The Rhode Island Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Providence Superior court that a truck driver was negligent for driving a vehicle too fast, considering the slippery street surface. Driving too fast for the road conditions caused his Truck to Crash into his home and resulted in his house being demolished, eventually. The decision also pertains to Rhode Island Insurance Law and Subrogation but those issues are outside the scope of this negligence post.
Top Court affirms negligence verdict despite “paucity of evidence”
The RI Top Court sitting in Providence gave a lukewarm endorsement to the trial justice’s finding of negligence noting the “paucity of evidence” establishing negligence and the RI accident Laws that a motor vehicle sliding or skidding in itself does not prove negligence. However, the Highest Court reasoned that it was “reasonable to infer” that the trucker was speeding based on the massive structural damage to the house. Id.
Truck slides into house
In February 2009, in the midst of a snow storm Dean Pepper was repairing one of his trucks at a garage owned by one of his friends. He travelled home to his house in Johnston RI. It is unclear whether he was driving home in his personal car or a truck. When he got home he realized that a road near his house was covered with snow. Mr. Pepper removed snow from his premises and then set out to clear the adjoining street. Later, he took a company owned Mack Truck to a local fast food restaurant, Dunkin Doughnuts. On his way home, his truck “slid downhill” on the “slippery” road and collided with his house. (Facts from RI Supreme Court Decision NATIONWIDE PROPERTY & CASUALTY INSURANCE COMPANY as subrogee of Dean F. Pepper v. D.F. PEPPER CONSTRUCTION, INC. -‘
“The house sustained structural damage to the extent that it later was condemned and demolished.” Immediately after the truck crash he was a victim of a slip and fall when he fell on the icy surface getting out of his motor vehicle. He “realizing that it was ‘much slipperier than he thought it was,’” The decision does not set forth whether pepper was injured in the slip and fall exiting his truck. The issue of premises liability and falling on ice in RI is beyond the scope of this post.
Lower Court ruling:
The Superior Court determined that the truck driver was operating his motor vehicle slowly. However, the Trial Justice found that “even slowly this was at a speed greater than is reasonably prudent under the conditions * * *. Specifically, his speed was not so controlled as to avoid leaving the roadway and hitting the house.” The court held that Pepper was negligent in failing to keep his vehicle under control and because “he did not observe and take into consideration the surrounding circumstances, including the conditions of the roadway that he had plowed.” Id.
RI Supreme Court affirms that Dean Pepper was negligent.
“…his failure to drive slowly enough to avoid colliding with the house is the apparent basis for the finding of the breach of a duty. We note that there was a paucity of evidence introduced at trial tending to show negligence. Dean Pepper was the sole witness testifying to the events surrounding the accident. The trial justice found his testimony about his slow rate of speed to be credible. There was no evidence that Pepper had been drinking or was otherwise impaired. The trial justice did state that “[t]he [c]ourt gives great weight to the police report that indicates that the road conditions were extremely poor and very icy;” however, it is a long-standing principle of this Court that “[t]he fact that a motor vehicle skids on a highway which is slippery is not evidence in and of itself that the vehicle was negligently handled * * *.” Peters v. United Electric Railways Co., 53 R.I. 251, 255–56, 165 A. 773, 774 (1933). Nevertheless, it is our opinion that, in the case under review, it is reasonable to infer from the extent of the damage to the house that Pepper was driving in excess of the speed that was appropriate to the conditions.” Id
If you were injured in a car, motor vehicle, auto or truck accident, Please contact Rhode Island Personal Injury Attorney and RI truck accident lawyer David Slepkow 401-437-1100