The 6th Circuit Clarifies Ohio’s Assured Clear Distance Statute in Truck Case

Post date: Aug 19, 2016 5:59:51 PM

In a new case, Wylie v. FedEx Ground Package System, Inc., et al., No. 15-3849 (6th Cir. 2016), the United States Circuit Court for the Sixth Circuit clarified Ohio’s Assured Clear Distance statute (Ohio Rev. Code Sec. 4511.21(A)). The case was not recommended for full-text publication, but does provide excellent analysis of the Assured Clear Distance statute.

Plaintiff’s decedent in the case was travelling the opposite direction of two FedEx semis on a highway in Henry County, Ohio, in a pick-up truck. The FedEx semis were travelling in tandem. Somehow the rear of the pick-up truck came in contact with the rear of the front running semi, causing the pick-up truck to go out of control and into the path of the following semi. The vehicles collided and the driver of the pick-up truck was killed. The following semi was drafting 200 to 300 feet behind the front running semi.

Plaintiff alleged the drafting semi was following too close to the front runner, violating Ohio’s assured clear distance statute. Had the driver of the drafting semi not been following so closely, argues Plaintiff, he would have had time to avoid striking the pick-up truck.

The Assured Clear Distance statute provides for negligence per se under certain circumstances where an offending driver is driving, “at a greater speed than will permit the [driver] to . . . stop within the assured clear distance ahead.” (Wylie, p. 2, citation omitted.) The court essentially rejected this argument because Plaintiff stipulated the pick-up truck was not stationary or moving forward, as required by the statute to establish negligence per se.

The court also rejected Plaintiff’s attempt to rely on the Ohio Supreme Court’s test in Smiddy v. Wedding Party, Inc., 506 N.E.2d 212 (Ohio 1987), wherein the Ohio Supreme Court concluded a driver violated the statute if the object the driver struck was either stationary, moving forward, or “entered the driver’s lane of travel far enough ahead that the driver could have avoided the crash.” (Wylie, p. 3, citing Smiddy.) But, again, the facts of the case did not support applying this test to find the driver of the drafting FedEx semi negligent, and the court upheld the district court’s granting of summary judgment.

- David W. Zahniser