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Connecticut Supreme Court will rule on fatal truck crash

A runaway dump truck with brake failure careened down the mountain on Route 44 into Avon and crashed into 19 vehicles on July 29, 2005. Years later, on April 30, 2013, the state Supreme Court will hear the appeal of a seriously injured accident victim and the widow of a New Hartford man killed in the crash who sued the Connecticut Department of Transportation.

Four persons died and 23 others suffered injuries in the fatal accident. The 19 vehicles involved in the crash also included a Kelley Transit bus transporting commuters from Torrington to Hartford. The bus driver was severely injured and died from these injuries in 2008. The driver of the truck was also among those killed in the chain reaction crash.

The injured plaintiff was extricated after his car was thrown into the bus. After the crash, he was hospitalized for two weeks and suffered pain and post-traumatic stress for months.

The plaintiffs sued the Department of Transportation under the highway defect statute and claimed that the steep grade of Route 44 Avon was a design defect and that the road was not safe for public travel. DOT argued for dismissal because the suit claimed common law negligence and not a defect with the road.

The trial court interpreted the complaints as charging that the design of the highway, particularly its steep downhill grade, created an unacceptable risk for brake failure. The appellate court, however, dismissed the cases and ruled that the highway design statute did not apply because the plaintiffs alleged inadequate safety measures on the road instead of making allegations about the highway's design.

The owner of the Bloomfield-based company that owned the dump truck pleaded guilty to four counts of second-degree manslaughter and five counts of first-degree assault in 2005 and was sentenced to six years imprisonment for putting a truck with faulty brakes on the road. His wife and son also received probation for crash-related offenses. A runway truck ramp was installed by the state on this road in 2008.

Seeking compensation for the loss of a loved one may be complex and lead to protracted litigation, as this case demonstrates. In some cases a wrongful death suit can help fatal accident victim's families. Victims and their families should seek to understand their legal rights.

Source: The Torrington Register Citizen, "Avon Mountain fatal truck crash heading to Connecticut Supreme Court," Viktoria Sundqvist, April 17, 2014

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