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Deadly Crash Involving Semi-Truck in NJ

Pianko Law
Pianko Law Group 
September 16, 2021

Few details were available regarding a five-vehicle collision on Interstate 280 which killed one person and seriously injured several others.

The wreck happened in West Orange. According to investigators, when a semi-truck rear-ended a Chester, New York driver, the impact triggered a chain reaction crash that involved three additional westbound vehicles. That driver died at the scene. Several occupants of an SUV involved in the wreck were seriously injured and transported to local hospitals.

"The crash remains under investigation and there is no additional information available at the moment," New Jersey State Police said in a statement.

Evidence in Car Crash Claims

Proof is critical in an injury claim. The victim/plaintiff must prove negligence, or a lack of care, by a preponderance of the evidence, or more likely than not. Additionally, the more proof available, the more damages jurors usually award. However, at some point, the law of diminishing returns kicks in. So, a New York personal injury attorney must be aware of this fact.

Usually, the police accident report, medical records, and the victim's own testimony constitute the evidence in a civil claim. The police report details the physical evidence and includes a narrative section detailing the investigator's conclusions about how the accident happened. Medical records prove the nature and extent of injuries, and the victim's personal testimony is usually quite compelling in court.

However, there could be some problems with this proof. Let's start with the police accident report. Even the most experienced first responder is not an accident reconstruction engineer. Additionally, if the victim was killed or catastrophically injured, the narrative only includes one side of the story. So, this report could be incomplete or inaccurate.

As for medical records, sometimes these documents do not include treatment notes. So, while they clearly establish economic losses, namely the medical bills themselves, they do not support a claim for pain and suffering, emotional distress, and other noneconomic damages. As for the victim's testimony, we mentioned some potential deficiencies above.

To supplement the police report, attorneys often enlist the help of accident reconstruction engineers. These professionals know how to take tiny bits of evidence, like the information in a vehicle's black box data recorder, and fit these pieces together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Similarly, an independent doctor can either examine the victim or the medical records and assess items like emotional distress. Finally, the police accident report usually includes contact information for accident witnesses.

The evidence in the case must also be strong enough to refute some common insurance company defenses, such as comparative fault and sudden emergency. More on these things below.

First Party Liability

As mentioned, negligence is basically a lack of care. Most New York drivers have a duty of reasonable care. They must obey the rules of the road, avoid accidents when possible, and generally drive defensively. Usually, the same duty applies to all motorists, no matter how much experience they have or don't have. Sometimes, however, truck drivers and other commercial operators have added responsibilities.

Truck driver following distance is one example. To maximize safety, most drivers must stay two seconds behind the vehicles in front of them. But large truck drivers must usually stay seven or eight seconds behind the vehicles in front of them. That's because a light passenger car is a lot easier to stop than an 80,000-pound semi-truck. If the commercial operator carries passengers, the operator also has a duty to keep passengers safe while they are on board. This duty includes items like clearing debris from a bus aisle and breaking up arguments between passengers.

To establish negligence in New York, an attorney may normally use the ordinary negligence rule or the negligence per se doctrine. Device distraction illustrates the difference between these two doctrines.

New York has a very broad hands-free law. It's usually illegal to hold a cell phone while driving. Tortfeasors (negligent drivers) who use these devices and cause crashes could be responsible for damages as a matter of law, under the negligence per se rule.

However, the hands-free law has a number of exceptions. Additionally, it doesn't apply to hands-free devices. But using such a device could constitute a lack of care. According to some researchers, driving while using a hands-free gadget is as dangerous as driving drunk.

As mentioned, common insurance company defenses, especially in rear-end wreck claims, include comparative fault and sudden emergency. Basically, comparative fault shifts some of the accident blame from the tortfeasor to the victim. Sudden emergency is like comparative fault on steroids. This doctrine shifts all the blame for the accident. These defenses only apply in limited situations.

We should also briefly talk about some jurisdictional issues. These questions are common in dense urban areas like greater New York. Frequently, as in the above story, the victim lives in one state and the accident happens in another state.

Negligence laws, such as distracted driving laws, vary in different states. If an attorney has a choice of where to file a legal action, a number of factors play into this decision. Additionally, a legal document called a choice of law provision sometimes applies. For example, cruise ship injury victims usually have to file actions in designated jurisdictions. These provisions are usually buried somewhere deep inside the terms of service.

Third-Party Liability

Tortfeasors are legally responsible for the damages they cause. Frequently, a third party is financially responsible for these damages. The respondeat superior rule is a good example. Shipping companies, transportation companies, and other such entities are financially responsible for damages if their employees are negligent during the course and scope of their employment.

New York law defines all these key words and phrases in broad, victim-friendly terms. For example, even if the driver is an independent contractor or owner-operator for tax purposes, the driver is usually an employee for negligence purposes.

Vehicle collisions often cause serious or fatal injuries. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in New York, contact the Pianko Law Group, PLLC. Attorneys can connect victims with doctors, even if they have no money or insurance.

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