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Monday, July 15, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

No Shared Liability in Nearby Car Crashes

CHICAGO (CN) - VH-1 is not liable for a fatal collision that occurred in a traffic jam caused by one of the television network's truck drivers who fell asleep at the wheel, the 7th Circuit ruled, noting that a contrary holding would open the door to "endless liability."

In 2008, Dennis Hernandez, an equipment drive for VH-1's show "Rock of Love" fell asleep at the wheel in southern Illinois, causing a severe auto accident that closed the northbound lane for several hours. The emergency-response efforts created 4.5 miles of gridlock traffic.

Hernandez later tested positive for drugs and was found to have no valid driver's license. VH-1 settled claims with several injured motorists, including one worth $16 million.

A shoot-off accident on the scene turned fatal. David Blood says he was idling in traffic when another truck driver Milinko Cukovic rear-ended his vehicle at 55 mph. Though David Blood sustained serious injuries, the crash killed his brother, Paul Blood.

After David Blood and his brother's estate sued Cukovic and his employer, T.E.A.M. Logistics, the defendants filed a third-party complaint against Hernandez, MTV and VH-1. The suit claimed Hernandez's negligence in the first accident proximately caused the Cukovic-Blood collision.

Recognized a settlement between Blood and Cukovic, U.S. District Judge G. Patrick Murphy granted summary judgment for Hernandez in August 2012. The 7th Circuit affirmed on Feb. 9.

"Perhaps most damaging to David Blood is that Cukovic acted extraordinarily when compared to the other vehicles that approached the Hernandez accident," the decision states, noting that the accident occurred on a flat portion of the road when weather was clear.

"Cukovic's negligence, as contrasted to the other cars that properly stopped short of the Hernandez accident, clearly broke the causal link between Hernandez and Blood. Reasonable jurors could not conclude otherwise," Judge Michael Kanne wrote for a three-judge panel.

The court firmly rejected the idea that Hernandez remotely caused the accident, cautioning against the dangerous precedent such claims would create.

"To allow this case to continue beyond summary judgment opens the door to endless liability, such that the first wrongdoer in a highway accident will be forever liable to all other drivers that follow," Kanne concluded. "This is plainly the result that proximate cause analyses are designed to avoid."

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