Friday, December 17, 2010

Snowstorm at Snowshoe

Last week, I read where a Chicago truck driver was ticketed for three violations in a five-vehicle collision. The guy was ticketed driving too fast for conditions, improper lane usage, and unlawful possession of a radar detector in a commercial vehicle. No one was hurt, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a mess for some people. Hey, it’s slip-slidin’ icy out there – will you slow it down?

As you’ve guessed, I have a story about the torment my wife and I went through after being involved in a snowstorm-related chain reaction wreck two miles from the Snowshoe, PA, exit.

It was just after daylight. We were running in a snow squall that we had just gotten into and were planning on getting off at Snowshoe and waiting for it to pass. I’m sure others were, too. We were all trailing along about 25 mph just trying to keep the vehicle in front of us in sight. It was one of those situations where you could see farther back in the mirrors than you could see ahead.

I looked over and told my wife Geri to watch this truck coming around. The guy had the hammer down and I bet her we’d see him down the road shortly. Well, it was quicker than I thought. This covered wagon went by me like I was painted on the wall. He put me in a total whiteout for a few seconds. When it cleared, there he was – sitting across the road blocking both lanes of I-80.

We were on a slight downgrade. If not for that, we probably all could have rolled to a stop, no harm no foul. As it was, I hit into the side of his trailer, another truck rear ended me; then still another truck and three four-wheelers piled on behind us.

The driver was the only one cited, and people were lined up at the trooper’s cruiser to confirm that. I found out later people going the other way even called in to say what they saw.

Anyway, there were some injuries and lots of damage and everyone was suing everyone and the driver’s company seemed to be in the barrel on this one. But even though their driver admitted guilt and all the evidence pointed to him, the carrier insisted on a jury trial to try to lay off some of the liability on others involved – trying to prove “contributory negligence” of other drivers like me.

The jury’s job was to determine if any of the others of us were at least partly to blame for the accident and put a percentage number on it. In other words, if the jury had found me 20 percent to blame, my company would have been in for 20 percent of the liability.

So maybe 18 months later we went to Pennsylvania, where they put it in front of a 12-person jury for a trial that lasted two days. We all had to testify and these lawyers were serious. They grilled us pretty good.

When the hammer-down driver who slid sideways was on the stand, they asked him what he did as far as work after the accident. He said something like, “I saw the light and quit trucking.” Then the lawyer asked where he was employed now. “I’m trucking again now.” Then he was asked what kind of trucking and he said “hauling air freight.” That’s when I fell out laughing, and the judge told me to shut up or get out.

In the end the jury was out about 30 minutes, came back and told us what everyone already knew. The driver who flew by us and got spun sideways in the middle of the highway was 100 percent to blame.

All in all, Geri and I got our truck fixed and in the process, got two months off in the winter. After the trial, we got a little settlement. But there was a boatload of aggravation to go with it.

I wouldn’t care to do it again.