Negligence Per Se in Kentucky

by Mandy Hicks

A case involving negligence per se, as opposed to ordinary negligence, occurs when a defendant violates a law or regulation and that violation causes an injury. In Kentucky, the plaintiff in a negligence per se case must be a member of a class of people that a regulation is designed to protect from injury. The violation of the law or regulation must have caused the plaintiff’s injury. The applicable regulation or law defines the relevant standard of care in a negligence per se case.

In a 2012 case, the plaintiff invoked negligence per se in a motor vehicle accident. The plaintiff claimed that the defendant failed to stay on his side of the highway or give her half of the highway, as a statute required, and therefore he was negligent per se.

The case arose when the plaintiff’s car and the defendant’s truck crashed. The truck crossed the center line near a curve in the highway. The plaintiff swerved to avoid the truck and was injured when she hit a guardrail. The guardrail was next to a drop into a ravine. The plaintiff hurt her back, neck, and rotator cuff.

The plaintiff sued the truck driver’s employer, alleging that its employee was across the center line of the highway and thus had violated a statute. She alleged a number of negligence-based causes of action, including negligence per se.

At trial, the truck driver testified that he had been hauling coal, as he had been doing for weeks. He made the trip three times per day and testified that the highway in question provided a tight squeeze for his truck. On the day of the accident, he was making his third trip of the day, and leaves blocked his vision. As he entered the curve, he was in the correct lane, but as he drove through the curve his vehicle went across the center line. The trailer was “off-tracking,” which means that it was long and wasn’t following the same line as the tractor. The truck driver acknowledged the plaintiff was driving safely.

The plaintiff’s husband, a truck driver, testified that it was possible to drive that route within the correct lines. The plaintiff testified that, if she’d had enough room, her car wouldn’t have hit the guardrail.

The plaintiff moved for a directed verdict after the truck driver admitted that he was on the plaintiff’s side of the center line. The jury entered a verdict for the trucking company.

On appeal, the plaintiff argued, among other things, that the trial court should have granted the motion for a directed verdict on the defendant’s liability. She argued that the defendant had violated numerous safety statutes that required trucks to drive safely and on the correct side of the highway.

The appellate court explained that violation of a statute does not automatically create liability. The statute must be intended to prevent the type of accident that happened to the plaintiff, and the violation must be a substantial factor in contributing to the accident or the proximate cause of the accident. The plaintiff had to show that the truck driver’s negligence caused the injury before he could be found liable. There is no strict liability for violations of a traffic law.

In this case, there was a factual dispute about causation. The plaintiff and the other driver disputed the location of the tires across the center line. The truck driver believed the woman had enough room to pass him without hitting the guardrail. The jury believed the defendant and decided the truck driver’s actions were not the proximate cause of the accident. The lower court’s judgment was affirmed.

If you are seriously hurt in a tractor trailer accident or a loved one is killed, you should consult with an attorney as soon as possible to determine whether any relief is available to you. The knowledgeable Kentucky personal injury attorneys of English, Lucas, Priest & Owsley may be able to help you. Contact us at 270-781-6500 or via our online form.