In a case that began with a mystery, it was eventually determined that a logging truck’s tailswing (when making a right turn) killed a woman driving nearby. The mystery: the vehicle driven by the decedent (plaintiff) was discovered in a median section of US Route 29 near Lynchburg. A pine log approximately 8 feet long was partially through the windshield of the vehicle, with the reminder on the outside of the vehicle. It was believed to have broken off of a larger log.
The Virginia State Police determined that there were no witnesses to explain how the log came to be in the vehicle. The Police investigation of the vehicle resulted in a determination that a turning logging truck was the source of the log, and that the log had apparently fallen from the truck. They were not able to identify the truck at that time.
Several months after this event, counsel was engaged for the plaintiff (decedent). Plaintiff’s attorney and team identified the log that entered the plaintiff’s vehicle as a tree-length log of pine pulpwood. Further research suggested that the log was connected with a large lumber facility located within 20 miles of the accident site.
When plaintiff’s attorneys presented the matter to the identified logging company, they said their driver was not the cause of the accident. When deposed, the logging company’s driver denied coming through the intersection on the day of the event. The defendant (truck driver and logging company) argued that their company could not be singled out from among “dozens” of lumber companies that were located near the site of the accident.
Plaintiff’s attorneys filed a John Doe accident against the decedent’s uninsured motorist insurance provider. He did not serve it at that time. The filing allowed plaintiff’s attorney to subpoena records and photographs from the logging company. This information enabled the attorney and staff to discover a particular logging truck that was in the accident site at the time of the accident and to determine that the truck was carrying pine pulpwood. They then filed suit against the logging company that owned that truck. Plaintiff’s staff identified all lumber facilities that could have owned the truck involved in the accident and ruled out each based upon location and type of lumber accepted by each facility.
With this information as a foundation, plaintiff’s attorneys filed suit against the lumber company determined to be the likely cause of the accident. It was the basis upon which plaintiff’s attorney showed that the defendant lumber company’s driver was mistaken in his deposition testimony, and that he was in the intersection at the time of the accident.
A trucking expert called by plaintiff’s attorneys demonstrated that the logs on the truck extended 15 feet beyond the back of the trailer carrying the logs. This was calculated by the evidence gathered and photos of the logging truck when it checked in at the scale and the measurements noted at the scale house. It was also shown that when the truck turned from Route 29 the load swung out beyond the trailer into the lane in which the decedent (plaintiff) was traveling at the time. Plaintiff’s expert held that one of the logs on the truck drove through the windshield of the plaintiff’s car, swept across the passenger area, and struck the right side of the decedent’s head, killing her instantly. The expert explained that the accident was the result of “tailswing.”
Tailswing refers to a known danger in the logging industry. It occurs when the driver makes a right turn and the logs extending beyond the carrier swing out beyond the lane in which the truck is traveling. Plaintiff’s attorneys pointed out that this known danger must be accommodated by the truck drivers. They then concluded that the accident was the result of driver carelessness.
The case was settled out of court in mediation. The demand on behalf of the plaintiff was for $2 million. The amount of the settlement was $1,200,000, which included future wage and benefit loss.
Most drivers have a healthy respect for truck when on our highways. Most truck drivers are careful when making turns and remain alert to drivers near them. This tragic case is a stark reminder that people make mistakes and that those mistakes may cause horrific accidents. Many drivers are aware that some trucks make wide turns and they are prepared to give trucks plenty of space to make those turns. Many drivers, however, do not understand the tailswing of trucks, buses, and other vehicles. We hope that this case will remind us all that we should be alert to trucks with a load that extends beyond the carrier and the risk of tailswing.
If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident with a truck, call Altizer Law, P.C. Our team has extensive experience with truck accidents. Bettina Altizer is a relentless and fierce fighter for each of her clients and endeavors to win the largest reasonable settlement for them.