Trials in Illinois personal injury cases can be long and grueling, but even the most hard-fought cases can be overturned for seemingly small decisions during trial. An Illinois appeals court recently overturned a multimillion-dollar verdict because the trial judge barred testimony from a witness.
According to the court’s opinion, a truck driver was driving a semi-tractor trailer on a highway when he started to have engine trouble. The driver pulled over to the shoulder of the highway and turned off the vehicle. He could not restart the vehicle and called his employer, who told him to call the manufacturer of the truck’s engine. The driver eventually called a towing company, which sent two tow trucks to tow the tractor and the trailer. One tow-truck driver parked in front of the tractor-trailer, and the other driver parked behind it. Soon after, another semi-tractor trailer driver was passing by on the highway and sideswiped the rear tow truck, crashing into the back of the tractor-trailer. The crash resulted in the deaths of all four men.
The wife of one of the tow-truck drivers filed suit against several defendants, including the employers of both of the tractor-trailer drivers. She claimed the employer of the first tractor-trailer driver was negligent for several reasons, including for failing to properly maintain its tractor-trailer and for its driver’s decision to pull onto the shoulder rather than driving to the next exit. She claimed the employer of the driver who sideswiped the truck was negligent for several reasons as well, including failing to watch the road properly, and crashing into the vehicles. The case went to trial and a jury found both employers liable. The jury divided the liability, assigning 57% to one employer and 43% to the other. The jury awarded the plaintiff over $19 million in damages.
The employer of the deceased driver appealed, arguing in part that the court improperly barred a witness from testifying about the driver of the second trailer. According to a deposition, another truck driver saw the second truck pass him and that he observed that the truck driver was not wearing a shirt. About a mile or two later, the crashed occurred. The witness saw the crash occur, and pulled over to see if anyone needed assistance. He found the driver in his seat with his shirt on.
The court found that the trial court improperly barred the witness testifying about his observation of the truck driver. The court explained that the evidence was potentially crucial in determining what caused the crash, in order to apportion fault. The appeals court also noted that the witness would have been cross-examined about his testimony and provided the jury with a more comprehensive picture of what happened before the crash. It found that the evidence very likely would have changed the jury’s apportionment of liability between the two employers. The court reversed and remanded for a new trial. Therefore, the court found the evidence had a potentially significant effect on the verdict, and particularly on its apportionment of fault.
Have You Been Injured in a Truck Accident?
If you or a loved one has been injured in an Illinois truck accident, contact an experienced personal injury lawyer to discuss your claim. The personal injury lawyers at Abels & Annes, P.C. help crash victims in Chicago and surrounding areas. We are dedicated to representing accident victims and their families. We thoroughly investigate your case, and will always work to protect your interests and act as your advocates in your case. Call us at (312) 924-7575 or use our online form to set up a free consultation.