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Breach of Duty in Kentucky Car Accident Cases

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In Kentucky, to bring a negligence action for personal injury damages in a car accident case, a plaintiff must prove three elements: the defendant’s duty, the defendant’s breach of that duty, and a causal relationship between the defendant’s breach and the plaintiff’s injury.

Occasionally, circumstances arise that can make it difficult to establish one or more of these elements. In 2012, the Kentucky Court of Appeals considered an automobile accident case in which the plaintiff was sitting in a parked car in a parking lot. Suddenly his car was struck by a moving vehicle that had just been hit by another vehicle on a nearby highway.

In the first accident, a driver had moved from the westbound lane into the eastbound lane of the highway, hitting the driver of another vehicle who was driving for his job. The latter’s vehicle then hit the plaintiff’s car. The plaintiff filed suit against several car insurers and also the employer of the driver whose car hit him, claiming negligence.

The employer filed a motion for summary judgment. Ordinarily, a party is entitled to a jury trial where the jury acts as a fact-finder. Summary judgment is a type of relief that resolves a case without a trial on the grounds that there are no real issues of material fact and one party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The goal is to get rid of lawsuits where it appears to be impossible for the party opposing the summary judgment to produce evidence that would allow a jury or judge to find in his favor at the end of the case.

In this case, the trial court granted the motion for summary judgment and dismissed the plaintiff’s case. The plaintiff brought a motion to alter, amend or vacate the summary judgment motion. He argued that a particular witness could testify as to issues of material fact. Specifically, she would testifiy that before the accident the other driver’s vehicle “fishtailed”—the plaintiff argued this meant he was not totally in control of his vehicle.

The trial court denied the plaintiff’s motion and he appealed. The employer argued that there was no evidence that its employee (the driver) breached the duty of care that was owed. The appellate court agreed with this argument, noting that the employee was proceeding with due care in a reasonable way when another driver impacted his car, which then impacted the plaintiff. In its view, the plaintiff’s witness did not testify that the vehicle was not under control. Rather she testified there was a fishtail movement when the employee tried to avoid the situation created by the other oncoming driver.

As you can see, this is a situation in which the plaintiff suffered damages as a result of another driver’s vehicle, but was not able to recover against that particular driver (even if the plaintiff may have been able to recover against the other driver who caused the initial collision). The takeaway is that a driver must have actually acted or failed to act in some way to breach a duty in order to be liable for damages inflicted on another car or person. In the case described above, for example, if the employee had been driving erratically and gotten hit, it might have been possible to find that he breached a duty.

An experienced Kentucky personal injury attorney looks at all possible sources of compensation for damages and losses you’ve suffered in a car accident. It is important to talk to your own attorney before you talk to the other driver’s insurer or attorney. Contact us at 877-634-1519 or via our online form.

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