Every accident involving a truck, and particularly long-haul and heavy-equipment-moving trucks, requires special attention to subcontracting of drivers, driving records, permits, route approvals, weight limits, and other details that may mean the difference between winning and losing the case.

We do the deep investigation, depositions and document analysis to prove negligence by the truck companies and provide compensation to our clients.

In one of the most horrific truck accidents in the Bay Area in recent years, in which a runaway cement truck crashed into several cars and a house, we were able to recover compensation for the most seriously injured victim, and for his nephew who was a passenger in our client’s car, by identifying and suing all of the responsible defendants in the case, including several layers of subcontractors and the municipality responsible for permitting the truck to travel a route that turned a peaceful neighborhood into burning accident scene.

Recent Case Settlement

Legal Accountability Runs All the Way to the Top

A tow truck driver accidentally lost control of a car, which rolled downhill and killed a young mother. Seems like an open and shut case, doesn’t it?  But in every personal injury case, you need a source of monetary recovery. The tow company only had a $1 million insurance policy, which is woefully under insured for a wrongful death case.

So I began to look up the ladder of responsibility.  Who hired the tow company?  It depends on whom you ask. The whole chain of events began when a proverbial “little old lady” (age 96!) had car trouble, so she called her auto insurance carrier, a mega company whose logo you see in commercials every day, especially at major sporting events.  The insurance company routed her call to a middleman, another huge company specializing in emergency roadway assistance.  That middleman then hired the tow company.

The big insurance carrier and the middleman company both said this accident was not their responsibility– the tow company was an “independent contractor” that they had no control over. This was complete hogwash! They exercised lots of control over the tow company– everything from how fast they had to respond to calls to what kind of uniforms the drovers had to wear. But as a legal matter, they had some decent defenses. Both the insurance company and its middleman refused to pay a dime in settlement.

I filed suit against the tow company, the insurance company and its middleman.  I took about 20 depositions of various witnesses and company representatives.  I got public record documents showing the tow company’s license had been suspended a bunch of times. I also found that the driver had been poorly trained, but I already knew he was negligent simply by virtue of dropping a car during a routine tow.

The documents produced by the big insurance carrier and the middleman showed how much control they both exercised over the tow company.  Amazingly, the big insurance carrier retained the right to fire the small tow company for any reason, including poor customer service.  The ability to terminate is a key indicator of control under the California Supreme Court decision of  Malloy v. Fong (1951) 37 Cal.2d 356.

What this all added up to is that the huge insurance company and its middleman were both legally liable for the bad conduct of the tow company under the legal principle of respondeat superior. Under this principle, the principal (big company) is responsible for harm caused by its agent (little tow company). The reason for this is loss spreading– innocent injured people should have a remedy. Injury accidents are a cost of doing business. The big players can protect themselves by buying insurance.  And the big players in our case had something like $50 million in insurance.

But the huge insurance company and its middleman still wanted to scurry from responsibility, like cockroaches from bright light.  They tried every trick in the book, including trying to get a court order (summary judgment) letting them out of the case completely.  I filed what I consider one of the best briefs I have ever written, which certainly would have defeated their misguided motions.  And they knew it!  On the day before the motions were to be heard in court, the defendants agreed to pay a combined $9 million to settle the wrongful death claim.

  This was the biggest settlement of my career. It felt great, because it had been a long two year road.  I became the premier expert on agency law. Most important, I helped this grieving family.  I remain good friends with all of the family members who help me pursue justice for them and their mother/daughter.

Please call us at (415) 577-4992 or write to us using the form to the right if you would like to schedule a free, no obligation consultation with attorney Chuck Geerhart.

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  • A friend recommended Chuck Geerhart. It was an excellent recommendation.

    As a British journalist, recently based in San Francisco and without medical insurance, things seemed pretty messy after I found myself in an airport shuttle, driven by a lunatic, who struck a parked cab. I had to go to hospital, who diagnosed a head injury – as, later, did a neurologist – but the shuttle company’s insurance company continually balked at paying the bills.

    A friend recommended Chuck Geerhart. It was an excellent recommendation. He was a great lawyer to have on my side, persistent in his battles with the insurance company, supportive of his client and a pleasure to work with, resolving the claim with the minimum of fuss.

    Susan
  • Chuck made sure I was fairly compensated for this life altering injury.

    I was working as an air traffic controller at SFO when a notoriously faulty elevator slammed to a stop between floors, throwing me against the wall and rupturing discs in my neck. I had to have major surgery on my neck. The City and the elevator maintenance company denied liability, until Chuck Geerhart obtained copies of all prior repair records which showed the elevator was continually resetting due to a power supply issue.

    During the discovery phase of the case, to protect my privacy rights, he filed a motion with court to block a subpoena issued by the defense that sought to obtain my complete confidential employment file and complete health history in violation of the law. We ultimately settled the case for $1,000,000 after mediation.

    I feel that Chuck did a great job making sure I was fairly compensated for this life-altering injury.

    Denise
  • Chuck Geerhart dealt with my case in the most humane way I could imagine.

    I was fortunate to have been referred to Chuck Geerhart when I was dealing with a very painful and tragic case of abuse by religious leadership, which was stretched over five years.
    Chuck Geerhart dealt with my case in the most humane way I could imagine. He was intelligent and strategic in his approach, always very communicative; an attentive ear, fearless and confident support for someone who was very confused and seeking answers where there were only walls. He always involved me in the process, sharing crucial information with me and allowing me the time and space to decide and move forward. He treated me like a partner, which helped me recover the power that was taken away from me.
    At the same time he provided the professional expertise which I needed in order to win the case. The process of winning this case was as empowering as the actual outcome. It was a healing experience in itself. I am very happy with the support and guidance I got from Chuck as well as with the monetary result from such a serious injury. It has truly helped me move on in a good way.

    Frank