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Beer cans kept out of big-rig case

Beer containers in the cab of a tractor-trailer could be kept out of evidence at a lawsuit that arose from a collision involving three commercial trucks and a Hyundai sedan, a federal appellate court has ruled. The beer containers were in the cab of the third of three big rigs that collided on Interstate 81 in Shenandoah County.

It was foggy when the driver of the first commercial truck, owned by C. Bean Transport Inc., slowed and was struck from behind by the second truck, owned by Pat Salmon and Sons Inc. A Hyundai sedan struck the stationery second truck, and the third truck, owned by Pitt Ohio Express LLC, struck the sedan, pushing it into the second truck. Two occupants of the sedan and a passenger from the Pat Salmon truck died in the collision.

The case went to trial before Harrisonburg U.S. District Judge Michael F. Urbanski when Pitt Ohio sought contribution from Pat Salmon and C. Bean for their joint liability in the collisions and resulting settlements. The district court entered judgment of $687,500 against Pat Salmon and C. Bean.

On appeal, the defendants argued the trial court should have allowed testimony that there were beer containers in the cab of the Pitt Ohio truck.

To bring in evidence of intoxication under Virginia law, there must be evidence such as a person’s manner, disposition, speech, muscular movement, general appearance or behavior, the 4th Circuit said in its July 16 unpublished opinion in Pitt Ohio Express LLC v. Pat Salmon & Sons Inc. There was no such evidence here, the court said in its per curiam opinion, and excluding the beer can evidence was not an abuse of discretion.

The appellate panel also upheld exclusion of accident reconstruction testimony related to operating a commercial truck in difficult conditions, as the jury was “best positioned” to decide whether someone was driving too slow or too fast under the weather conditions on April 20, 2009.

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