Wheels of Justice
A question of driver negligence
I was driving into the setting sun and didn’t see the yield sign on the entry to the highway, so I continued to merge into traffic. This guy was in the right lane, but he was far enough back that I thought I had plenty of time to merge. I think he sped up as I was trying to merge, and he says I ran him off the road. I believe it is his fault; he should have backed off and given me more room. Please explain negligence to me, because my boss says it is something that I did wrong.
Negligence is a civil wrong that causes injury or harm to another person or to property as the result of doing something or failing to provide a proper or reasonable level of care, according to the Encarta Dictionary. Negligence has four elements: 1) a duty on the part of the defendant to conform to a specific standard of conduct for the protection of the plaintiff against an unreasonable risk of injury; 2) a breach of that duty by the defendant; 3) the breach has to be the actual and proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury; 4) there has to be damage to the plaintiff’s person or property. If any one of the four elements is not true, then there is no negligence.
From your description of what happened, I think you might want to consider settling, since you fit all four of the elements of negligence. You had a duty to other drivers on the highway you were merging into, you breached that duty by not yielding, your failure to yield may have been the cause of the accident and the other driver did have damage to himself and his vehicle. In your favor is the idea that the other driver sped up, which you would have to prove, and you were unable to see the yield sign due to the setting sun. The thing is, you are a professional truck driver who is expected to follow all traffic laws. Your training and experience should have taught you to yield when you merge into traffic.
I have tried to explain negligence to you in a simple, straightforward manner, but as you can imagine, there is a lot more to negligence than I can cover in this article. You should take the time to ask your boss or your lawyer to explain what you want to know and keep asking him to explain it until you really do understand what he is saying. Of course, you can always get on the Internet or go to the library to do further research. Remember that many great legal minds have spent their entire careers studying and writing about negligence. So don’t be embarrassed; just ask your questions so you feel good about the work your lawyer is doing or not doing.
Jim C. Klepper is president of Interstate Trucker Ltd., an organization that provides legal defense protection to commercial drivers. Jim is a lawyer who focuses on transportation law and the trucking industry in particular. He works to answer your legal questions about trucking, and he holds his Commercial Drivers License.