School bus, tractor-trailer wreck leads to lawsuit

by Mandy Hicks

By Kyle Roby, attorney
English, Lucas, Priest and Owsley, LLP

In tractor-trailer wreck lawsuits, one obvious defendant is the truck driver whose negligent driving led to the crash. The trucking company that employed him or her is usually also named as a defendant, under the doctrine of respondeat superior (which holds employers liable for the tortious acts of their employees, if the act was within the scope of the employment relationship).

In some instances, the circumstances of the accident may give rise to possible claims against others with a less obvious connection to the case.

For instance, in the recent case of Commonwealth v. Collins, the state was named as a defendant in a suit arising from a tractor-trailer wreck that also involved a school bus.

Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was the administratrix of the estate of a school bus driver who was fatally injured in a collision with a tractor-trailer in Letcher County, Kentucky. At the time of the wreck, the school bus was headed southbound on Highway 119, and the tractor-trailer was traveling northbound on Highway 119.

According to the administratrix, the area where the accident happened was restricted to vehicles 96 inches or less in width and 53 feet or less in length. The tractor-trailer that was involved in the accident was 99 inches wide and over 68 feet long. The tractor-trailer operator did not have a permit to be on the road with the over-sized truck.

The administratrix filed suit in the Kentucky Board of Claims against the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, Department of Highways, which she claimed was responsible for enforcing both federal and state laws concerning vehicle size. According to her complaint, the Commonwealth was liable for the bus driver’s death because, had the Transportation Cabinet enforced commercial vehicle size restrictions more vigorously, the accident might not have occurred.

Procedural Developments in the Suit

The Board of Claims found that the Transportation Cabinet did have a ministerial duty to enforce size regulations but that it could not be expected to prevent every violation of the regulations. The administratrix appealed to the Circuit Court of Letcher County, which remanded the case back to the Board of Claims for a survey regarding how often size violation citations were issued in Letcher County, as compared to other counties.

The Board of Claims concluded that the citations issued in Letcher County did not differ substantially from those in other counties. It thus found that the Transportation Cabinet had not breached its duty, and the administratrix again appealed to the circuit court.

The circuit court determined that the evidence indicated that the Transportation Cabinet had, in fact, breached its duty and remanded for a determination of its comparative liability. The Transportation Cabinet sought review from the Kentucky Court of Appeals.

The Court of Appeals Decision

The appellate court agreed with the Transportation Cabinet that the circuit court had erred in setting aside the Board of Claims’ order. The court found that both the Board of Claims and the circuit court had been wrong in assuming that the Transportation Cabinet owed a duty directly and individually to the school bus driver.

Since there was no special relationship between the school bus driver and the Transportation Cabinet, the Transportation Cabinet owed only a general duty to enforce size and weight restrictions. The court then found, as a matter of law, that no duty was breached and directed that the administratrix’s claim be dismissed.

To Speak to an Attorney About a Tractor-Trailer Accident

If you or a loved one has been injured or killed in a tractor-trailer accident because of the negligence of an individual, business, or governmental entity, you should discuss your case with a knowledgeable Kentucky truck accident attorney. Call English, Lucas, Priest & Owsley for a free consultation about your Kentucky or Tennessee tractor-trailer or car accident case.

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