Attorneys

Highlights

  • Based on his trial expertise, Jim Wakefield secured a defense verdict for a trucking company when one of its trucks jackknifed and fell onto a car, causing permanent injuries to a 62-year-old female passenger.
  • The jury found that the driver was not negligent, despite the fact that he was traveling over the speed limit.
  • Though the Plaintiff initially sought $500,000 and then demanded $200,000 to settle, no damages were awarded.

Case Study

Jim Wakefield of Cummins & White, LLP successfully represented an auto transport company, after one its truck drivers was involved in an accident on the 5 Freeway in Oceanside, CA, seriously injuring an elderly woman in another car. The accident occurred when the truck, which was traveling 10 miles over the speed limit, was allegedly cut off by another vehicle. The truck driver slammed on his brakes, jack-knifing the truck, which fell onto a small car. The injured woman was a passenger in the car. The driver of the vehicle that allegedly cut off the truck was never identified. Despite the fact that the truck driver’s action directly led to the woman’s injuries, Mr. Wakefield secured a defense verdict, and no damages were awarded.

Background

An auto carrier belonging to Pacific Motor Trucking was traveling southbound on the 5 Freeway in Northern San Diego County during a rainstorm. The driver was traveling 10 miles over the speed limit when another car allegedly cut him off. He slammed on his brakes, causing the truck to jackknife and fall onto a small Volkswagen. A 62-year-old woman in the right passenger seat of the Volkswagen suffered severe injuries, including multiple fractures to both legs.

The injured passenger claimed that her injuries were permanent and that she had limited ability to walk as a result of the accident. She sought $500,000 in damages. The trucking company retained Jim Wakefield of Cummins & White, LLP, to handle the case. During settlement discussions, the Plaintiff demanded $200,000. She was offered $50,000 to settle but chose to proceed to trial.

Legal Strategy

During the jury trial in the Vista Branch of San Diego County Superior Court, counsel for the Plaintiff claimed that the Defendant’s driver was negligent in the operation of his truck, causing it to turn over and fall onto the Volkswagen, severely injuring the Plaintiff’s legs.

In rebuttal, Mr. Wakefield sought to establish that the driver, if negligent (by speeding while it was raining) was not the proximate cause of the accident. As part of his defense presentation, Mr. Wakefield argued that even if the driver had been traveling at 55 miles per hour, he would have done the same thing if cut off by a car, causing the same result.

Importantly, Mr. Wakefield was able to include the driver’s statement about the accident as part of the proceedings, despite the fact that the driver had passed away prior to the trial and before his deposition could be taken. The statement was critical because Mr. Wakefield needed to show that the truck had been cut off, causing the truck driver to slam on his brakes. The information was relayed to the jury via a California Highway Patrol officer who testified about the cause of the accident. The officer recounted the driver’s statement taken at the scene, which acknowledged the speed that the truck was traveling (65 miles per hour), but also included the important supporting detail about the car that cut off the truck, setting into motion the string of events that ended with injuries to the Plaintiff.

Mr. Wakefield also was able to keep the driver’s nickname, “Crash Jones,” and his poor driving record out of the proceedings, when the Judge ruled that both were not relevant to the trial, benefiting the defense.

Result/Implication

After a six-day trial, the jury found that the driver for Pacific Motor Trucking was not negligent, even though he was speeding. The jury concluded that he did not do anything that contributed to the accident, and no damages were awarded.

Mr. Wakefield said that cases in which the defense client is seemingly negligent and the Plaintiff is clearly not negligent are very hard to defend. “The idea of ‘proximate’ or ‘substantial cause’ is difficult for juries to understand,” he said. “However, we were able to convince the jury that the driver did not cause the accident, but was merely part of the chain of events that began when the car cut off the truck on the freeway.”