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Motor vehicle negligence - Single vehicle collision - Defendant trucker allegedly travels over railroad tracks at excessive rate of speed, puncturing fuel tank - Plaintiff driver allegedly loses control due to spilled diesel fuel - L2 compression fracture - Alleged lumbar herniation - Future lumbar fusion surgery allegedly necessary - Alleged inability to continue to operate painting contractor's business - Plaintiff driver found 70% negligent.

Sussex County, NJ

The plaintiff driver contended that the defendant truck driver, traveling in the opposite direction after having left a quarry, had driven over railroad tracks at too rapid a speed, resulting in the tracks puncturing the passenger side fuel tank. The plaintiff further maintained that the defendant was negligent in failing to realize that odor of fuel reflected that the puncture occurred until traveling another two miles. The plaintiff maintained that the spilled fuel resulted in his losing control and sliding into an embankment off the left side of the roadway. The defendant denied acting in a negligent manner, causing the fuel leak.

The defendant also maintained that most of the fuel was on the side of the road that was opposite from the plaintiff and that the plaintiff’s speed and failure to drive carefully, rather than the presence of fuel, caused him to lose control and slide through the intersection. Defense counsel argued that the plaintiff’s version of the accident was not credible.

The evidence reflected that a Good Samaritan driver had stopped in an intersection shortly beyond the point of the accident in order to help a trucker who could not climb the hill of the intersection roadway because of fuel in the roadway. The Good Samaritan testified that before the plaintiff approached, two other cars had been able to stop or slow and go around the right of his stopped pickup truck, and the defendant argued that the plaintiff should have been able to do so as well.

The defendant’s accident reconstruction expert opined that the spilled diesel fuel could not have covered the side of the road which plaintiff traveled. The expert concluded that the plaintiff should have seen the Good Samaritan’s truck from a distance of ________ feet and a time frame of over ten seconds, given the plaintiff’s testimony that he was traveling at a speed of 30 to 35 miles per hour. The expert opined that plaintiff lost control of his vehicle because he did not properly observe the Good Samaritan’s truck, and not because of the fuel on the roadway.

The defendant had named the Good Samaritan as a third party defendant. The court dismissed this aspect upon the plaintiff’s testimony that his presence did not contribute to the accident.

The plaintiff sustained an L2 compression fracture. The plaintiff also claimed to have sustained lumbar disc herniations. The plaintiff’s medical expert opined that the plaintiff should undergo lumbar fusion surgery or disc replacement surgery. The plaintiff further alleged that he could not return to work as a painting contractor and had to close his painting company. The plaintiff claimed to have earned $________ per year before this accident.

The defense’s medical expert opined that plaintiff had preexisting disc bulges which were not aggravated by this accident and that any surgery was not necessitated by the accident.

The jury found the defendant 30% negligent, the plaintiff 70% negligent and a defense verdict was entered.

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