A personal injury suit was commenced against a tractor-trailer and the employer of the driver after four adults and one infant, while passengers in an automobile, sustained injuries as a result of a truck accident. The Staten Island driver of the automobile in which they were passengers died as a result of his injuries. A collision occurred between the passenger car and a tractor trailer. The tractor trailer was under lease. This case was tried by the court without a jury and the question of contributory negligence is resolved in favor of the plaintiffs. The defendants appealed.
According to records in court, the trailer truck was without load and deadheaded westward bound from Clinton, New Jersey, to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It had been raining for some time prior to and at the time of the accident. The road surface was wet and visibility was fair. The accident occurred in the early morning about one o’clock. The sources said there was failure in the tractor trailer’s engines and the passenger automobile struck the tractor which rested in its pathway.
Under the Pennsylvania law, the presence of a vehicle on the wrong side of a highway is prima facie evidence of the driver’s negligence and the skidding or sliding of a vehicle of itself does not constitute negligence of the driver. It is thus incumbent upon the plaintiffs to prove that the skidding or sliding of the vehicle was due to the negligence of the driver. The operator of a motor vehicle is bound at all times to exercise reasonable care in its operation. As sliding or skidding of itself does not constitute negligence, something additional must be shown to justify a finding of negligence.
Applying these principles to the case at bar, the Westchester court found negligence in the operation of the trailer truck. The court noted that it is apparent that the trailer tractor failed to keep traction while proceeding up the grade necessary to remain in its lane. Although its first sliding may not have been anticipated, after its driver had straightened out and gained control of the vehicle, since the highway was then free of other traffic, he should have reasonably attempted to ascertain the cause of the slide in order to avoid its repetition, the court said. This he failed to do, and there was no explanation given for the second sliding of the trailer truck.
Accordingly, the court found that the tractor-trailer driver failed to exercise reasonable care in the operation of the trailer truck.
The court also found the employer of the tractor-trailer driver chargeable with the negligence. The lease covering the tractor-trailer provides that the tractor-trailer is solely and exclusively under the direction and control of the lessee.