Erin’s client, a painter, was driving on the highway with an extension ladder secured to his pickup truck with hooks and bungee cords. For reasons unknown, the ladder became dislodged and fell onto the highway. Three vehicles were positioned behind the truck: the first struck the ladder; the second came to a stop without issue; the third, driven by the plaintiff, contacted the rear of the second. The plaintiff claimed that she sustained a fractured toe, a concussion, and a knee injury that caused her to incur more than $8,000 in medical expenses and $500 in lost wages.
Per a New Hampshire statute that precludes the operation of a vehicle carrying any load that is not securely fastened, the plaintiff argued that our insured was strictly liable. Erin argued that the plaintiff’s own conduct caused the accident. Specifically, the plaintiff testified that she had been traveling over the speed limit and that only one car-length of space existed between her vehicle and the vehicle in front of her. Further, our insured testified that more than 30-45 seconds passed between the moment when the ladder fell and when the subject rear-end collision occurred.
The jury deliberated for just under two hours and returned a verdict that found the plaintiff to be 90% at fault and our client to be 10% at fault. Under New Hampshire’s modified-comparative-negligence statute, otherwise known as the “51% Rule,” the plaintiff could not recover because her fault exceeded that of our insured.