Judge Reaches Verdict in $6 MILLION Wrongful Death Lawsuit Filed by Trucker’s Widow
Norfolk, VA – A $6 million lawsuit filed by the widow of a North Carolina trucker against the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel (CBBT) was dismissed last week.
In January of last year, Billie Jo Chen, widow of truck driver Joseph Chen, filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Northampton County Circuit Court against the CBBT alleging negligence.
Joseph Chen perished on February 9, 2017, when the tractor-trailer he was operating for North Carolina-based Evans Transport was blown off the the bridge and into the Chesapeake Bay.
The complaint argued the bridge-tunnel’s own wind and gauge policy should have prohibited Chen from crossing the bridge during a period of high winds.
The semi-trailer was only loaded with empty pallets at the time the big rig was toppled at approximately 12:21 p.m.
CBBT policy prohibited empty trailers like Chen was hauling from crossing if gusts higher than 46 mph are being detected by gauges stationed along the 17.6-mile span.
According to the complaint, readouts of a WeatherHawk gauge at the CBBT’s Island 4 — the nearest one to where Chen went over the side — clocked gusts up to 50 mph while he attempted to cross.
Chen’s big rig was blown over the guardrail and plunged into the 45-degree water below.
He was able to escape the cab and climb on top of the rig as it began to sink.
Onlookers captured video of Chen’s desperate attempts to survive while others frantically called 9-1-1.
CBBT says conditions prevented a response by boat, so a U.S. Navy helicopter was called to assist.
By the time rescuers in the Navy helicopter reached him at 12:58 p.m., he was floating in the water and was quickly pronounced dead from hypothermia.
An investigation into the accident by CBBT police concluded Chen was at fault.
Several witnesses testified Chen was going too fast for conditions and lost control when he tried to pass another semi.
During the trial conducted in December of last year, CBBT attorneys argued its wind warnings and vehicle restriction policies are set based on wind speeds, not wind gusts.
Further, they asserted that though wind gusts at the time of the deadly accident clocked in above 46 mph, sustained wind speeds remained below that level.
The defense also argued “sovereign immunity” shields the CBBT from liability since it is a political subdivision of the Commonwealth.
While Judge Leslie Lilley didn’t agree that Chen was at fault for the fatal crash, he sided with the defense in finding the CBBT appropriately carried out its restrictions based on the wind speeds at the time.
Additionally, Judge Lilley cited the protections afforded to governmental agencies by “sovereign immunity” for dismissing the case.
The Virginian-Pilot reports that Douglas Desjardins, an attorney for Chen’s widow, said an appeal is likely.