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Avon Mountain Accident Lawsuits Against Connecticut Dismissed by Supreme Court

The Connecticut Supreme Court recently dismissed two lawsuits relating to a fiery 2005 crash which killed four people and injured 19. After reviewing the plaintiffs’ cases, the Court found that they could not meet the tests required by law to bypass the state of Connecticut’s sovereign immunity.

The Accidents

The lawsuits originated from a June 29, 2005 crash in which a dump truck lost control while driving down Avon Mountain. The truck’s brakes failed, and the driver slammed into a bus and 18 cars at the bottom of the mountain. The truck driver was among those killed in the collision.

The dump truck that caused the wreck was owned by a trucking company run by David Wilcox of Windsor, Connecticut. Wilcox was sentenced to six years in prison for manslaughter, assault and insurance fraud after authorities proved that he knew the dump truck had bad brakes and failed to fix them. He also attempted to fraudulently reinstate the lapsed insurance on his company’s trucks after the accident.

Legal Standards for Lawsuits Against the State

Victims and their families attempted to sue the state of Connecticut to recover damages for their injuries, on the basis that the state negligently failed to design a safe roadway which could have prevented the accident.

Usually, a state government cannot be sued negligence and has no liability for accidents under the doctrine of sovereign immunity. The only time a state may be liable for damages is if a specific state law has revoked its immunity for a certain purpose.

One Connecticut statute which has revoked state sovereign immunity is known as the state highway liability statute. In order to be able to file claim against the state under this statute, a plaintiff must meet all four parts of the following test:

  • The highway is defective in and of itself;
  • The Commissioner of Transportation knew or should have known that the highway was defective;
  • The Commissioner of Transportation failed to remedy the defect; and
  • The road itself, and no other contributing factor, caused the accident.

The test above applies to the condition of the road, and not the design of the road. Sovereign immunity still protects the state from claims that the road was designed poorly. Only cases which show that the condition of the road was so bad as to be inherently dangerous for all vehicles may proceed past the first step of the test.

Avon Mountain Lawsuit

The Connecticut Supreme Court examined the Avon Mountain plaintiffs’ cases, and found that they could not pass the first part of this test.

The plaintiffs tried to show that the features of the road (located on a steep downgrade, lacking an emergency ramp) made the highway unreasonably dangerous for the driver. However, the test is not whether the road could have been safer, but that the road is unreasonably dangerous for all drivers at any time.

The Supreme Court held that the plaintiffs were attempted to sue for a poorly designed road, not a dangerous condition of the road, and were barred from maintaining their suit because of sovereign immunity. The Court disagreed with the plaintiffs’ argument that the lack of additional safety features made the road unreasonably dangerous for all travelers, and noted that, “Under the theory of liability the plaintiff advocates in the present case, virtually every design defect claim pertaining directly to the layout of the road would be actionable under the defective highway statute.”

The plaintiffs’ cases were therefore dismissed on account of sovereign immunity.

Even if the Supreme Court had found that the plaintiffs met the first part of the test, it is still likely that the plaintiffs would have lost their case. The fourth prong of the test requires that there be no contributing causes to an accident. Since the owner of the dump truck has already been found guilty of criminal negligence in failing to maintain the truck’s brakes, it does not seem likely that the plaintiffs could have passed this hurdle either.

Complicated Accidents Demand Experienced Attorneys

There are usually several people or entities which can be sued after an auto accident, including the driver, the driver’s insurance company, and any companies which own a vehicle or employ a driver. Just because this particular means of compensation is closed to the victims of this accident does not mean that no one was able to recover for their injuries.

After a complicated accident, you need experienced legal representation who can identify all of the people who may be liable for damage. At Jonathan Perkins Injury Lawyers, our attorneys represent all types of accident victims, and understand the best way to make sure you are compensated for your injuries. If you were injured in an accident, call 1-800-PERKINS to speak with an experienced Connecticut personal injury attorney about your case today.