We just settled a wrongful death case, for the full amount of the defendant’s $1,000,000 insurance policy limits, arising out of a collision between two tractor-trailers in Bakersfield. The crash occurred when the decedent (a 73-year-old truck driver), traveling northbound on a small rural road, started to turn left at an intersection. The defendant, also traveling northbound and coming up from behind the decedent, collided with him in the intersection. Both trucks caught on fire. The defendant was able to exit his truck, but the decedent suffered a horrific death as his tractor became engulfed in flames.
The challenge in the case was that there were no independent eyewitnesses. The decedent obviously died before he could give a statement. The defendant’s version was that the decedent was parked along the northbound shoulder and suddenly pulled out and headed due west, straight across the road, forcing the defendant to try to take evasive action. No one else was around to see what happened.
So the entire case became the accident reconstruction. Within a few weeks of the accident, we inspected both trucks and the accident scene with our accident reconstructionist. The police had done a good job of documenting the physical evidence, including skid marks and where the vehicles came to rest. Some skid marks remained visible when we visited the scene.
On the basis of all that data, our expert ran a series of computer simulations of the crash, which showed that the defendant had to have already moved into the southbound, opposite lane of traffic before he reached the intersection, before the decedent started turning and before the collision occurred. In other words, the defendant had clearly begun an illegal maneuver (trying to pass the decedent on the left, at an intersection) before the decedent could have possibly impeded his path. So although it was very difficult for our expert to precisely duplicate the complicated movements of two sets of tractors and trailers, we knew that the defendant driver’s statement to the police could not be true.
Our expert never prepared a report or testified in deposition, but on the basis of his work, we had a clear idea of how to proceed. When we noticed the deposition of the defendant driver, however, the case promptly settled for policy limits. It seems that either the defense had learned the same things we had from its own investigation or perhaps the defendant driver was unwilling to lie, under oath in deposition, about how the crash occurred.
Based on our research, this appears to be one of the largest settlements on record involving a decedent over the age of 70.