Our client’s husband was tragically killed at a scrap metal yard in Upstate New York when the driver of a tractor-trailer irresponsibly sought to dump a load of crushed cars and tin while our client’s husband was in the process of parking a truck only a few feet away. The defendant operating the tractor-trailer knew that his trailer was packed too tightly and top-heavy, increasing the likelihood that the load would become “locked” and tip over. The load did in fact become “locked,” but the defendant continued to elevate his trailer higher and higher in an attempt to dislodge the stuck load. Predictably and regrettably, the trailer tipped over, landing on our client’s husband’s truck and killing him.
Previously in this action, the defendant moved for summary judgment on the issue of punitive damages, seeking a Court Order that would preclude a punitive damages award in favor of our client at trial. We defeated this motion, demonstrating to the Court that a jury may find that the defendant was so reckless and indifferent to our client’s husband’s safety to allow for punitive damages. More recently, we made our own motion for summary judgment, asking the Court to rule as a matter of law that the defendant was negligent, and that his negligence was a cause of our client’s death.
Our motion was drafted by Benjamin P. Jacobs, our firm’s Appellate Attorney. As part of our motion, our firm utilized damaging statements made by the defendant, which were obtained by Stuart L. Finz, our firm’s Senior Trial Attorney and CEO, at the defendant’s deposition. We also obtained a supporting affidavit from an industry-leading trucking expert, who has worked with our law firm throughout the course of this litigation.
Our motion demonstrated that the defendant violated industry safety standards by continuing to elevate a trailer with a “locked” load dangerously close to our client’s husband. We utilized testimony from the defendant’s own employer to bolster our trucking expert’s opinion about how the defendant failed to comply with safe dumping practices. Further, the defendant’s own testimony proved that he had an opportunity to stop elevating his trailer and prevent the accident, but he failed to do so. When pressed during his deposition, the defendant admitted that he knew our client’s husband was in close proximity, but the only thing the defendant cared about was trying to finish dumping his load of crushed cars and tin—and because the defendant had arrived at the dumpsite first, he wrongly felt that he was permitted to disregard our client’s husband’s safety.
The defendant opposed our motion and hired an expert purporting to support his position, but on November 22, 2021, the Judge overseeing this case, the Honorable Gregory R. Gilbert, granted our client summary judgment on the issues of negligence and causation. This means that the jury will not be asked to determine (1) whether the defendant was negligent and (2) if the defendant’s negligence was a cause of our client’s husband’s death (both critical bars that a plaintiff must normally clear before a plaintiff’s verdict and damage award can be achieved).
Instead, the Judge will instruct the jury that the defendant was in fact negligent and that his negligence caused our client’s husband’s death. The only tasks left for the jury will be to determine whether, and to what degree, there were any additional causes of the accident, and what amount of damages (including, potentially, punitive damages) is appropriate.
It is extremely rare for plaintiffs in personal injury and wrongful death actions in New York to move for summary judgment, much less have it determined in their favor, and we are proud to have obtained summary judgment here, putting our client in the best possible position as trial approaches.