Fatal Crash at Connecticut Tailgate Party Leaves Liability Questions Unanswered

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An equipment malfunction may have caused a U-Haul truck to crash into a tailgate party outside the Yale University football stadium, killing one person and injuring two more, according to the truck’s driver. Police are still investigating the crash and its possible causes. For a personal injury lawyer, the case presents the critical question of who could be held liable for the crash, and in this case it is not yet clear.

The crash occurred Saturday, November 19, 2011. The truck, driven by a Yale junior, was on its way to a fraternity tailgate party outside the football stadium when it suddenly swerved and sped up, veering into a crowd and hitting three women attending another tailgate party. A 30 year-old woman from Salem, Massachusetts was killed. Another victim was taken to a nearby hospital in serious but stable condition. A third victim received treatment for minor injuries.

New Haven police took the driver of the U-Haul to police headquarters and administered a standard field sobriety test. The driver reportedly passed the test, and he was released from police custody. No charges have been filed against him. Two passengers were also reportedly in the truck at the time of the crash, but neither was detained by police.

Police impounded the truck, a Ford F-350 with a V-10 Triton engine, in order to preserve it for inspection. The Yale Daily News interviewed several individuals with knowledge of this model of truck regarding the claim of some sort of vehicle malfunction. Some F-350 models apparently have closely-spaced gas and brake pedals, for example, leaving the possibility that a driver could accidentally push both pedals, or even just the gas pedal, when intending to brake. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has apparently received several complaints regarding this truck model.

Although it is too early to say what claims may arise from this tragic event, a wrongful death claim on behalf of the woman killed in the crash seems likely. This requires proof that someone’s negligence directly caused her death. Three possible defendants present themselves, depending on how the investigation turns out: the driver of the truck, the truck rental company, or the truck’s manufacturer. No evidence yet available supports a specific negligence claim against any of the actual people or businesses involved in this case, so of course this analysis is purely hypothetical.