"The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function." -F. Scott Fitzgerald
In this line, the renowned author makes a point that modern life requires us to keep contradictory ideas straight in our heads while at the same time not going mad from the contradiction. It represents our modern ideal of an open-minded person--someone able to delicately weigh opposing and irreconcilable views. At the same time it foreshadows an intellectual problem capable of driving us to insanity.
Fitzgerald's description of a first-rate intelligence also seems to apply to trucking company defense attorneys. In our experience, these sage minds can not only hold irreconcilable positions at the same time; indeed, they can actually pull off this feat while working on a single case. Some might see this kind of double dealing as a form of hypocrisy, but I suppose defense attorneys can comfort themselves with Mr. Fitzgerald's approbation.
A recent fatal trucking accident that we came across in the news illustrates this point.
Callahan County, TX: February 20, 2017
According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, the accident happened on Monday in Callahan County, near Abilene. 32-year-old Jonah Neal was westbound in a semi truck around 12:15 a.m. when he collided with another tractor-trailer that had hydroplaned on the wet road, coming to rest in a "jackknife" position that blocked the road.
Only the approximate location of the crash was released, suggesting it happened on a stretch of Texas Highway 36 between FM 604 and Highway 283, roughly 12 miles south of Baird.
The driver of the jackknifed truck, 26-year-old Florida man Antonio Eimil, was treated for minor injuries at the scene and released. Jonah Wayne Neal was tragically killed by his truck's impact with the disposed trailer.
Defense's Favorite Play: Shift the Blame
We see this fact pattern in cases all the time; no one can argue against the fact that some road conditions are less than ideal. A truck driver loses control and then a second truck slams into the first, usually with serious or fatal consequences. To those of us without the "first-rate intelligence" of a trucking company defense attorney, it might seem that the fault in these accidents would lie with the truck that initially lost control and ended up blocking the roadway. Perhaps we show our lack of sophistication by allowing common sense to rule the day, but that's the price we plebes pay when contending with such enlightenment.
A trucking company defense lawyer will look at those facts and conclude that it was the second truck's fault for driving too fast for conditions. After all, the highway was wet and the second driver should have known that he needed to slow down. Therefore, the driver of the jackknifed trailer is actually the victim in these circumstances.
The genius of the defense attorney's approach is that this line of reasoning ignores the factors that led to first tractor trailer to lose control and jackknife to begin with. While one can speculate whether or not the driver of the second vehicle had time to properly react and avoid a collision, it is beyond dispute that any truck that jackknifes due to hydroplaning was driving too fast for the road conditions.
Hydroplaning only occurs when a vehicle is traveling through a puddle so fast that the tire loses contact with the road. Given the speed with which roads become treacherous during rainstorms in Texas, as well as the poor drainage of most roads, slowing down to prevent hydroplaning is just common sense in Texas.
Defense attorneys might try to gloss over the awkward fact of the initial hydroplane and focus on the crash itself. To those of us with lesser-rate intelligences, it seems indisputable that while the wet road was possibly contributory, the hazard that actually caused the crash was the large obstacle splayed across the highway lane. While some might view this argument as a hypocritical example of me applying double standards while trying to condemn their use by others, I'd contend that the circumstances both truckers faced are dramatically different: Adjusting one's speed to compensate for an ongoing, known hazard like rain is much easier to do than having to stomp the brakes and steer out of the path of a 40-ton, 60-foot roadblock. Moreover, one cannot condemn the latter while trying to absolve the former of responsibility.
In these types of cases, the defense attorney's argument is basically "The other guy's hypothetical speeding was what really caused the accident--not my client's actual speeding." When you have to peddle arguments like these, you can see why it takes a first-rate intelligence to be truck accident defense attorney.