Preventable or not?


The snow concealed a block of ice, which ultimately sent the trailer out of control. Would John Doe ultimately be blamed?

It was January, and John Doe had just finished unloading his trailer after safely backing down an icy loading dock ramp – quite an accomplishment on this snowy day. Doe cautiously pulled away from the dock, but soon became slightly mired in the gathering snow. He stopped, engaged his inter-axle differential, and tried again, feathering the clutch very gently in second gear of his 10-speed to get the truck moving without too much wheel slip. Success! He was now on the move again, and proceeded cautiously up the ramp so as to avoid putting on too much speed.

Alas, this was still not going to be an easy exit – Doe heard a “Bam!” He looked in his mirrors and saw that the trailer was shifting to the left. He then spied what appeared to be a block of ice that had been thoroughly concealed by snow. The trailer tandems had undoubtedly rubbed up against the concealed solid object, forcing the trailer to start its slide to one side. Doe tried in vain to get control of the non-ABS trailer by gently snubbing the brakes. But, on the slick ramp, the empty trailer just kept sliding to the left, making a slow and graceful arc, until it was stopped by a concrete post. Soon, a very unhappy Doe had the rig stopped and got out to find, of course, that the trailer had lost its battle with the post.

Doe at least hoped that his bosses would understand the situation, but he was not that fortunate. A few days later, he received a warning letter from the fleet’s safety director charging him with a preventable accident. The letter read, “In light of the driver’s professional status, he should have been prepared for such circumstances and used his skills to prevent the accident.”

Doe was livid – such misfortune was bad enough, but to be blamed for it was adding insult to injury! He asked the National Safety Council’s Accident Review Committee to settle the dispute, and the committee obliged.

Doe smiled as he read the letter from NSC. A quote from one of the committee members read, “This case is especially interesting because nobody questions John Doe’s account of what happened. Regardless, even though striking a fixed object typically means a preventable decision, it’s totally unreasonable to expect a driver to shovel blowing snow to inspect for hidden hazards in the path of his vehicle. Clearly, Doe proceeded cautiously and properly up the exit ramp from the warehouse and should not be held responsible for the incident.” Just below was the statement that the accident had been ruled non-preventable. Doe was elated!