Colorado Department of Transportation’s official traffic code states that it is illegal for a driver to stop on the side or shoulder of the road or highway with the exception of emergency situations. This is a law that has been in existence since 1952, though it is rarely enforced. A 66-year-old man from Lamar was recently killed by a semi while he was changing a flat tire on Interstate 25. The driver of the semi and the circumstances of the accident remain under investigation.
Stopping on the side of the road is dangerous. If a driver has no other choice, the stopped car should be highly visible to other drivers. The driver should place flares or brightly colored traffic cones around the car, and should leave the indicator lights flashing. A person standing outside the stopped car should wear either a reflective vest or bright colored clothing. Even with these precautions in place, an inattentive driver might not see a person sitting in or standing outside a car parked on the shoulder.
In the case of the tragic death of the man from Lamar, it is useful to examine the circumstances to understand who may be responsible in accidents like that. When considering the case at face value, it would appear that the driver of the semi may be wholly responsible, and that the family of the victim could file a wrongful death claim. However, the defendant could claim that the victim was stopped illegally and should therefore bear some of the responsibility. In Colorado, the law of contributory negligence allows a plaintiff’s award to be reduced—and potentially barred—if that person is found to have also been negligent.
It appears the driver was stopped to change a flat tire. It is possible that the driver did not have any choice other than to stop immediately, especially if the tire was blown. These facts could help show that the driver was not considered negligent in stopping where he did.
It is also unclear why the semi veered onto the shoulder. The driver of the semi claimed that a strong wind pushed the truck off course. This circumstance and all other facts surrounding the semi-truck driver’s actions must be evaluated to determine what impact it may have on liability. Other factors may be at play in accidents involving trucks and trucking companies like this one. For example, if the driver of the semi was tired and had been driving for a longer shift than is allowed by law, then not only may the driver be responsible, but the trucking company might also be potentially liable—not only for the driver’s actions under vicarious liability but for its own actions in hiring, training, supervising, or entrusting the truck to, the driver.
These and other circumstances must be examined to determine the legal ramifications surrounding accidents like this, including whether a potential wrongful death claim could be brought and what damages might be available. Certainly all drivers should be careful when stopping on the shoulder of the road, and all drivers should be aware of all traffic, including vehicles stopped on the side of the road.
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