As a trucking journalist, it was the last situation I thought I would ever be in – a wrongful death lawsuit against a truck driver and his trucking company. Over the years, I’ve seen too many lawsuits brought against good truck drivers and fleets. Unfortunately, juries are often easily swayed against them because of the industry’s poor public image.
But depositions, interrogatories and countless meetings with lawyers became the norm for my family and me in the months following my mother’s death on March 13, 2002. She was killed when a tractor-trailer hit her car as she attempted to turn left on a two-lane road within a construction zone. Driving conditions were near perfect with visibility of more than half a mile in both directions. The driver of the empty flatbed tried to go around my mother as she made her turn. He hit her driver’s door. She lived less than three hours.
Those facts were undisputed.
There were questions about who was at fault and whether there was excessive negligence. The truck driver swore my mother was at a dead stop in the road without a left turn signal on when he spotted her vehicle from “about mile away,” and he was simply trying to go around her.
Having driven a truck myself, I contended he had more than ample stopping time. And he was responsible for control of his vehicle – especially when entering a construction zone with a reduced speed limit and vehicles slowing, stopping or turning in front of him.
After reading the accident report, I felt that my mother would still be alive if he had simply stopped instead of trying to pass her as she started her left turn. I still do.
The case was presented to a grand jury for a possible indictment for vehicular homicide. The grand jury gave the case more time and consideration than any case on the docket, but decided not to indict. The district attorney said it was a tough call, but such cases are hard to win in criminal court without a great deal of additional circumstances or excessive proof of negligence.
I felt otherwise, but I respect the role grand jury members play in the judicial system. Still, I didn’t want to allow my mother’s death to just become an accident statistic. I hired an attorney, but not one of those television headhunters who are out to blame truckers for every accident on the road. I wanted the truth. My attorney, in turn, hired an investigator who specializes in accident reconstruction to look into the case.
His findings led me to take legal action in civil court. Over the months I pored over fuel tickets, log books and other paperwork. I was shocked to find fuel tickets and log books that often were miles and hours apart. Many times, fuel purchases didn’t even agree with the driver’s on-duty and off-duty status.
I was deposed. I sat through the depositions with the truck driver. I cried after leaving the lawyer’s office that day. It was tough. I don’t believe the trucker set out to take my mother’s life, but again, I held him responsible for his actions.
Finally, a few months ago the case was resolved. By law, I’m not allowed to write about how it was settled. After months of the legal process, I realized that no matter how the case ended, it was not going to bring back my mother. All I could do was shed light on an injustice. I wanted the truck driver and his fleet to understand that we all make mistakes, but negligent and careless actions have consequences that often alter many people’s lives.
In cases like this, there are no winners. I am forever without someone for whom I cared very deeply. And, aside from the resolution of the case, the truck driver has to live with himself and what happened two years ago. I can only hope that his future decisions are guided in a positive way from what has happened in the past. I’ll probably never know.
Some people may criticize me for my actions, but I did my best in a tough situation. Nothing will bring my mother back, but I take comfort in the knowledge that she would be proud of my pursuit of the truth.