Doctrine of “Intervening Cause” Used to Excuse Truck Driver from Liability in Multi-Truck Accident

Earlier this year, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals decided a case that excused two semi-truck drivers from liability because the negligence of a third truck driver was deemed to be an intervening cause of the injuries complained of by the plaintiffs. In the case of Baumann v. Zhukov, the plaintiff was a personal representative appointed to represent the interests of an entire family who died as a result of a multi-vehicle accident.

According to the court’s written opinion, the accident took place back in September 2012. The facts of the case are a bit confusing but illustrate the “intervening cause” doctrine nicely.

The Facts of the Case

Zhkov was traveling in his truck on the highway when he experienced an equipment malfunction, and his truck would no longer run. He pulled over to the side of the road and waited for assistance. However, before assistance could arrive, Johnson approached in his semi-truck and slammed into Zhukov’s parked truck. Evidence adduced at trial suggested that the safety cones placed on the road to warn passing motorists of Zhukov’s truck were not properly placed.

Johnson died as a result of the collision, and a major traffic jam ensued. The Schmidts, a family traveling on the same road in two separate cars, came to a stop at the end of the traffic jam and waited for it to clear. However, as they were stopped, another truck operated by Slezak came from behind and rammed into one of the Schmidts’ vehicles. The force from the collision caused the car to collide with the Schmidts’ other vehicle, which was pushed under one of the semi-trucks. All of the Schmidts in the two vehicles died in the accident.

The personal representative of the Schmidt family filed suit against each of the truck drivers, as well as their respective employers. Relevant to this case was the case against Zhukov, his employer, and Johnson.

The Defendants’ Argument

At trial, Johnson and Zhukov argued that, even if they were negligent in causing the initial accident, the negligence of Slezak was an intervening cause of the victims’ deaths, and they should not be held liable. The court agreed, noting that an intervening cause arises when a third party’s actions break the chain of events linking the original event and the plaintiffs’ injuries. The court noted that one factor was the foreseeability of the third party’s actions that allegedly severed the chain of events. If the conduct was not foreseeable, it is more likely to be an intervening cause. Here, the negligent act of Slezak in ramming into the back of the Schmidts’ vehicles acted as an intervening cause of the Schmidts’ deaths.

Have You Been Involved in a Maryland Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been involved in any kind of Maryland car or truck accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation for all that you have been put through. With that said, the road to financial recovery can often be a bumpy one, with unexpected detours along the way. It is best to have the assistance of a dedicated and compassionate attorney at your side. Call 410-654-3600 to set up a free consultation with an attorney today.

More Blog Posts:

Family Brings Suit Against Department of Transportation in Failure-to-Maintain Case, Maryland Accident Law Blog, September 15, 2015.

Marine Struck and Killed in Thurmont by Hit-and-Run Driver, Maryland Accident Law Blog, October 7, 2015.

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