Liability For Accident Arising From The Escape Of A Trailer

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 What Is Personal Injury?

In a claim for personal injury, a plaintiff claims that they have sustained an injury due to an act or failure to act by the defendant. The legal remedy for such a case is generally a court-ordered compensatory damages award.

A personal injury accident damages the plaintiff’s emotional health, physical health, or both. Mental health injuries generally refer to emotional pain and anguish associated with an accident. Physical injuries include injuries to organs, limbs, or other parts of the body. It is important to note that the injury that was sustained by a personal injury plaintiff does not need to manifest itself instantly. What this means is that an injury that develops over time may still be considered suitable in a personal injury claim.

An intentional injury occurs when a defendant’s deliberate act or intent to commit an act injures the plaintiff. Intentional injury generally occurs when the defendant commits battery, assault, or false imprisonment.

However, a personal injury may also occur unintentionally. If an unintentional injury results from someone’s negligence, the plaintiff may file a lawsuit based on the negligent behavior. Auto accidents, slip and fall accidents, and injuries associated with medical malpractice are all considered to be negligence cases.

More specifically, a negligence personal injury claim is one in which the plaintiff claims that the defendant injured them as a result of breaching a duty of care that the defendant owed to the plaintiff. If the plaintiff can prove that this breach caused injury which then resulted in damages, the plaintiff has made a claim for negligence.

The duty of care that is owed to a plaintiff largely depends on the circumstances of each case. Generally speaking, the defendant is under a legal duty to exercise the degree of care that an ordinary person would use under a particular set of facts. An example of this would be how if a defendant is driving their vehicle on a highway in clear weather, the defendant has a duty to follow the motor vehicle laws. However, if the defendant is driving their vehicle on a one-lane road in inclement weather, the defendant owes a greater duty.

Whether a duty of care to a plaintiff exists largely depends upon the foreseeability, or predictability, of harm that may result if the duty is not exercised. The “test” for whether a plaintiff is owed a duty of care questions whether an average person, who was in the position of the defendant, could foresee that the type of injury sustained by the plaintiff was likely to take place.

If yes, the defendant owes the plaintiff a duty of care. Additionally, if the defendant breaches that duty which then causes an injury resulting in damages, the defendant has committed personal injury through negligence. If no, then no duty is owed, and the defendant cannot have committed negligence.

Who Can Be Liable For An Accident Caused By The Escape Of A Trailer?

When a trailer escapes from its tow vehicle, the owner or operator may be at fault and, as such, held liable for all injuries and damaged property resulting from the escaped trailer. There are three theories which courts generally use in order to hold owner or operators liable:

  • Negligence: Generally speaking, the principles of negligence are applied to determining the liability for damage or injury caused by the escape of a trailer from its towing vehicle. Both owners and users of trailers have a duty to use reasonable care in order to prevent injury to others. This fact applies to both the equipment of the trailer, and to the operation of the tow vehicle. Some jurisdictions consider towing a trailer to be a dangerous activity which requires a higher standard of care; additionally, higher standards of care may be required by statute.
    • An example of this would be how one court held that towing a coal conveyor, which became unhitched and struck a pedestrian, was a dangerous activity which required a higher standard of care in order to prevent injury to others. In addition to the duty, the injured party must also prove that the driver breached their duty and that breach caused the injured party to suffer bodily injury or property damages;
  • Negligence Per Se: Many states enact statutes which require that a trailer be adequately hitched, or require the use of safety devices such as chains, in order to hold the trailer and towing vehicle together should the hitch break or become unfastened. As such, the failure to use such devices may be evidence of negligence per se. Negligence per se refers to an act which is intrinsically negligent because of the violation of a statute.
    • An example of this would be how a logging company was held liable for negligence per se when their logging trailer broke loose and rear-ended a vehicle. The trailer was not secured with a safety chain, or any other means for keeping the trailer from breaking loose, which was in violation of a statute; or
  • Res Ipsa Loquitur: Res Ipsa Loquitur is Latin for “the thing speaks for itself.” The theory is used when the harm would ordinarily not occur without someone being negligent. Courts have applied res ipsa loquitur to escaped trailer cases, their reasoning being that a trailer is unlikely to become unhitched unless it was improperly fastened or improperly hauled.
    • One court has used res ipsa loquitur to find liability when a trailer which was carrying circus equipment became dislodged, crossed the highway, and ran head-on into an oncoming car. A police officer examined the hitch immediately following the accident and discovered that part of it was missing, but nothing was broken. Because a search along the highway did not find the missing part, the court applied res ipsa loquitur; there was ample basis for the jury to conclude that the driver was negligent in their operation of the vehicles, and that the circus had not properly maintained its tractor-trailer equipment.

What Are Some Common Personal Injury Legal Remedies?

To reiterate, an injured plaintiff who proves that a defendant is liable in a personal injury case is entitled to compensatory damages. A plaintiff can recover two types of damages: damages for an injury, and damages for the consequences of the injury. Additionally, there are two types of compensatory damages, which are known as general damages and specific damages.

General damages are awarded for the injury itself. These damages include:

  • Pain and suffering;
  • Mental anguish; and
  • Trauma.

General damages cannot be readily assigned a monetary value. What this means is that in order to recover such damages, the testimony of an expert such as a physician or psychiatrist is generally necessary to assign a monetary value.

Special damages compensate someone for a specific consequence of an injury. Specific consequences most commonly include medical expenses and loss of wages, as these items can be assigned a precise monetary value. An example of this would be how a doctor’s bill lists payment due, while a pay stub can be used to determine the amount of wages that were lost due to injury.

Do I Need A Lawyer For An Accident From The Escape Of A Trailer?

If you have been injured by an escaped trailer, you should consult with a car accident attorney as soon as possible. An experienced personal injury lawyer can help you understand your state’s specific laws regarding the matter, and will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.

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