Fatal Collision in Pearl River Illustrates Elements of Semi-Truck Negligence

In Pearl River on July 9, an 18-wheel truck blew out a tire and crossed over into oncoming traffic killing four people. The accident at the Louisiana/Mississippi state line occurred when the driver of the semi was driving northbound on I-59 and lost control of the vehicle after the tire blew out. The semi crossed the center median, and in what state police describe as an almost head on collision, the semi collided into a Dodge Ram pickup and led to both vehicles sliding off the road. While all four individuals in the truck were killed, the driver of the semi suffered minor to moderate injuries. The driver of the semi was from Montgomery, Texas and the four passengers in the Dodge Ram pickup were from Carriere, Mississippi. For his part in the accident, the driver of the semi was charged with careless operation and four counts of negligent homicide.

It is important to know that while negligent homicide is a criminal charge, suit may also be filed under a wrongful death cause of action for the four victims that were killed in the accident. Historically under common law, wrongful death was not available and only criminal law was an option. Under statutory law however, a person can be held responsible in civil court in addition to criminal court for wrongful death. Wrongful death statutes provide a legal remedy for wrongfully causing the death of another human being. The applicable Louisiana Civil Code wrongful death statute is under Book 3, Title 5, Chapter 3, Article 2315.2 and states, “If a person dies due to the fault of another, suit may be brought […] to recover damages which they sustained as a result of the death.”

In civil court, the basis for wrongful death is negligence. In a case of negligence, the plaintiff must prove a duty to conform to a standard of conduct, a breach of that duty, that the breach was the actual and proximate cause of the injury, and damages. If a claim is brought in negligence, the driver is held to a “reasonable person” standard of care. The question to ask is, “Would a reasonable person behave this way under the same or similar circumstances?”
A finding of negligence in this matter requires an attorney to investigate whether the the accident was due to the driver’s negligent operation of his vehicle, or whether the semi driver negligently maintained or inspected the vehicle. Investigation of negligently maintaining the vehicle requires that the cars are examined and that the evidence is preserved.

If the driver is not found to be negligent, the plaintiff may also have a products liability claim for the tire blowout. Under a products liability cause of action, the focus is on the supplier’s liability for a product that caused physical harm to a person or to property. For products liability the same injury may be brought on several theories including intentional torts, negligence, strict liability, or liability based on breach of an express or implied warranty.

Claims may also be filed for property damage that was sustained by the vehicles involved in the accident. Property damage is recoverable in negligence. The damages that are recoverable in negligence cases are compensatory rather than punitive.

Although the parties in this accident were from Texas and Mississippi, the fact that the accident occurred in Louisiana will allow a lawsuit to be brought in Louisiana court.

If you or someone you know is involved in an accident in Louisiana, remember that you will need an experienced and knowledgeable attorney to represent you so that you are compensated for your loss. Call the Berniard Law Firm toll-free at 1-866-574-8005 to speak with an attorney who can help you understand your rights for an accident with a semi-truck or other vehicle.