Recently, a West Virginia woman filed a lawsuit in federal court against Advantage Tank Lines LLC, claiming that one of its drivers was operating a tractor trailer so slowly that she collided with it.
The accident occurred on June 29, 2011. The injured party, Katherine Jean Hartung, was driving in the right lane on Interstate 77 when she encountered Reginald Kenneth Yelverton driving the tractor trailer. Hartung claims that Yelverton failed to drive at or above the 55 mile speed limit. As a result, when Hartung tried to change lanes to avoid the tractor trailer, she ended up striking it, causing significant damage to both the tractor trailer and her own vehicle. Both vehicles ended up having to be towed from the Interstate.
Meanwhile, Yelverton’s statement from the accident report was that he was driving at five to 10 miles per hour because the tractor trailer was loaded with asphalt. Hartung argues that Yelverton acted negligent, while Advantage Tank Lines LLC was vicariously liable as Yelverton’s employer because Yelverton caused the accident during the course of his duties. Yelverton is accused of violating 17C-6-3a of the West Virginia code, which prohibits driving a vehicle slow enough to impeded the normal flow of traffic unless the reduced speed is necessary to safely operate the vehicle or is in compliance with the law.
Through her attorney, Hartung seeks compensatory and punitive damages for serious bodily injury, pain and suffering, loss of wages, loss of earning capacity, loss of ability to enjoy life, mental anguish, apprehension, loss of dignity and humiliation, and shock and embarrassment, among others.
Hartung may well have a successful case. However, it should be noted that under 17C-6-4, special vehicles not designed to carry passengers may not exceed 40 miles per hour on an “open country highway.” Furthermore, West Virginia’s driver laws operate under a point system that punishes those who go over the speed limit. However, the point system does not allot points for driving too slowly. Whether Hartung’s lawsuit is successful depends on several factors. First, does Yelverton’s vehicle qualify as a “special vehicle” per 17C-6-4? Second, was Yelverton’s speed necessary to safely operate a tractor trailer filled with gravel on an interstate highway? To settle the question, witnesses who are experts in the industry practices may need to testify. Did the tractor trailer have any reflectors or flashing lights to warn other drivers?
Even if Yelverton is found to be negligent for the way he operated the tractor trailer, Hartung may not be able to collect any monetary award. That is because West Virginia is a modified comparative negligence state, which means that if the injured party is at least 50% at fault for the accident, he or she cannot collect from the other party. Advantage Tank Lines LLC may well cast a critical eye on Hartung’s own driving. Was Hartung driving above the posted speed limit? As the driver behind Yelverton, not the other way around, she should have been aware of how close her vehicle was to the tractor trailer, and attempted to slow down before changing lanes. Were there conditions that prevented Hartung from seeing the tractor trailer well in advance? These are just some of the issues an experienced West Virginia tractor trailer accident lawyer knows to investigate when dealing with this type of incident.