Triple fatality on highway in 2014 — Garbage truck driver found negligent

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Justice Joan Charles. – File photo

The driver of a garbage truck involved in a tragic smash-up on the Uriah Butler Highway in Endeavor, Chaguanas, which resulted in the death of three members of a Barrackpore family in 2014, has been found negligent by a High Court judge.

In a ruling last week, Justice Joan Charles held that based on the evidence, the truck driver’s driving was “negligent.” She said it was the truck driver’s negligence that caused the collision with the car which was driven by a 21-year-old.

She also said the truck driver’s negligent driver caused the truck to crash into the median and land on another car driven by a family returning from the Mt Hope Medical Sciences Hospital for dialysis treatment for their son. All three occupants of the car were killed.

Newsday understands there are several wrongful death claims arising out of the incident, and last week’s ruling will have an impact on their outcome.

In the case before Charles, BK Holdings, owner of the garbage truck, sued Laura Morgan, her son Jemmel Morgan and two insurance companies, Maritime General and Bankers Insurance, for damages and special damages.

According to BK Holding’s claim, Jemmel Morgan was driving his mother’s car when he attempted to overtake the truck. Morgan’s car collided with the left side of the truck, causing damage and loss, the lawsuit contended.

In its claim asserting negligence, BK Holdings contended that Morgan failed to maintain a proper course and lanes on the highway; overtook and changed lanes when it was unsafe; failed to stop or slow down to avoid colliding with the truck and drove at an excessive and reckless speed.

However, in their defenses, the mother, son and the insurance companies denied the accident was caused by Morgan’s negligence. They contended that the truck suddenly attempted to change lanes from the middle to the westernmost lane of the highway, causing the back left side of the truck to collide with the front right side of the car.

At the trial before Charles, the truck’s driver, David Diaz, claimed he was driving at 35 miles per hour and was driving on the center lane of the northbound carriageway. He said on reaching ANSA Mc Al, he felt an impact to the rear left side of his truck, causing him to lose control. He said while he was trying to bring the truck back under control, it struck the concrete median and went airborne, crossing onto the southbound carriageway where it crashed into a Honda Civic.

The driver maintained he was not merging lanes but was in the center of the highway’s middle lane. He said the impact on his truck was sudden and violent, leaving him no time to react.

Also testifying for the company was the managing director of BK Holdings and an eyewitness to the accident who was allegedly traveling on the highway.

Testifying for the defendants was Jemmel Morgan. He was driving his mother’s car to take lunch to his uncle when he said he saw the truck swerve into the left lane and collide with the front of his car.

In her ruling, Charles said Diaz’s evidence that immediately on impact, his truck went airborne and crossed the median was not consistent with the 86ft skid mark from the truck’s tires left on the roadway.

“This skid mark is a piece of independent objective evidence that undermines the credibility of the account of the accident by Mr. Diaz…,” the judge said.

“The inconsistencies in Mr. Diaz’s evidence coupled with his admission that he did not know how the accident happened and relied totally on (the eyewitness’s) account of the collision served in my view to undermine his credibility and make him an unreliable witness.”

She also said the eyewitness’s evidence was also not credible. Charles also drew adverse inferences against the company for not bringing one of its loaders who was in the truck at the time of the accident to testify. She further said it was “curious” that the police did not take a statement from the loader.

“There is no evidence before as to why that was not done. I therefore did not accept the assignment of blame to Mr. Morgan by the police.”

“On the other hand, I accepted Mr. Morgan’s account of the accident as more plausible. There was no damage to the right rear of the truck where Mr. Diaz claimed that the impact of the collision occurred,” the judge said in her ruling.

“Consistent with his pleaded case and evidence, Mr. Morgan’s car sustained damage to the front right near the light.

“The damage to both vehicles is more consistent with his account of the accident – that the garbage truck moved suddenly and without warning from the middle lane to the left lane where he was driving and collided with his left front side.”

She also said she did not accept claims by Diaz and the company’s eyewitness that Morgan admitted liability to them since she did not consider them to be truthful witnesses.

“In all the circumstances, therefore, I hold that the claimant company has not established on a balance of probability that the accident was caused due to the negligence of the second defendant.

“Indeed, I conclude that the evidence before me establishes on a balance of probability that it was the claimant company’s driver Mr. Diaz’s negligent driving which caused a collision with vehicle PBC-6066 driven by the second defendant; as a result of Mr. Diaz’s negligent driving of the claimant company’s truck TCX-5957, it crashed into the median and landed on PBE-5627.

“I, therefore, hold that the damage to the claimant company’s truck TCX5957 was caused by the negligence of its own servant and/or agent Mr. David Diaz.”

After delivering her findings, the judge granted judgment for the defendants while dismissing BK Holdings’ case. The company was ordered to pay the defendant’s costs on the sum of $369,011.29 which it claimed as special damages.

BK Holdings was represented by attorney Chanka Persadsingh and Dipmarine Rampersad, SC. Roger Kawalsingh and Ashley Roochansingh represented Laura Morgan and Maritime General. Michael Rooplal represented Jameel Morgan and Bankers Insurance.

According to reports after the fatal crash, the Ramcharan family were on their way home after taking their son for dialysis. When the garbage truck landed on top of their car, housewife Nanda Ramcharan, 36, Nyron, 12, and her husband Mahadeo, 48, were killed.

Four years before, Nanda Ramcharan had donated one of her kidneys to her son. At the time, Nyron was the country’s youngest recipient of a kidney transplant. The couple had two other children who were orphaned after their parents’ death.