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Directed Verdict in a Mississippi Wrongful Death 18-Wheeler Case

truckIn the case of Moreno v. TLSL, Inc., the Mississippi Supreme Court considered a situation in which a wife sued a driver and owner of an 18-wheeler tractor-trailer for the wrongful death of her husband. The case arose when four men were traveling on Highway 72 west toward Memphis. A truck driver was driving to Oxford in a 75-foot tractor-trailer on a county road that intersected the highway. Early in the morning, while it was dark, the driver of the car crashed into the tractor-trailer, and three of the men were killed.

One of the widows filed a wrongful death lawsuit. Four witnesses testified at the jury trial. The tractor-trailer driver testified that he’d inspected the tractor-trailer on the morning of the collision, and its taillights were functioning. He claimed that when he came to the intersection, he came to a complete stop and allowed two vehicles to pass. As he drove onto the highway, he saw the headlights of the decedents’ pick-up appearing three-quarters of a mile from him. He was driving in fifth gear at 30-35 mph when the pick-up hit him.

However, a witness driving behind the decedent said that the tractor-trailer didn’t yield but drove directly into the pick-up. She claimed she could see the tractor-trailer’s headlights but not its sidelights, brake lights, or taillights. A passenger in the pick-up testified that he’d fallen asleep and was woken by the decedent driver’s scream just before the accident. He didn’t see whether the lights were working.

After the plaintiff presented her case, the trucking company moved for a directed verdict on a number of issues, including pain and suffering damages, medical bills, improper inspection, wage loss, punitive damages, and liability. The plaintiff stipulated to the directed verdict on all issues except liability, inspection, and current net-loss value. However, the trial court granted a directed verdict on all issues.

The plaintiff appealed, arguing the trial court had erred on granted the directed verdict as to negligence. She claimed there was enough evidence to support a verdict for her, and the trial court had improperly made a ruling based on the witnesses’ credibility, which was a jury question. She argued that the tractor-trailer’s lights weren’t on, and he’d failed to yield the right of way, which meant that a jury could have found him negligent.

The Mississippi Supreme Court explained that usually if there’s conflicting evidence, the issue must go before a jury. However, when evidence is incredible or unbelievable, it doesn’t count as evidence and isn’t enough to sustain a verdict. In this case, the witnesses conflicted as to whether the accident was a side-impact collision or a rear-ending. Although they disagreed about what happened, the state highway patrol had concluded the driver of the pick-up, not the tractor-trailer, had caused the crash by failing to yield the right of way, speeding, and following too closely. Even the plaintiff admitted that her witness’ testimony about the cause of the collision was inaccurate. The passenger’s testimony was that he was asleep and also that the driver couldn’t have avoided the crash. Both statements couldn’t be true.

The wife had also failed to present evidence to show the tail lights weren’t on before the crash. Neither witness was positioned to see the tractor-trailer’s taillights. The grant of a directed verdict was affirmed.

Trucking companies are often represented by skillful insurance attorneys who aim to avoid liability even when accident victims have died. If you are injured or a loved one is killed in a truck accident in Tennessee or elsewhere in the surrounding region, such as in Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, or Kentucky, it is crucial to retain attorneys who understand this area of the law. Contact Nahon, Saharovich & Trotz at 1-800-529-4004 or through our online form to set up a free consultation.

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