It was almost three years ago that Kevin Boyer of North Dakota was driving his three children home in the family van when they were suddenly struck by a tractor-trailer with a double-trailer rig. Two of his children perished in the crash, leaving both Boyer and the third child, a three-year-old son, critically injured. One son was ejected from the vehicle and into the snow, while Boyer’s daughter was discovered partially ejected through a rear window. Boyer and his surviving child were taken to the hospital, where they eventually recovered, but the effects were long-lasting and included the demise of Boyer’s marriage. Although Boyer and his wife began divorce proceedings only weeks after the devastating truck accident, they finally came together in 2012 to file a civil lawsuit against the truck driver.
A local publication, The Grand Forks Herald, reports that Plaintiffs allege the driver “violated federal regulations by driving too many hours without rest and using a prescription painkiller that causes drowsiness.” The driver, Steve Nelson, has not disputed those claims and, in fact, served a one year sentence after pleading guilty in 2011 during a related criminal case which encompassed two counts of negligent homicide and one count of reckless driving, with all but 60 days of his sentence being suspended. The remaining 60 days were spent on house arrest and an additional 100 hours were spent doing community service.
The more complex issues to be explored in the civil case include deciding who else might be found liable for the incident, especially since a judge recently ruled that the Boyers could request and possibly recover punitive damages in addition to $116,000 in medical, personal injury and funeral costs. The family seeks to bring into the suit not only Simplex Leasing, the driver’s former employer, but also the United States Parcel Service (UPS), because the driver was hauling two rigs owned by UPS at the time. “The Boyers argue Nelson [the driver] ‘directly’ caused the accident while Simplex Leasing and UPS are ‘vicariously liable employers,'” according to Grand Folks Herald.
The plaintiffs also allege Nelson was negligent because he failed to take appropriate rest times as federally mandated and took Oxycodone for knee pain before driving, which greatly affected his driving skills and response times. However, drug tests conducted after the crash found no traces of any drug, prescription or otherwise, in the driver’s system and the responding officer failed to note any signs of impairment.
Other issues stem from the fact that UPS disputes any responsibility for Nelson’s actions, claiming that he was paid directly by Simplex and was only employed by UPS as an independent contractor. Both the plaintiffs and Nelson counter argue that Nelson was an employee of UPS – citing the direction given to Nelson on how to hook up the UPS trailers, as well as the fact that he was once “chided by a UPS employee for being late.”
As most trucking accident attorneys are aware, the legal ramifications surrounding truck accidents can differ greatly from car accidents, primarily because tractor-trailer drivers are governed by a separate set of rules, in addition to normal traffic laws. These rules are promulgated by a federal agency, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which is tasked with restricting the number of hours a truck driver can spend on the road, among other things.
Because there are other federal rules involved in a tricking accident, potential plaintiffs should seek the assistance of an experienced personal injury lawyer who is knowledgeable about the FMCSA’s rules and their interaction with more common traffic laws and legal theories. It would be ill-advised to try to navigate the intricacies of a trucking claim alone, especially since insurance companies try to quickly push for a settlement – and often for an amount less than the claim is actually worth.