Thank You For Submiting Feedback!
Appellate courts review jury instructions as a whole to determine whether the overall meaning communicated by the instructions was a correct statement of the law. Whether the circuit court erred by stating the law incorrectly or in a misleading manner constitutes a question of law this court decides independently of, but benefiting from, the analyses of the circuit court and court of appeals. Erroneous jury instructions warrant reversal and a new trial only when the error is prejudicial. Whether an error is prejudicial is a question of law that the Supreme Court of Wisconsin decides independently of, but benefiting from, the analyses of the circuit court and court of appeals.
The present case arose from the collision of a passenger automobile driven by plaintiff Ronald J. Dakter, and a 65-foot semi-trailer truck operated by defendant Dale Cavallino, a professional truck driver operating a semi tractor-trailer pursuant to a commercial driver's license issued by the State of Wisconsin. During trial, the jury was instructed that it was the defendant’s duty to use the degree of care, skill, and judgment which a reasonable semi-truck driver would exercise in the same or similar circumstances having due regard for the state of learning, education, experience, and knowledge possessed by semi-truck drivers holding commercial driver's licenses. After the trial, the jury found the defendant 65 percent causally negligent and the plaintiff 35 percent causally negligent and assessed damages at $1,097,955.86 for the plaintiff and $63,366 for the plaintiff's wife. On appeal, the defendant alleged that the truck driver negligence instruction given to the jury on the standard of care applicable to the defendant as the operator of a semi-truck trailer truck was erroneous, thereby entitling him to a new trial.
Was the truck driver negligence instruction given to the jury on the standard of care applicable to the defendant as the operator of a semi-trailer truck erroneous, thereby entitling defendant to a new trial?
The court affirmed the trial court’s judgment, holding that the truck driver negligence instruction was proper. According to the court, the truck driver negligence instruction did not misstate the law and was not misleading. Under Wis. Stat. §§ 343.05(2) and 343.055 (2007-08), the conduct of a semi-trailer truck driver should be assessed by reference to the conduct of a reasonable person with the special competence required of semi-trailer truck drivers, not by reference to the conduct of a reasonable, ordinary driver. The truck driver's arguments to the contrary were not persuasive, and defendants were not entitled to a new trial.