On July 14, 2018, the plaintiffs were traveling northbound on Interstate 85 behind a flatbed tractor-trailer, which was loaded with an excavator.
The tractor-trailer drove under a railroad overpass at approximately 7:45 p.m. The top of the excavator struck the overpass, causing the excavator to fall from the trailer, strike the median and strike the plaintiff’s vehicle. The driver of the flatbed tractor-trailer fled the scene.
Early investigation revealed that the suspected driver of the tractor-trailer claimed that his truck and equipment had been stolen by a “meth head,” but the police investigation and any traffic or criminal charges appeared to stall.
Multiple attempts were made to locate insurance coverage for the tractor-trailer with little success. The suspected driver’s private counsel repeatedly indicated that he believed there was insurance coverage and would provide the same to the plaintiff’s counsel, but never followed through.
After the suit was filed, a garage policy for the defendant’s business was discovered and the insurance carrier hired coverage counsel to defend the case. The plaintiff’s counsel submitted a demand package to the insurance company; however, the claim was denied for multiple reasons, including the suspected driver’s claims of theft of his tractor-trailer and equipment. As the case proceeded forward, additional information was obtained from the local sheriff office’s investigation.
The investigation by the local sheriff’s office began because the suspected driver called at approximately 9 p.m. on the evening of the crash to report that the excavator had been stolen from his business. The assigned sheriff’s deputy began by speaking to the suspected driver regarding his claims of theft, at which point the suspected driver claimed that, on the day of the crash, he noticed the excavator was missing from its normal location on his work lot at approximately 5 p.m.
The sheriff’s deputy then contacted the towing company that removed the excavator from the scene of the collision and confirmed it was the excavator that the suspected driver claimed to be stolen. The sheriff’s deputy then obtained the 911 calls regarding the crash and spoke to the investigating trooper.
The trooper indicated that he was aware of the identity of the suspected driver and that the suspected driver had been spotted twice at the scene of the wreck. The first time he was seen driving by the scene of the wreck in the southbound lanes in his personal truck. The suspected driver was then spotted while stopped on a nearby road standing and looking at the scene. As the trooper approached him, the suspected driver was noted to expeditiously enter his truck and speed away from the scene.
The trooper also indicated that another state trooper had spoken with a gentleman at a nearby gas station who stated he was a passenger in the tractor-trailer at the time of the incident and that after the crash the suspected driver dropped him off on the side of the road and threatened him.
The sheriff’s deputy then met with the witness who claimed to have been a passenger in the tractor-trailer. He stated that he was approached by the suspected driver the day of the incident and was offered some payment in exchange for work. The two of them then went to a local business to remove some concrete. On the way back, the excavator struck the overpass. The witness also indicated that he was paid $100 and some “roxies” and was told not to tell anyone or the suspected driver would shoot him.
The sheriff’s deputy visited the suspected driver’s business to ascertain whether or not there were any surveillance cameras that would provide footage of the day in question. He was advised to speak to an off-site IT person regarding the footage. Initially, the IT person indicated that he had worked on the system a day or two after the crash because the hard drive for the video surveillance system was giving them trouble and it was only recording intermittently. An hour after their initial phone call, however, the IT person called the sheriff’s deputy and indicated that it was odd the suspected driver had contacted him a day or two after the reported theft and told him he needed to delete any footage from the camera system.
The sheriff’s deputy then went to the local business where the concrete removal work was done. He reviewed the local business’ surveillance footage, which showed the suspected driver, a tractor-trailer and the excavator at the business the day of the incident.
Finally, an individual from Johnson City, Tennessee, contacted the sheriff’s deputy, indicating that he was doing so at the behest of the suspected driver and that he had seen a strange “meth head” driving one of the suspected driver’s trucks with a big piece of equipment on the back. The sheriff’s deputy arranged to travel to Tennessee to meet with the individual, but could not locate him over the course of two days and the individual did not answer any of the sheriff’s deputy’s calls.
After obtaining the subsequent investigation materials and producing them to counsel and the suspected driver’s carrier, the policy limits were tendered.[020-T-109]
Type of action: Tractor-trailer, Personal Injury
Injuries alleged: Hip fracture, knee dislocation, lacerations and abrasions
Amount: $1,000,000 split between two injured parties
Special damages: Approximately $257,000 in medical bills combined between two injured parties
Attorney(s) for plaintiff: Kevin T. Hadden, Staunton and Harrisonburg; Ryan T. Walker,