Liability in Tow: Everyone To Blame

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  the liability series  

Negligence Can Be Easy Charge to Make 

 Estate of Accident Victim Sues All Parties Involved

PHILADELPHIA  I   This month Tow Squad News looks at the ever-present threat of steep liability judgements stemming from towing and recovery work.  Even in situations were no one acted incorrectly, owners can still find themselves entangled in costly litigation. That means when the negligence is more blatant, the costs usually go up.

In some cases, where the crucial mistake can clearly be drawn from one person’s actions, the law still allows for the legal responsibility to become a shared experience.

Blame can be split between countless entities, with exact dollar amounts attached to each named defendant.  The only sensible way to combat the threat is doing everything possible to avoid it in the first place.

In 2011 a man was killed on a busy Philadelphia thoroughfare while riding as a passenger in a friend’s car.  Brian Kollock’s death was blamed on the illegal U-turn made by a tow truck driver who suddenly realized he was driving against traffic.

Steven Russ reportedly whipped the flatbed tow truck he was driving across three lanes of traffic and a center median to correct his mistake.  This is when he collided with Joseph Peronace’s vehicle, in which Kollock was a passenger. Kollock later died from his injuries.

Both drivers were named in the lawsuit filed by his estate, as was the company that handed Russ keys to the tow truck. The wrongful death action is seeking both compensatory and punitive damages. The first compensates for direct losses as a result of the negligence, while the second punishes the behavior that led to the loss.

Punitive damages are typically where the high-dollar amounts are rendered, often resulting in multi-million dollar judgements against defendants.  The final amount is usually split between the responsible parties.  Party A is determined liable for 75% of the loss, for example, with Party B responsible for the remaining 25%.

Depending on the state, punitive damages are often only allowed where reckless negligence is found. In this case, it is alleged the tow truck driver was also on the phone at the time of the accident.

The suit will seek damages for the loss of life, the pain and suffering, and of course the medical expenses. Attorneys for the deceased will also be seeking damages for loss of future earnings, which for Kollock could be substantial.  He was only 34 at the time of his death.

The man driving the car hit by Russ’ tow truck is being blamed in the suit for “failing to operate his vehicle under adequate and proper control, failing to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances, failing to use due caution while driving and failing to maintain a proper lookout.”

The suit targets Denny’s Auto Repair, the shop that employed Russ, for hiring him in the first place, failing to adequately supervise him, and negligently allowing him to operate the company’s equipment.

According to the suit, Russ’s actions “constituted a reckless indifference to the rights of others, and warrants the imposition of punitive damages.”

Location became an important factor in this case. While the crash had occurred in Pennsylvania, the tow truck driver worked for a New Jersey-based company. This meant attorneys could have filed the wrongful death suit in either state.

Often this is a strategic choice, based largely on which state’s laws would best benefit the circumstances of the case.  Here, it also carries the added difficulty that now defendants must make themselves available for court proceedings in another state.

While it’s hard to argue for the actions of a driver who seemingly behaved so dangerously, it’s also important to remember the same scenario can present itself under far more innocent circumstances.  A quick lapse in judgment or simple distraction can lead to a fast tragedy.

Truth is, it could happen to anyone.

Owners can begin to counteract the risk by staying alert and being direct with employees about their responsibilities. They should know that in many cases, like this one, the operator has been the one left on the financial hook.  

Next up in The Liability Series, Tow Squad News looks at practical ways to reduce the threat of liability around your place of business.

 
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