issued in the woman’s lawsuit. The Kentucky high court disagreed and held that the law-of-the-case doctrine did not prevent the appellate court from stating that the injured woman was entitled to judgment in her favor following a second trial. According to the Kentucky Supreme Court, the lower court did not commit error when it found the woman was entitled to a directed verdict, although the same court previously stated the opposite because the evidence in the second case was significantly different from the first.

Next, the semi-truck operator argued the Court of Appeals applied the wrong standard of review in the case. After stating it was clear the driver violated his duty to operate the truck carefully, the Kentucky Supreme Court held that the truck driver did not overcome the presumption that he was negligent when he failed to keep his tractor-trailer in his lane. Since the jury’s verdict was clearly against the weight of the evidence offered at trial, the high court held that the appeals court did not commit error when it found the injured woman was entitled to a directed verdict.

After that, the tractor-trailer driver asserted that the appeals court misconstrued KRS Section 189.300(1) when it stated the law imposed a duty on him to drive on the right side of the highway. The Kentucky Supreme Court found that the man’s argument was irrelevant because the weight of the evidence demonstrated the woman was entitled to judgment in her favor.

Finally, the Kentucky Supreme Court affirmed the appeals court’s decision and remanded the case for retrial on the issue of the hurt woman’s damages.

If you were injured or a family member was killed in a collision that was caused by a negligent tractor-trailer driver anywhere in Kentucky or Tennessee, an experienced personal injury lawyer can help. To schedule a free, confidential consultation with a knowledgeable Bowling Green truck accident attorney today, call English, Lucas, Priest & Owsley, LLP at (270) 781-6500 or contact us through our website.

Additional Resources:

Wright v. Carroll, Kentucky Supreme Court 2014

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