Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel Trucker Wrongful Death Lawsuit Accuses Authority
It is common knowledge that drivers can be sued over deaths on the roads of Virginia. However, many wonder if this liability extends to individuals such highway authority or bridge operator. Simply, put it does. In fact, in a recent Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel trucker wrongful death lawsuit, the injured party accused the company that operates the exposed bridge of being responsible for a horrific death.
Billie Jo Chen is suing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel (CBBT), the operator of the 17.6-mile span, following the death of her husband, Joseph Chen in 2017. Chen perished when his 18-wheeler plunged over the side of the bridge during gusty conditions almost four years ago. His widow claims the bridge-tunnel violated its own rules and should have closed the bridge because of high wind gusts on the tragic day. She filed a $6 million lawsuit against the bridge-tunnel operator.
How Did the Truck Accident on the Bay Bridge Occur?
Chen from Greenville, North Carolina, was killed on Feb. 9, 2017, as he crossed the bridge-tunnel across the Chesapeake Bay with an almost empty trailer on an exceptionally windy day, the Virginian-Pilot reported. The CBBT had reopened the span following a lengthy closure due to high winds.
Chen’s lawyers were told a hearing that the CBBT was allegedly operating under a “secret policy.” The attorneys argued this protocol uses average wind speed but ignores gusts — which can be considerably stronger.
This bridge can be hazardous for car and trucks to cross under the wrong conditions. The bridge sections from Virginia Beach to the Eastern Shore are exposed and there is nowhere for motorists to turn around, take shelter, or retreat from heavy storms that can roll in fast.
The court heard the CBBT’s police decide when to restrict traffic on the bridge-tunnel. They rely on data from four WeatherHawk stations placed at intervals along the span. The Pilot reported the police follow a six-level policy. Police impose restrictions on the exposed CBBT as winds increase.
Empty or lightly-loaded tractor-trailers are particularly vulnerable to heavy winds on the bridge because they have little or no load to ballast them down. They are forbidden from crossing the bridge-tunnel at Level 1 which is reached at 46 mph wind speeds. Attorneys in the wrongful death case pointed to the CBBT’s own logs that note gusts reaching up to 50 mph were detected as Chen reached the bridge.
The case is likely to turn on whether the wind speed should be measured as an average or on the speed of the gusts. The CBBT attorneys told Judge Les Lilly that gusts do not count in the calculation. Attorney Jeff Hunn told the court its average wind speed that triggers the steps to restrictions on the bridge. CBBT lawyers argue readings from a single WeatherHawk might not be considered reason enough to impose restrictions on the span. It may take readings from an average of two gauges.
Attorneys representing Chen’s estate in the Chesapeake Bay Bridge tunnel trucker wrongful death lawsuit countered this argument. Amanda Dure of Pangia Law Group, a lawyer representing Chen, pointed out the CBBT’s written policy does not include such detailed information. She argued the traveling public assumes CBBT links its safety levels to the detection of gusts.
The Pilot reported Chen reached the north end of the bridge around noon on Feb. 9, 2017. Tractor-trailers stopped and waited out a powerful storm over the Chesapeake Bay. Level 4 restrictions triggered by 60-64 mph winds had closed off the bridge to trucks for most of the morning.
Chen pulled into a parking space close to the bridge when restrictions were reduced to Level 1 at 12:01 pm, according to reports. Bridge police usually wait up to 20 minutes before lowering the level to make sure extreme conditions have abated. Chen headed across the bridge with about 80 other big rigs. His trailer was lightly loaded. It contained just under 2,200 pounds of seafood, pallets, and a pallet jack, reports stated.
Chen’s tractor-trailer was hit by a gust of wind near mile marker 15. Witnesses saw the wind lift the trailer off the road surface before the entire rig moved to the left and crashed through the guardrail. Chen escaped his cab in the water but died of hypothermia and drowning. No other tractor-trailers were blown off the bridge that day, although other big rigs have crashed off the bay bridge.
Who is Responsible for the Deadly Bay Bridge Incident?
CBBT attorneys claim Chen was driving recklessly and caused the accident. Under Virginia’s strict contributory negligence rule, they need only show the driver is 1 percent liable to be able to dismiss the wrongful death suit. According to court filings, they’ll also argue that the CBBT benefits from sovereign immunity.
Government entities such as cities and state agencies may be protected from negligence lawsuits under this old rule that asserted the Crown’s immunity from prosecution centuries ago. Sovereign immunity can be tricky for injured parties and their families. However, as Cooper Hurley Injury Lawyers attorney John Cooper explained in a recent blog, sovereign immunity can be fought in Virginia. For instance, the argument can be defeated when a government agency is grossly negligent.
The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel trucker lawsuit may be important for truck drivers who place their lives on the line every day. Truckers as well as other drivers often encounter substandard roads, dangerous intersections, and perilous conditions. Highway or bridge authorities can and have been held liable for improper repairs or dangerous work zones where drivers and passengers ended up seriously injured or killed. If you have lost a loved one on the highways of Virginia, please contact our wrongful death team as soon as possible.