Dust Storm Liability in New Mexico Trucking Accidents: Lessons from Wrongful Death Trial

- Mark Caruso

Dust Storm Liability in New Mexico Trucking Accidents: Guttuso Wrongful Death Trial Underway 

Joseph Guttuso and six others were killed on Interstate 10 when three tractor trailer trucks from SAIA Trucking, Towne Freight, and Lights on Trucking rear ended three passenger vehicles causing an explosion and massive fire.  There was an ongoing dust storm on this stretch of Interstate 10, and the three passenger vehicles slowed down as reasonable under the circumstances.  In fact, there was signage along the roadway warning all motorists to do so.

However, for the three tractor trailer trucks time is money and slowing down was not financially feasible.  The continued to plow ahead despite limited visibility and dangerous continued.  They quickly caught up to the three passenger vehicles and changed the lives of many families in an instant.  But not their families, as none of the truck drivers were killed or seriously injured.  On the other motorists were burned to death in an agonizing way.

The estate of Joseph Guttuso contacted the Caruso Law Offices, P.C. to represent them to fight for their loved one.  The matter is currently in trial in a Santa Fe courthouse.

Our experienced New Mexico trucking accident attorneys have been compassionately and zealously representing the Guttuso family regarding the wrongful death of their loved one, and look forward to justice being served for the conduct of these three trucking companies.  If you or someone you love has also been killed in a trucking accident, contact the Caruso Law Offices, P.C. for a FREE consultation by dialing (505) 883-5000.

Visibility is Crucial to Driving a Motor Vehicle: Failure to See and Observe can Create Liability

All motorists must drive in a safe manner.  One of the most important aspects of driving is to see what there is to be seen while operating a motor vehicle.  Visibility is, after all, the most important sense while operating a motor vehicle; if you cannot see, you cannot operating a motor vehicle.  Sight of where you are going and what is around you is simply paramount to safe driving.  While touch and coordination is obviously important to maneuver your vehicle, if you cannot see you do not know where to move to.

Even just pure nighttime is more dangerous than daytime because a motorist’s visibility is limited in what he or she can see.  This is why natural phenomena like heavy rain, snow, fog, sleet, and dust can pose significant problems for motorists—all of these factors limit visibility on the roadway.

Liability in a Dust Storm: Why Trucks and Commercial Vehicles Must be Careful

Since visibility is the most important component of safely operating a motor vehicle, when visibility is limited, a motorist’s ability to safely drive is also limited.  Meaning, when visibility is limited a motorist cannot drive as if the conditions are perfect and visibility is perfect.  He or she must take limited visibility into consideration.

Thus, when there is an ongoing dust storm a motorist’s visibility is limited and he or she must exercise the care and caution under these circumstances of a reasonably prudent driver.  He or she must take into consideration the risks of limited visibility and adapt his or her driving to compensate for the limited visibility.

What does this generally mean?

SLOW DOWN.

When a dust storm is limited visibility on the highway or Interstate and you cannot see where you are going, you need to slow down to a rate of speed where you can safely brake or avoid the obstacle within your visual field.  Thus, if your visual field is limited, your speed is limited.

This is simply a duty of care owed by all motorists to other individuals on or near the roadway.  If this duty is breached and such breach causes damages, that is negligence and the injured victim may seek compensation.

Federal Regulations Condemn Commercial Trucking Companies Failing to Slow Down or Stop Driving in Dust Storms

The negligence of a commercial trucking company and driver is also contained in the federal regulations regarding commercial trucking vehicles.

This is codified in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, known as the FMCSR.  Under section 392.14, motor vehicles most use extreme caution in hazardous conditions.  More specifically, “[e]xtreme caution in the operation of a commercial motor vehicle shall be exercised when hazardous conditions, such as those caused by . . . dust . . . adversely affect visibility . . . .”  Further, this section requires that “[s]peed shall be reduced when such conditions exist.”  And if such dust is too dangerous, “the operation of the commercial motor vehicle shall be discontinued and shall not be resumed until the commercial motor vehicle can be safely operated.”

This section makes is unequivocally clear that, where dust limits visibility the commercial trucks must reduce speed, and when such dust becomes too dangerous the commercial trucks must cease driving until it is safe to do so.

The question for the Santa Fe jury is whether it was too dangerous for these three commercial trucks to continue to drive at the speed they were.  Given the aberrant outcome of seven people burning to death, the answer appears obvious to everyone but the truck drivers and trucking companies.  After all, the truck drivers walked away from this accident.

Contact the Caruso Law Offices, P.C. To Protect Your Rights from Negligent Trucking Companies

If a loved one has been seriously injured or killed in a New Mexico trucking accident caused by a fire, contact the experienced wrongful death attorneys at the Caruso Law Offices, P.C. today by dialing (505) 883-5000.  You can also contact us on our website through the easy to use and convenient Contact box located by clicking here.