$950,000: Out Of Control Water Truck Causes Death of Motorcyclist

CASE DESCRIPTION: The plaintiff was riding a motorcycle westbound on Highway 2, when that water truck spun out of control from the eastbound lane colliding head-on with a motorcycle, killing the plaintiff.  The defendant lost control of his vehicle because another vehicle was stopped in the eastbound lane.  The driver of the second vehicle was distracted by a third vehicle emitting smoke while parked off to the side of the road.

RESULT: $950,000.00 total settlement

On October 21, 2002, at approximately 11:45 a.m., Kenneth G. was killed when he was struck head-on by a large water transport vehicle driven by defendant Ted R.  Kenneth G. was proceeding westbound on Highway 2 within the city of Wrightwood on his motorcycle, and Mr. Ted R., who had lost control of his vehicle while traveling eastbound, had entered the westbound lane of travel directly in front of Mr. Kenneth G.  A head on collision ensued.  In this area, Highway 2 travels through a mountainous area and there is only one lane of travel in each direction.  Therefore, Mr. Kenneth G. had no ability or time to avoid the oncoming  vehicle.  Mr. Kenneth G. was pronounced dead at the scene.

Traveling ahead of Mr. Ted R. eastbound was a vehicle driven by Jeffrey and Amanda H.  They were pulling a disabled Subaru, which they intended to take to a junkyard.  While they were hauling this vehicle, the family noted that the front axle of the Subaru had begun to smoke.  They pulled off to the right side of the road, unhitched their vehicles, and Mrs. Amanda H. went to obtain a fire extinguisher from a local auto supply store.  Mrs. Amanda H. obtained a fire extinguisher, and Mr. Jeffrey H. sprayed the front axle of the towed vehicle to ensure that the Subaru did not completely catch fire.

Shortly a head of Mr. Ted R. traveling eastbound was a vehicle driven by defendant Donna E., who was an employee of defendant Visiting Nursing Association of the Inland Counties (or “VNA”) acting within the course and scope of her employment.  Mrs. Donna E. saw the disabled Subaru in front of her on the right, and noted the smoke coming from it and/or the fire extinguisher being used by Mr. Jeffrey H.  Mrs. Donna E. stated she slowed her vehicle in response to this potential hazard and moved slowly by it.  Jeffrey and Amanda H. claim that Mrs. Donna E. completely stopped her vehicle in the eastbound lane and would only move forward after being urged on by hand signals, but Mrs. Donna E. denies this.

At this time, defendant Ted R. rounded the corner approximately one half mile from the accident site.  As he did so, he observed both the disabled vehicle and Donna E’s vehicle in front of him.  Defendant Ted R. testified that he assumed that defendant Mrs. Donna E. was traveling at highway speeds past the vehicle on the side of the road; therefore, he did not slow down his water truck.  As defendant Ted R. rapidly gained ground on Donna E’s vehicle, at some point he realized that he was overtaking Mrs. Donna E. and slammed on his brakes.  Mr. Ted R. was unable to stop safely at that late time, so he swerved to the left to avoid hitting the Donna E’s vehicle, going into an uncontrolled spin in the process.

Unfortunately, at this precise time, Kenneth G. was traveling westbound on Highway 2 on his motorcycle.  Mr. Kenneth G. was struck head on by the front and of Mr. Ted R’s out of control water truck.

Plaintiff contended that defendant Ted R. droved his vehicle in a highly negligent manner.  Plaintiff also contended that Ted R. had plenty of time to either slow or stop his vehicle after observing Mrs. Donna E’s vehicle in front of him.  For some reason, Mr. Ted R. failed to appreciate that Mrs. Donna E’s vehicle was traveling slowly, which caused his out of control breaking/turning maneuver.

Plaintiff further contended that defendant Donna E. created a hazard in the roadway by either greatly slowing or stopping completely in the eastbound lane of travel, thereby precipitating Ted R’s loss of control.  Jeffrey H. testified that defendant Donna E. stopped completely in the eastbound lane for reasons they could not fathom, and only reluctantly moved her car after she was gestured to do so.  He further testified that defendant Donna E. stopped her vehicle the second time with in the eastbound lane after passing where the Subaru was parked.  Jeffrey H. indicated that they believed that defendant Donna E. should have cleared the area and not proceeded so slowly.  Defendant Ted R. stated that he saw Donna E. in front of him, but could see no reason for her to slow or stop in response to the Jeffrey H’s vehicle.  Therefore, he assumed that she was driving at highway speeds and acted accordingly.  Defendant Ted R. further stated that, by the time he realized how slowly Donna E. was going, he had no choice but to slam on his brakes and swerved into the westbound lanes to avoid rear-ending Donna E’s vehicle.

Defendant Ted R. contended that the incident was primarily the fault of defendant Donna E. for unreasonably slowing down as she passed the vehicle on the side of the road.  Defendant Donna E., and her employer defendant VNA, contended that Mr. Ted R’s unsafe driving was the primary cause of Mr. Kenneth G’s death.

The defendants further contended that the decedent’s lost earnings were not substantial based on his earning history, and any analysis based on decedent’s presumed future career as an addiction counselor was speculative.

TYPE OF CASE: Auto v. Motorcycle;  Wrongful death

INJURIES: Wrongful death of 51 year old male in vehicle collision.

DATE & LOCATION OF INCIDENT: 10/21/02 at approximately 11: 45 a.m. on the westbound Highway 2 within the city of Wrightwood.

PLAINTIFF’S AGE: 51 at the time of the incident.

OCCUPATION: Mr. Kenneth G. was a self-employed carpenter earning between $10,000 to $20,000 per year.  At the time of his death, Mr. Kenneth G. was in his final semester of course work to get his certification as a drug and alcohol counselor.

Wylie A. Aitken & Darren O. Aitken
For Plaintiff – Sylvia G.

Wayne Watten
For Defendant – Ted R.

Kent D. Zippe
Also for Defendant – Jeffrey H.

Robert w. Armstrong
Also for Defendant – Donna E.

Pamela Sirkin
Also for Defendant – Visiting Nursing Association of the Inland Counties