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$6 million lawsuit filed in trucker’s fatal plunge off Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel


The wife of a truck driver who lost his life when his rig fell off the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel in 2017 has filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit alleging that he should have never been allowed on the bridge in the first place.

Last week, Billie Jo Chen filed suit against the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel (CBBT) for $6 million for negligence in the death of her husband Joseph Chen, the Virginian-Pilot reports.

Joseph Chen died on February 9, 2017, after his truck plunged off the bridge into the Chesapeake Bay as he hauled a load of empty pallets south on the 17 mile long structure. The cab of the truck separated from the trailer and sank.

Joseph Chen was spotted after the crash standing on the trailer and was rescued by a Navy helicopter as he was floating in the water but died on the way to the hospital from hypothermia.

The CBBT’s own wind policy forbids trucks hauling empty and light trailers from crossing if wind speeds higher than 46 m.p.h. are recorded.

From the CBBT’s website on Level 2 Wind Restrictions (47 m.p.h.):

The following types of vehicles will not be allowed to cross the facility during Level 2 wind restrictions: motorcycles; large pick-up campers; camper trailers; house trailers; anything being towed; vehicles with any exterior cargo; empty tractor-trailers, not to include empty tanker trucks*; small six-wheel trucks such as moving vans, rental trucks, school buses, etc.  Tractor-trailers must gross 15,000 pounds payload in addition to the weight of the rig and six-wheel trucks must gross 15,000 pounds payload in addition to the weight of the rig in order to be allowed to cross the facility during Level 2 wind restrictions. 

According to the lawsuit, wind speeds of 50 m.p.h. were recorded in the area by a WeatherHawk gauge at the CBBT’s Island 4 — near where Joseph Chen went over the side of the bridge.

In the weeks following the crash, police heard from several witnesses who said that the truck was blown off the bridge but concluded that the crash was most likely due to driver error.

CBBT Police Chief Edward Spencer said in February 2017, “He went to pass the tractor-trailer. He cut over in front of passenger car, and once he got over in the left lane, he ran up on curb and through the guard rail.”

According to court filings in the Northampton County Circuit Court, CBBT officials are arguing sovereign immunity against Chen’s suit, a tactic designed to protect government entities from frivolous lawsuits.

Since the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel opened in 1964, at least 15 vehicles have fallen off of the bridge, resulting 18 fatalities.


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