Wyoming Supreme Court rules parked CRST truck was ‘proximate cause’ of fatal crash
June 15, 2018
A decision by the Wyoming Supreme Court means CRST International must stand trial in connection with a wrongful death suit involving a motorist who died in 2014 after crashing into a parked truck in Utah.
The state’s high court on June 8 ruled 3-2 in favor of overturning a lower court’s February 2017 dismissal of the wrongful death suit against CRST and its sister company CRST Expedited.
At issue is the death of David Crashley, 39, of Casper, Wyo., whose Mazda CX-9 collided on Feb. 9, 2014 with the rear of a CRST tractor-trailer driven by Jared Chavez.
According to court records, at approximately 6:45 a.m. on Feb. 11, 2014, Chavez and his co-driver Luis Fontanez-Bermudez, parked their tractor-trailer in an emergency lane on Interstate 80 near Rawlings, Wyo. Chavez turned on the hazard lights and informed Fontanez-Bermudez he was feeling drowsy. The two drivers were preparing to switch places.
Within minutes, David Crashley collided with the rear of the tractor-trailer and died. No evidence indicated Crashley braked or attempted to avoid the collision. Court records indicate the weather was clear with dry roads. Chavez was cited for illegally parking in an emergency lane. It is undisputed that the tractor-trailer was parked completely within the emergency lane at the time of the crash.
In January 2016, a lawsuit was filed by Crashley’s estate against the drivers and the companies accusing them of negligence by parking illegally in the emergency lane. The lawsuit also alleged that CRST was negligent in its training and supervision of its drivers.
According to the lawsuit, multiple signs in the area alerted motorists were not allowed to park there except for emergency purposes.
In November 2016, a district court awarded the drivers and CRST summary judgment on the basis that despite the parking being illegal, it was not the proximate cause of the crash.
“Nothing about parking in the emergency lane caused [the decedent] to drive into the back of the trailer,” the district court ruling stated. “While it greatly aggravated the consequences of [the decedent’s] conduct, Defendants’ unlawful stop in the emergency lane did not cause [the decedent] to leave the lanes of travel in his vehicle and drive in the emergency lane.”
However, the state supreme court’s ruling overturned that decision, and states that the representatives of Crashley’s estate did not have to prove that the truck being parked on the shoulderwas what caused Crashley to lose control of the vehicle. Rather, the case of negligence consists of a duty on the part of the drivers and a violation of the duty which proximately caused the death.
“Did Mr. Chavez owe a duty to the decedent and others similarly situated?” Burke stated in his opinion. “Did he breach that duty by parking his tractor-trailer rig on the shoulder of I-80? Did breach of that duty proximately cause injury to the decedent? Ostensibly, this appeal involves only the issue of proximate cause but, in this case, a proper proximate cause determination cannot be made without exploration of the duty owed to the decedent. Duty, like proximate cause, involves the question of foreseeability.”
In a similar case involving a truck parked along the interstate, the California Supreme Court “had no difficulty in concluding that potential harm to other motorists was ‘clearly foreseeable.’” Burke ruled that “the dangers to highway users presented by a parked tractor-trailer along I-80 are no less foreseeable in Wyoming than they are in California.”
The case will be sent back to the district court where a jury will resolve the issue.
In the dissenting opinion, Justice William Hill argued that not only was Crashley’s act of driving in the emergency lane the intervening cause of his death but also, consequently, the intervening act could not be considered foreseeable.
Hill’s opinion stated that because of the clear weather conditions and the fact the tractor-trailer was completely within the emergency lane, Crashley’s conduct was “independent of and unconnected to Mr. Chavez’s illegal parking of the CRST vehicle.”