One recent case highlighted the truly bad things that can happen when a big rig is involved in a collision with a much smaller, lighter vehicle, when Los Angeles native Marina Rivas was awarded more than $20 million after a collision with a big rig left her with catastrophic injuries.
Rivas was injured when a truck driver ran a red light, crashed into her car, then rapidly drove away from the scene without calling for help or stopping to see if Rivas needed help. As it turned out, Rivas had been critically injured in the crash, with injuries that have turned out to be life-changing.
The case as presented to the court
The facts of Rivas’ case were relatively straightforward and ultimately involved bringing charges against both the at-fault driver and the trucking company that employed him. The major points of Rivas’ claim were:
On May 2, 2008, Rivas, then 47, was driving home from a business meeting when her car was hit by an 18,000-pound tractor trailer being driven by an employee of J.B. Hunt.
The truck driver had driven straight through a red light in Pico Rivera.
The impact, into the driver’s side of Rivas’ car, pushed her vehicle through the intersection and into a light or power pole.
Rivas, critically injured, was trapped in her car, but the truck driver fled the scene without making any effort to see how badly she had been injured or if she needed medical assistance.
Rivas was rushed to a local hospital, where it was discovered she had suffered subarachnoid hemorrhage and concussion. She continues to suffer from retrograde amnesia, cognitive impairment, persistent and severe physical pain, depression and a variety of other conditions.
Rivas ultimately had to move in with her cousin, who has provided both physical and financial assistance to Rivas.
At the trial, the driver pled no contest to the charge of felony hit and run.
“It’s not our fault,” said the trucking company
For more than four years, J.B. Hunt, the trucking company who employed the driver, refused point blank to accept liability for Rivas’ injuries. Their excuses were almost breathtaking in their brazen efforts to deflect responsibility. Among the claims made by J.B. Hunt Trucking included:
Rivas herself was responsible for the accident (even though their driver ran the red light).
J.B. Hunt Trucking also claimed their driver had suffered a medical emergency, caused by kidney failure that led the driver to black out. They were unable to convince the jury, however, how the driver managed to recover from the black out in time to drive away from the scene of the accident, leaving Rivas critically injured.
We give up!
After a week of protesting their innocence, J.B. Hunt finally admitted that they could no longer defend the indefensible. They conceded liability after Rivas’ attorneys produced evidence that the at-fault truck driver had been fired, then re-hired, by J.B. Hunt twice, and that the driver had had 15 different jobs in the trucking business between 1999 and 2008.
Rivas was not the first motorist to come across the J.B. Hunt driver. He had a long record of safety violations; among them were failures to report other accidents and attempts to cover up previous collisions.
The jury was clearly unimpressed with J.B. Hunt’s actions in the case. The trucker, after their tardy admission of liability, offered Rivas $2 million to settle the case and only then after the trial had already started.
The jury valued things quite differently. They awarded Rivas:
In excess of $7 million to cover future medical expenses
$12 million for past and future suffering
A final total award of $20.017 million
Rivas plans to use the proceeds of the verdict to continue her participation in brain injury rehabilitation to help her recovery. J.B. Hunt has yet to accept the jury’s verdict, but Rivas’ attorney is hopeful they will, as “the award will help Rivas to lead the best life she can, under the circumstances.”
It took more than four years for J.B. Hunt, and their insurers, to admit liability in this case, even though the overwhelming evidence pointed to the fact that Marina Rivas was a completely innocent victim of a negligent big-rig driver. Hopefully, justice will prevail in this case, and Marina can get on with making the best of the rest of her life.
In California, big rig accidents lead to serious injury and, in many cases, the death of innocent road users who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. The fact that big rigs can weigh up to 80,000 pounds and more means that when a collision takes place, there will only be one winner, no matter who was at fault.
If you or a member of your family has been injured in an accident involving a big rig, the odds are your claim will involve more than just the at-fault driver. Liability may also lie with the trucking company, the truck manufacturer or even the mechanic who last serviced the truck, or any combination of the above.
Clearly, accidents involving big rigs are more complex than your “normal” road traffic accident. If you’ve been involved in such an accident, don’t try to face an insurance company who will deny liability for four years on your own.
To find out the best way to make a claim for damages, injuries, lost income and medical bills against an at-fault big rig driver and any other liable party, contact an experienced Sacramento truck accident attorney. A good personal injury lawyer will be able to explain your rights and your options. Then, once you’ve decided on the best way to proceed, they will guide you through every step of what can be a very complicated process.