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Deep pockets files: California concrete thrower

| 7 Comments


In the early hours of December 4, 1997, 15-year-old Joshua Daniel had the clever idea of throwing baseball-sized chunks of concrete at vehicles on Interstate 5 from the top of a canal levee. He hit three cars before he tossed a 2.5-pound chunk at a big rig driven by William Collins, going through the windshield, hitting Collins in the forehead, and leaving him in a coma. Daniel pled guilty and was sentenced to 12 years.

Collins sued a deep pocket. Guess who?

Yes, the manufacturer of the truck. A jury found for Navistar, but by a 2-1 vote, the California Court of Appeal reversed because the jury instructions permitted the jury to find Daniel an intervening cause.

Leave aside that the criminal is the culpable party here. Leave aside that the rate of serious injury or death from falling or thrown objects crashing through windshields is less than 1 per 20 billion miles, such that this never should have gone to trial in the first place. Is it even physically possible to construct a transparent windshield that will invariably survive a collision with a 2.5-pound block of concrete at highway speeds?

7 Comments

Yes, both by using glass-plastic and by changing the rake angle. See Footnote 3 (on the rake angle issue):

"The windshield of the Navistar 8200 driven by William had a rake angle of 71.2
degrees from horizontal (90 degrees being straight vertical). For comparison, plaintiffs‘
expert offered the Ford F650, which had a rake angle of 37.6 degrees. The expert
conducted a test with the rake angle of the windshield of the Navistar 8200 changed to 52
degrees. Under the conditions of the test (the assumptions of which, particularly the
speed of the truck and the rock, were hotly disputed), the rock skipped on the windshield
and did not penetrate it. No manufacturers of heavy trucks had a windshield design as
plaintiffs‘ expert proposed. The angle of windshields varies by type of vehicle. Heavy
trucks are generally 27 degrees from vertical (63 degrees from horizontal), while
passenger cars are more sloped at 55 or 65 degrees from vertical (45 or 35 degrees from
horizontal). Navistar‘s expert opined that changing the rake angle of the truck‘s
windshield was not a trivial change and created safety and operational issues, particularly
as to visibility."

IMHO, the glass-plastic issue is likely the more compelling one. (The trial court excluded that theory on preemption grounds, and by the time of appeal the defendant conceded that was in error.) There are lots and lots of reasons to use glass-plastic, beyond thrown or falling objects.

That is crazy. Never mind that the manufacturer had nothing to do with the act, because personal responsibility no longer seems to matter in America.

And shame on Daniel's lawyer. And California.

We really have to fix this.

Footnote three contains an elementary math error: "...while
passenger cars are more sloped at 55 or 65 degrees from vertical (45 or 35 degrees from horizontal)."

If passenger windshields are sloped that 55 or 65 degrees from vertical, that would be 35 or 25 from horizontal (not 45 or 35).

To respond to the last question, I think the answer is yes and such technology is likely found in stock car racing (i.e. NASCAR).

Yes, it is physically possible. See the windows that are in armored cars, such as those used by Brinks, et al. Ditto the windows in up armored Humvees and similar vehicles.

The question is, should those be installed on your typical big rig?

Clearly, the answer is no, as getting hit by a 2.5 lb chunk of concrete thrown by a criminal from the side of the road is not normal "road rash" that one could expect, unlike pea or so sized gravel, which may be thrown from the tread of a tire, where it was previously lodged.

And lawyers, so help me hannah, actually wonder why people hate them?

The real question is how much they hate them (a lot worse than the lawyers think).

Presumably, this will be sent back for a new trial where the manufacturer will win again.

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Isaac Gorodetski
Project Manager,
Center for Legal Policy at the
Manhattan Institute
igorodetski@manhattan-institute.org

Katherine Lazarski
Press Officer,
Manhattan Institute
klazarski@manhattan-institute.org

 

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