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Tractor Trailer Truck Driver Found Not Liable For Auto Accident Caused By Tire Blowout of Minivan In Front Of Truck

By on September 6, 2019 in Liability with 0 Comments

The plaintiff Ronald Winnix and his wife defendant Sandra Winnix decided to take an impromptu family visit for the Fourth of July weekend, driving from North Carolina to Brooklyn, New York.  Sandra had a concern about the condition of their minivan’s rear tire before they left. On their return home, that tire suffered a blow out and resulted in a collision with the tractor trailer being driven by defendant Binyamin Salis. The issue in Winnix v. Winnix, No. A-4536-16T1, 2019 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 1477 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. June 27, 2019) was whether the defendant Salis could be held responsible for the accident due to his alleged negligence in his operation of his truck.

The accident happened on July 6, 2012, when the plaintiff and his family were returning from their trip from New York City.  Plaintiff, Ronald Winnix was the passenger in the vehicle being operated by his wife Sandra at the time that the accident occurred.

Prior to their impromptu trip to New York, Sandra told the plaintiff that she was concerned about the condition of their minivan’s rear tire.  He took the minivan to the “24-7 Tires” place at 11:00 that night and returned about 30-40 minutes later.   He purchased a used tire to replace the tire that Sandra told him was leaking air.  The entire family was then on their way to New York within an hour or two of that tire being replaced.  They drove from North Carolina to Brooklyn, New York for nine hours without incident.

The plaintiff did all the driving on the way to New York.  During the nine hour drive, they did not need to put any air in the rear tire that they had replaced.

On the return trip, Sandra drove the minivan to North Carolina.  She estimated that she drove south for about three hours on the New Jersey Turnpike before the accident occurred.  According to her testimony, she was travelling at about 65 miles per hour when she heard a thumping noise.  After a minute or two, when the noise became louder, the minivan began to vibrate and they realized that the noise was coming from the back of the vehicle.  They stopped on the shoulder of the road.  As soon as the vehicle stopped, Sandra, the plaintiff, and their 16 year old son stepped out to look at the rear of the vehicle.  They did not detect any signs of damage to the vehicle’s four tires.  The inspection took about two minutes.

Because they were unable to discover the cause of the problem, they returned to the minivan and agreed to stop at the next exit.  Sandra began to drive slowly on the shoulder of the road to determine whether the noise problem remained, but, according to her testimony, the noise was gone.  As a precautionary measure, she turned on the vehicle’s hazard lights.  Sandra drove the minivan into the outside lane of the traffic that was next to her.  She testified that when she pulled into the lane of travel, she did so safely.  She did see the tractor trailer but felt that it was safe to pull in front of him.

Eventually, Sandra began to accelerate up to highway speed.  She did not hear the noise again, however, because the tire had blown.  The tire blew, they hit the guardrail and spun into traffic.  She was never able to get up to 65 miles an hour before the accident occurred.

Based upon the testimony of the driver, defendant Salis, he was a licensed commercial driver with over 12 years of experience.  He testified that he was coming north and saw the minivan on the shoulder.  He saw them getting out of the car and then getting back into the car.  Salis slowed down his speed to about 40 miles per hour.  The minivan started driving in front of him and then he saw smoke and they started spinning.  Salis tried to avoid the minivan but the minivan impacted with his truck.  He swerved to his right and hit the rail.

The plaintiff sued the defendant Salis tractor trailer operator on the basis that he was negligent in the manner he operated his truck.  The defendant Salis filed a Motion for Summary Judgment and the trial court found “the record devoid of any evidence that Salis was civilly liable for the accident.”  Further, the trial court judge held that the plaintiff did not present any evidence to show that Salis drove his tractor trailer in a negligent manner.

The Appellate Division reviewed the evidence that was submitted in the Motion for Summary Judgment and viewed the evidence in a light most favorable to plaintiff.   The Court agreed that there was “no actual basis to deduce that the accident was caused by Salis’ negligent operation of his tractor trailer truck.”  Further, the Appellate Division stated that “[t]he uncontested evidence established Sandra was driving the minivan on the New Jersey Turnpike with its hazard lights activated when its rear tire blew, causing it to spin out of control and crash into Salis’ tractor trailer truck.” 

The Court recited the testimony of Salis that he was a quarter of a mile away when he saw the minivan but slowed his speed to 40 miles per hour.  He thereafter maneuvered his truck to avoid colliding with it when he saw the smoke coming from the minivan.  Hence, the Appellate Division concluded that “no rationale jury can find Salis deviated from the standard of conduct a reasonable driver of a commercial vehicle would take under these circumstances.”

The Appellate Division further stated that it was Ronald and Sandra Winnix who assumed a significant risk when they impromptu decided to embark on a 9 hour road trip with their two children, knowing their minivan’s rear tires had been replaced with “a used tire of unknown quality.”  Even though the driver Sandra stopped the minivan on the shoulder of the turnpike after she felt the vibration, this two minute visual inspection performed on the side of the road by two adults and a 16 year old son was not capable of revealing any latent defects in the tires.  Finally, the Appellate Division stated that Sandra’s decision to “continue to drive the minivan under these circumstances was the dispositive factor that precipitated this accident.”            

Accordingly, the Appellate Division affirmed the trial court’s summary judgment ruling and dismissed the plaintiff’s Complaint against defendant Salis.

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Betsy G. Ramos

About the Author

About the Author:

Ms. Ramos is an Executive Committee Member and Co-Chair of the Litigation Department at Capehart Scatchard, P.A. located in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. She is an experienced litigator with over 25 years experience handling diverse matters. Practice areas include tort defense, business litigation, estate litigation, tort claims and civil rights defense, construction litigation, insurance coverage, employment litigation, shareholder disputes, and general litigation.

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