A negligence lawsuit of up to $10.5 million was filed last month after a September 2 crash between a car and a trailer carrying a skid steer loader injured an Oak Ridge woman and pinned her inside her car for almost an hour before rescuers were able to free her and fly her to a trauma center in Knoxville.
Arminda “Mindy” Carter, a nurse who lives in Oak Ridge, was driving west on Emory Valley Road in her 2010 Toyota Camry at about 5:29 p.m. September 2, headed to her job at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital, according to the legal complaint, which was filed in Anderson County Circuit Court in Clinton on June 2.
Headed the other way, toward the Oak Ridge Marina, was an eastbound 1994 GMC dump truck driven by Gerald D. Cureton, 71, of Knoxville. He was pulling a trailer with a CASE skid steer loader that weighed about 6,000 pounds, the complaint said.
As the two vehicles approached the intersection of Emory Valley Road and Carnegie Drive in east Oak Ridge, the trailer with the loader on it came off the hitch of the dump truck driven by Cureton, the complaint said.
“Once detached from the dump truck, the trailer and skid steer then crossed into the westbound lane of travel, where it violently collided with the plaintiff’s vehicle (the Camry driven by Carter),” the June 2 lawsuit said. “The trailer and skid steer came to rest on top of the plaintiff’s vehicle, leaving her trapped under its weight for nearly an hour as rescue workers scrambled to free her.”
The trailer carrying the skid steer loader did not have operational brakes or adequate safety chains, a violation of state law, according to the lawsuit.
Rescuers said it was a miracle that Carter survived the September 2 crash. She was pinned inside her four-door sedan, and it took firefighters and rescuers about 55 minutes to remove her. They used block-like wooden cribbing to stabilize the vehicles and a tow truck to help lift the trailer and loader and take weight off of Carter. During the rescue, they were able to give her oxygen and intravenous fluids.
Once she was removed from the Camry, Carter, who is in her early 30s, was taken by ambulance to Roane State Community College, where a Lifestar helicopter picked her up and flew her to the trauma center at the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville, according to a crash report.
The lawsuit filed June 2 said Carter has suffered and will continue to suffer serious bodily injury, permanent physical impairment, lost income, loss of capacity to earn, medical expenses, conscious pain and suffering, and loss of the enjoyment of life. It asks that a jury award Carter a judgment that the jury believes to be “just, fair, and equitable,” not to exceed $10 million.
The lawsuit also asks for a judgement not to exceed $500,000 for Carter’s husband, Ryan Carter. Because of the crash, Ryan Carter has suffered a “loss of consortium, loss of society, affection, assistance, and conjugal fellowship of his wife and partner, Mindy Carter, all to the detriment of their marital relationship,” the lawsuit said.
The suit alleges negligence by both Cureton and Temple Baptist Church of Powell, the two named defendants. According to the lawsuit, the dump truck, the skid steer loader, and trailer were all owned and maintained by Temple Baptist Church. Curteton was a “permissive user of the aforementioned equipment,” the lawsuit said.
But during a telephone interview on Monday, Pastor Clarence Sexton of Temple Baptist Church denied that the truck, skid steer, and loader are church property.
“None of that equipment was owned by the church,” Sexton said. Cureton was not working for the church either, he said.
“He’s never been employed (with Temple Baptist Church),” Sexton said.
Cureton is a good man and an active member of the church, Sexton said.
But, “I don’t know how we’re named in a lawsuit when none of the equipment belonged to us, and (Gerald Cureton) wasn’t working for us,” Sexton said.
An Oak Ridge Police Department citation given to Cureton after the crash by Officer Chris Winningham said the dump truck is owned by Cureton.
Contacted earlier Monday, Cureton declined to comment on the lawsuit.
The specific negligent acts committed by Cureton, according to the lawsuit, are failure to use due care, failure to keep a proper look out under the circumstances, failure to keep the vehicle and trailer under proper control, failure to keep the vehicle and trailer in the proper lane of travel, and failure to yield the right of way.
The lawsuit cites specific sections of state law that it accuses Cureton of violating:
- safety chains for trailers,
- driving on right side of roadway,
- passing vehicles proceeding in opposite direction,
- traffic lanes,
- due care,
- brakes, and
- reckless driving.
Although Sexton denied that the church owned the truck, trailer, and skid steer loader, the lawsuit also accused Temple Baptist Church of negligence.
“As the owner of the dump truck, trailer, and CASE skid steer, Temple Baptist Church was under a duty to make sure that said equipment was properly maintained and in a safe condition prior to allowing it to be placed on the public roadways,” the lawsuit said. “Temple Baptist Church breached its duty of care in that it failed to properly maintain the trailer used to carry the CASE skid steer. Specifically, Temple Baptist Church knowingly allowed defendant Cureton to use the trailer to carry the CASE skid steer when the trailer did not have operational brakes or adequate safety chains in violation of (state law).”
After the crash, Cureton was cited by the Oak Ridge Police Department for violations of state laws governing trailer brakes and adequate safety chains. Those charges were entered in Anderson County General Sessions Court in Oak Ridge on September 22. Cureton entered a best interest (nolo contendere) plea on February 14. He was fined $25 for violating the law requiring trailer brakes.
The Carters are represented in their lawsuit, which includes a challenge to the constitutionality of non-economic damages caps, by attorney Brad C. Burnette of Fox and Farley in Clinton.
So far, a response to the lawsuit hasn’t been filed in Anderson County Circuit Court by Cureton or Temple Baptist Church.
The sequence of events before the September 2 crash, as reported in the lawsuit filed June 2, is similar to what the Oak Ride Police Department reported in a crash report in September. The ORPD said then that the crash happened after the trailer pulled by Cureton came loose from the truck hitch and crossed into the oncoming lane, where it hit the car driven by Carter.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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