The assignment was to get photos and a recorded statement from the claimant on a disputed lane change accident. Our client was a trucking firm we had worked for over many years. The claimant said our truck “lane changed” into her. Our driver said the claimant “lane changed” into him, striking the left side of the trailer near the back.
A recorded statement of the claimant was quickly granted by the claimant attorney how odd. The oddity was quickly explained – the claimant was a school teacher and the best witness I had ever seen. She was accurate and precise. She responded without hesitation, giving articulate, definitive answers. I asked, “How fast were you going?” She responded: “47 miles per hour.” “When did the accident happen? She responded: “June 5th at 3:45pm on the I-10 Eastbound freeway at the point it merges into the I-5 Southbound.” She asserted that the truck, traveling South on the I-5, changed lanes and struck her vehicle on the right side front.
Aha – I thought I saw the first chink in Ms. Superwitness’s armor. The I-10 would be merging onto the right side of the I-5, so it would have been the left side of her vehicle that would have been at risk from an I-5 lane changer.
“Don’t you mean the left side of your vehicle, ma’am?” I asked sweetly. The school teacher gave me a withering look and sent me to detention, saying: “No, the right side. You will see as much when you inspect the vehicle.”
Not satisfied with my punishment thus far, I asked: “Did the freeway merge from the left?” Claimant: “Yes.” Complete certainty, and with a look that would condemn our client’s defense to a failing grade for three generations into the future.
Interstate freeways by law do not merge from the left. But Ms.
Superwitness said otherwise, and I had learned my lesson about arguing with the teacher in class. I left the attorney’s office bruised but not broken. I would pursue the mystery by other means.
Our client authorized a scene investigation. I drove the 10 Eastbound and put myself in our school teacher’s place. Sure enough, the Eastbound 10
did merge from the left, contrary to interstate freeway law. I thought I was about to hear the theme from The Twilight Zone, when the mist began to clear. The sign said we were about to merge with California 5, not I-5. I saw what had happened – the only way the engineers could connect the I-10 Eastbound and I-5 Southbound was to bring the I-10 on from the left. Since that was against the law for interstates, the I-5 for some little distance before and after the merger was renamed California 5 and made intoa State Highway (no problem with left-hand mergers on State Highways).
As I approached the merger, I noticed an overpass that provided a panoramic view of the scene. I exited, retraced my steps on surface streets and found the overpass. Once I saw it from above, I realized I was going to ace this test.
Two lanes of Eastbound 10 were coming together with two lanes of Southbound 5. But in this particular instance 2 + 2 = 3, contrary to the assertions of school teachers everywhere. The lane on the Eastbound 1-10 in which our school teacher was driving at 47 miles per hour became the same lane our client’s truck was proceeding. There was no lane change by either driver. And I could clearly see we were not at fault!
I called the claimant attorney who was bubbling with excitement – “Isn’t my client great?” I agreed: “Best witness I ever saw.” I explained that neither driver had lane changed and the intricate road design that made such a thing possible.
Then I dropped it on him – his client was at fault.
He explodes as I had expected. “How can you say that? You just said that neither party changed lanes into the other!”
I calmly asked him where the damage to the claimant vehicle was. “Right front,” he said. I asked where the damage to our trailer was. “Left rear,” he said.
I gave him A+ so far, then explained that our truck’s cab is 15 feet long, that our trailer is 53 feet long, and that our total length is 68 feet. I pointed out that our trailer was hit 65 feet from the nose of the truck and asked the last question on this final exam:
“With my driver 65 feet in front of your driver, who do you suppose had possession of the lane?”
The claimant attorney sputtered: “What is my client supposed to do – just stop on the freeway?”
“No,” I replied, shredding my dunce cap and admiring my glittering grade point average, “Just pay attention in class.”
California Truck Adjuster