Risky Business: 124-ft. skid marks

The black smudges of rubber were all that was left to show that an accident had taken place at the intersection. Broken glass, fragments of metal and spilled engine fluids had been cleared from the area. Police cars and ambulances were nowhere to be found.

The scene was completely different just 24 hours prior. A truck, two cars and a gooseneck trailer were strewn across the intersection, each containing dents and dings that had not been there moments before. Emergency personnel had been called to sort out the confusion.

A rental store employee driving a pickup truck pulling a gooseneck trailer was on the main road, waiting to turn left onto a side street. Sitting on the side street at a stop sign was a car whose driver was waiting for a pickup to complete his turn, so the car could enter the main roadway. The pickup driver waited for several cars to pass and, seeing the roadway in front of him clear, proceeded to make his left turn.

The pickup driver had almost completed his turn when the trailer he was pulling was struck on the right rear corner by a third vehicle. Due to the impact, the trailer was pushed around and struck the car sitting at the stop sign. The driver’s side door took the full impact.

The driver of the stopped car was injured. He complained of back pain, a shoulder injury and said his head hurt. He was unable to get out of his car and had to be extricated and taken to the hospital. There were two passengers in his car who sustained minor injuries. The drivers of the other two vehicles were not injured.

The accident scene investigators determined from the 124-ft. skid marks that the driver of the third vehicle had to have been traveling in excess of the posted speed limit. She was cited by the investigating police officer for speeding and later found guilty of that charge. It is possible that she had been using her cell phone at the time of the accident. The phone was found on the floor of her vehicle, a text partially completed.

Motor vehicle statutes indicate that a driver turning left must yield the right of way to oncoming traffic. The driver of the pickup stated that he did not see a car coming towards him in the other lane when he began his turn. An independent witness felt the pickup truck driver should have seen the speeding car, but admitted that he was not sure the car was in sight at the beginning of the turn. Had the car been travelling at the posted speed limit, there should have been enough time for her to stop or slow down for the turning pickup.

The owner of the rental store called his insurance company and reported the accident. The insurance company paid to repair the pickup truck and the gooseneck trailer. They contacted the insurance company for the driver of the third vehicle and were reimbursed for the expenses for the damages to the rental store’s truck and trailer.

The driver of the speeding car carried only the minimal insurance required by law. Her policy limits were not sufficient to pay for all damages to the other two vehicles and the man’s injuries.

The injured man’s insurance company paid his policy limits under underinsured motorist coverage. This coverage only applies when the at-fault driver has liability coverage, but the limits are insufficient to pay for all damages. His own underinsured motorist coverage, however, was still not enough to cover all of the man’s medical expenses.

Because there was a question as to whether the rental store’s employee had a clear roadway before beginning his turn, the injured man brought suit against the rental store. He was looking to the only other person involved in the accident to pay for his injuries, loss of work and anticipated future expenditures. The lawsuit was seeking $500,000 from the rental store.

The rental store’s insurance company spent nearly $50,000 fighting the suit. Months later and just a few weeks before the trial date, the claim was settled at mediation. The rental store paid less than 20 percent of the amount specified in the suit.

Mary Ann Gormly, CERP, is a loss analyst for ARA Insurance, Kansas City, Mo. For more information, call 800-821-6580 or visit ARAinsure.com.