Defense Verdict in Contribution Claim Following MVA with Catastrophic Injuries

Attorney Paul Rainville successfully obtained a defense verdict after a four-day jury trial in Bristol Superior Court. The action arose from a February 16, 2005 motor vehicle vs. flatbed truck accident in which a teenage passenger suffered catastrophic injuries when her vehicle struck a truck as it was backing onto a roadway in Dighton, Massachusetts. The young passenger’s injuries included the traumatic amputation of her right major arm. The automobile driver testified at his deposition that a portable commercial sign that had been placed near the subject roadway had blocked his view of the backing truck and that the sign had substantially contributed to the happening of the accident.

The underlying personal injury action eventually settled for $420,000, including $300,000 paid by the commercial property owners’ insurer during an earlier trial. The property owners’ insurer then filed an action for contribution against the sign leasing company, represented by Attorney Rainville. The owner of the sign leasing company had delivered and erected the sign on the property prior to the subject motor vehicle accident. The insurer’s Complaint against the defendant sign leasing company alleged, in part, that the sign had been erected improperly and in violation of the Dighton Zoning Bylaws, that no permit had been obtained for the sign, and that the sign leasing company had failed to inform its customer that the sign should be placed 15 feet or more back from the roadway.

During the litigation of the underlying matter, the owner of the sign leasing company had voluntarily participated in a videotaped accident reconstruction. The reconstruction revealed that the portable sign was, in all probability, a visual obstruction to both drivers at the time of the accident. During the trial of the contribution action, Judge Richard Moses permitted the jury to view this unfavorable video footage and permitted the jury to hear testimony pertaining to the passenger’s injuries and to view photographs depicting the significant vehicle wreckage following impact, over objection.

Further, the elderly driver of the reversing truck had previously testified that the sign played no part in the accident. However, due to his advanced age and onset of dementia, he was unable to testify at the trial of the contribution case, but his earlier testimony was read to the jury.

Discovery revealed that the customer who had originally leased the subject portable sign from the defendant had unilaterally decided to move the sign closer to the roadway and had done so without the knowledge or consent of the defendant sign leasing company. Attorney Rainville further argued that the defendant sign leasing company could not be held responsible for the customer’s unilateral decision to move the sign or reasonably be expected to monitor the position and zoning requirements of each and every leased sign at all times.

In addition, Attorney Rainville argued that the teenage driver of the automobile was traveling in excess of the posted speed limit immediately prior to the accident and that the negligence of both drivers had caused the accident rather than the improper placement of the sign.

After approximately ninety (90) minutes, the jury returned with a defense verdict in favor of the defendant sign leasing company.

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