Appeals court upholds ruling in Jefferson County accident case

The Arkansas Court of Appeals on Wednesday said Circuit Judge Jodi Raines Dennis was correct when she dismissed claims against a national trucking company and a driver that stemmed from a traffic accident in 2008.

Debra Davis had filed suit against Schneider National Carriers Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Schneider National Inc., and against Paul Turner, a driver for the company

Davis was involved in a traffic accident at approximately 7 a.m., on Nov. 13, 2008, in Jefferson County. According to the appeal, she was traveling east on a county road that intersects with U.S. 79, and approached an intersection controlled by a stop sign. A tractor-trailer driven by Turner was traveling south of U.S. 79 at between 50 and 55 mph. Davis attempted to make a left turn onto U.S. 79 when she collided with the tractor-trailer. Her appeal said she was knocked unconscious, and has no memory of the events.

Davis filed suit against both the company and driver for the severe and permanent injuries she received, alleging negligence on the part of both the company and driver, and sought both compensatory and punitive damages.

The company and Turner filed an answer denying the claims by Davis, and asked the court for summary judgment, contending that Davis’ failure to stop and failure to yield was the sole cause of the accident.

After a hearing on the motion for summary judgment but before the court order granting that judgment, Davis amended her complaint, contending that Turner was negligent and was driving recklessly, and the company was negligent because it failed to inform Turner of his sleep apnea condition.

On April 10, 2012, Dennis entered an order granting summary judgment to the company and driver, and denying each of Davis’ claims., and an appeal followed.

In that appeal, Davis contended that there were material issues of fact that needed to be considered, including visibility conditions and whether Turner’s speed in the foggy conditions were a cause of her injuries.

In his deposition, Turner said there were no problems with visibility, and said he saw Davis’ vehicle approaching U.S. 79 along a side road, and that it appeared the vehicle slowed down before his entering the intersection. He said he did not see Davis’ vehicle enter the intersection because the cab of his truck had already passed the intersection.

Davis offered testimony from Arkansas State Trooper Charles Spurlin, who described the fog on arriving at the accident scene. The appeals court, however, said Spurlin’s description of the fog was from a different location and time, and he didn’t arrive at the accident scene until 26 minutes after receiving the call.

Depositions from six other witnesses were also disallowed because they were also not present at the time of the accident.

In its ruling, the appeals court said Turner was not required to slow down or bring his vehicle under control so as to be able to stop to avoid the collision, and his testimony and Spurlin’s report showed that he attempted to change lanes to avoid the crash.

“Here, there is no material issue of fact that Turner was using a through highway and that Davis had the duty to yield at the intersection which she failed to do,” the appeals court said in its ruling. “Turner had already entered the intersection when he was struck broadside by Davis. Under these circumstances, we agree with the circuit court’s conclusion that Davis was the proximate cause of the accident.”