Type: Confidential Settlement
Settlement Date: May 30, 2013
Type of Action: Wrongful Death/Motor Vehicle Accident
Court: DeKalb County Circuit Court
Plaintiff’s Attorney: James Montee, The Montee Law Firm, P.C., St. Joseph
Plaintiff’s Experts: Daniel J. Melcher, P.E., Lutz, FL (accident reconstruction); Hector Silva, Bellingham, WA (driver responsibilities)
On December 29, 2011, at twenty-two minutes after sundown, a 63-year-old St. Joseph, Missouri resident was instantly killed in a motor vehicle accident on Highway 36 in DeKalb County when, traveling at highway speed, he rear-ended another motorist who was traveling at a very slow speed. Both vehicles were traveling westbound in the right lane of a four-lane divided highway. The slow-moving vehicle had entered the highway from an adjacent farm field and never reached a speed above 10 mph prior to the collision. The slow-moving vehicle did not have on its lights or flashers. Prior to encountering the slow-moving vehicle, the motorist passed two warning signs along the highway yet failed to slow or significantly brake prior to impact.
The accident was witnessed by several pedestrians working in a nearby field and other motorists. One witness to the accident was an off-duty member of the Missouri State Highway Patrol who was traveling eastbound parallel to the collision at the time of the impact. The off-duty patrolman was highly critical of the slow-moving vehicle for entering the highway at a low speed and proceeding without lights or flashers. However, the investigating highway patrol officer concluded that lights and flashers were not required and did not issue any traffic citation to the slow-moving vehicle driver.
The accident investigation by the Missouri State Highway Patrol and the Major Crash Unit reconstruction report were critical of the deceased for his inattention and failure to apply brakes prior to crashing into the rear of the defendant’s vehicle. The highway patrol also noted the deceased driver’s failure to abide by the two highway warning signs he passed prior to the collision. However, the adequacy of the warning signs was also noted to be of limited visibility due to their nonreflective nature. The official reconstruction report also criticized the defendant driver for failure to use any lights at twilight.
In February 2012 the 26-year-old son of the deceased filed a wrongful death lawsuit in DeKalb County against the driver and his employer. The plaintiff was the only first-class member under the Missouri wrongful death statute and his claim for damages was based on the loss of the father/son relationship. Plaintiff made no claim for medical damages or economic loss.
Plaintiff disputed the official Highway Patrol conclusions with the counter opinion of the off-duty highway patrolman who was an eyewitness to the crash. Both sides to the lawsuit produced expert witnesses who disagreed on issues of visibility, lighting requirements and driver responsibilities.
The plaintiff agreed to settle his case for $600,000 after mediation.