A semi-truck driver was apparently driving too fast for the conditions and lost control of his rig on a rain-slicked road, crashing into another vehicle and killing a young man.

The wreck happened close to the intersection of Highway 99 and Rosedale Highway in Bakersfield. A big rig driver, whose name and age were not released, was northbound on Highway 99 when he collided with a Cadillac. The driver of that car, a 19-year-old man whose name was not released, was rushed to a hospital with serious injuries; his passenger, 20-year-old Mark Matthews, was pronounced dead as a result of “multiple blunt force traumatic injuries.”

Authorities ruled the deaths accidental.

Duty in Truck Accidents

Losing control of one’s vehicle on a slick road is not “accidental” but rather the result of poor diving habits. This particular stretch of Highway 99 is wide and straight, so the tort-feasor (negligent driver) most likely lost control during a lane change or some other rather simple maneuver. As a matter of fact, roughly 94 percent of all car crashes result from human error, and that includes travelling faster than the environmental conditions dictate.

According to Sherwin Arzani, a personal injury attorney in Los Angeles, CA, that handles truck accidents, “Truck drivers, bus drivers, Uber drivers, and other commercial operators are common carriers in California, so they have an even higher legal responsibility.” One court explained that “the privilege of serving the public as a common carrier necessarily entails great responsibility, requiring common carriers to exercise a high duty of care.” This duty especially applies to the passengers they carry and the owners of the goods they transport.

The higher duty of care means that common carriers must slow down considerably, or even not drive at all, when the roads are wet, the sky is dark, the fog is moderately thick, or whatever.

First Party Liability

Speed is a factor in about a third of the fatal accidents on California freeways, because it increases both the risk of a collision and the damages in a collision. First, speed multiples stopping distance. A fully-loaded tractor trailer driving at 40mph stops about 40 yards after the driver first applies the brakes; at 60mph, that same vehicle travels about 75 yards before it stops. Slick roads increase braking distance even more, because traction is not as good. Second, speed multiples the force in a collision, leading to serious injuries like:

  • Wrongful Death: The fatality rate in large vehicle crashes is much higher than the rate in passenger car collisions.
  • Burns: Gasoline and diesel fuel burn at different temperatures, so many victims suffer third- and fourth-degree burns that require painful skin grafts and cause permanent disfigurement.
  • Head and Neck Injuries: Seatbelts provide decent protection against these injuries in vehicle-on-vehicle crashes, but the force is so severe in large vehicle-on-vehicle collisions that no form of restraint can fully prevent these wounds.

Compensation in vehicle collision cases includes money for both economic damages, such as lost wages, and noneconomic damages, such as pain and suffering. Punitive damages may be available as well, in some cases.

Vicarious Liability

At the Law Office of Dewey Cheatam & Howe, we file negligence lawsuits both to obtain compensation for our clients and prevent future incidents. That is one reason third party liability, like respondeat superior (“let the master answer”), is so important. If the proper parties are not identified and held responsible, the table is set for future negligence incidents. Respondeat superior applies if the tortfeasor was an employee, and the tortfeasor was acting within the course and scope of employment.

Because of the way negligence courts define these key terms, this theory nearly always applies in large truck crashes. In this context, independent contractors, owner-operators, and all other drivers are “employees,” because the shipping or transportation company largely dictates they way these individuals work. Furthermore, any activity that furthers the employer’s interests, regardless of the degree, is inside the course and scope of employment.

California is a modified joint and several liability state, so courts typically apportion damages among multiple defendants based on their percentage of fault.