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A federal appeals court reversed a lower court ruling on Thursday and held that a Berkshire Hathaway Inc. unit may be liable in a case involving a truck driver who did not pull aside during a high-speed chase, which allegedly led to a state trooper severely injuring his hand.
The ruling in Anthony R. Efthemes v. Amguard Insurance Co.; Apex Transit, LLC; Malik Aleem by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans involved the use of tire inflation devices commonly referred by the name “stop sticks.”
According to the Department of Homeland Security, these devices, which are used by law enforcement officials to disable target vehicles, work by using a row of spikes to pierce tires, resulting in a “controlled deflation” that can end road chases “without the danger caused by a tire blowout.”
In May 2018, Mr. Efthemes, a Louisiana state troper, alleged he was instructed to deploy stop sticks on the highway to deflate a vehicle that was fleeing the police, the ruling said.
The lawsuit charges that the truck driver, who was driving an 18-wheeler near the vehicle being pursued by law enforcement, did not observe emergency lights and sirens activated nearby or slow his truck or yield to law enforcement vehicles.
Instead, he drove over the stop sticks, which caused Mr. Efthemes’ hand to become entangled in their cord and resulted in his injury.
Mr. Efthemes filed suit against the driver, his employer, Charlotte, North Carolina-based Apex, and Apex’s insurer, Berkshire unit Amguard.
The U.S. District Court in Lake Charles, Louisiana, granted the defendants summary judgment dismissing the case and was overturned by a three-judge appeals court panel.
“In view of motorists statutory duty to immediately yield the right of way upon the approach of an authorized emergency vehicle and begin braking, a reasonable jury could find that (the driver) breached his duty by not changing lanes and braking sooner than he did,” the ruling said, in overturning the lower court’s ruling and remanding the case for further proceedings.
Attorneys in the case did not respond to requests for comment.