Court Rules Construction Company Responsible for Man Hit by Rock from its Truck

A construction company will have to pay $4.7 million to a man injured in August 2014 when a rock from a truck operated by the company crashed through his windshield and struck him in the head, causing a skull fracture, partial blindness and a severe traumatic brain injury. In the District Court verdict a jury found Veit & Co. 38 percent responsible for the accident after Carney Lien, the injured man, and his team argued that Veit overloaded its trucks dangerously with pit run material.

This case highlights the possibility for vehicle accidents due to unsafe transportation methods. This is something all auto glass industry members should be aware of because if your glass is transported in a way that causes hazardous roadway conditions it could lead to accidents like this one.

Case Background

During the District Court trial in April 2017, Veit made a motion for judgment as a matter of law (JMOL). This means Veit believed the evidence presented by Lien and his team was insufficient to support its case, and was asking the judge to make a ruling in its favor based on this principle. The court denied this motion, which was then challenged by Veit in the Appeals Court.

Court Ruling

Veit argued that the District Court should not have denied its request to enter JMOL in its favor because Lien failed to establish a standard of care and failed to offer admissible evidence supporting a breach of any standard of care by the company. The Appeals Court ruling states that according to the Supreme Court, an expert testimony establishing a standard of care is not needed if the matter at hand is within the general knowledge and experience of laypersons.

“We agree with the District Court that loading dump trucks is not so technical an activity that average jurors could not understand that a reasonable loader would take care in loading the truck properly because overloading could cause material to spill out over the top or sides and cause injury. A layperson would not need to speculate on the standard of care, because it is within the realm of common knowledge,” reads the ruling.

The Appeals Court also disagreed with Veit’s argument that even if Lien established a standard of care, he did not prove Veit breached it. The ruling states that evidence supports the argument that Veit overloaded its trucks systematically, and the rock that struck Lien came from a rock carried by the truck and not one from the road, making Veit partially responsible for the accident and subsequent injury.

Punitive Damages

The Appeals Court supported Lien’s claim for punitive damages, which was denied by the District Court. The District Court said that evidence did not show negligence nor gross negligence by Veit to support the punitive damage claim.

“The District Court’s only stated reason for denying the motion was the fact that the drivers acknowledged they have a responsibility to check their trucks,” reads the ruling.

“However, this does not detract from Veit’s actions, and the District Court therefore abused its discretion by improperly weighing evidence.”

“Additionally, because the District Court’s analysis ended there, it did not consider whether Veit’s on-site supervisors were acting in a managerial capacity such that Veit can be held liable for punitive damages under Minnesota [law],” the ruling continues.

The Appeals Court reversed the decision and sent it back to the District Court for consideration.

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