Wrongful Death Caused by Tractor Trailer
There are a lot of lawyers in Georgia who claim to handle tractor trailer crashes, but it takes real world experience for your lawyer to know where to look in the records to prove your case. As a former lawyers for the trucking companies and their insurance carriers, the attorneys at the The Simon Law Firm spent many years defending semi truck drivers after crashes. In the years since that time, they have concentrated 40% of their law practice on representing victims against those companies.
An experienced Georgia tractor trailer accident lawyer knows that for serious cases, the lawsuit should be filed every time because it is only with discovery and subpoena power that the operational records of the trucking company will come to light. When litigating cases worth hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars, it pays to hire a former industry insider who can expose the lies being used to prevent juries from seeing what some of these trucking companies really do.
Are Georgia Tractor Trailer Accident Cases Different from Auto Accident Cases?
There are a number of aspects to trucking crashes in Georgia that make the practice unique and without a lawyer that is experienced in the field, the client can quickly lose value on a case. Georgia trucking cases are more complex for a number of reasons.
First, all interstate trucking companies are regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. They put out a massive book called the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations that takes years of study to master. When a tractor trailer driver violates these safety regulations, the Court can charge the jury on negligence per se, which can make a world of difference in a disputed liability case. This means if the rule is broken, the judge tells the jury the trucking company is somewhat responsible.
Second, tractor trailers incorporate advanced computer systems similar to an aircraft “black box” and some have on-board radar and satellite tracking data that can tell the truth about why the crash happened, even when the driver is lying.
Third, trucking crash collision reconstruction requires an engineer with specialized skills and only an experienced trucking lawyer has these engineers on their rolodex.
Fourth, trucking cases should never be settled without the lawyer at least deposing under oath the driver and risk manager as well as an exhaustive review of all operational documents. An average car accident lawyer is simply not trained to handle a trucking case in Georgia.
For example, how does it affect the case against the trucking company if the trucker had a radar detector? Radar detectors are forbidden under 49 CFR §392.71. If you are in a crash with a trucker with a radar detector, that fact in conjunction with speeding can support punitive damages.
Why does my lawyer need to hire an expert collision reconstructionist immediately after the crash? Because the trucking company will allow the tractor and the electronic control module to be destroyed if you don’t pin them down. We recently handled an inspection of a tractor trailer operated by Werner Enterprises. The client did not hire us until many months after the crash, and by the time we inspected the tractor trailer it had been completely cannibalized for parts. The electronic control module had been disconnected from many of the sensors which leads to significant error codes in the data dump. Half of the brake lines had been salvaged and in short there were serious pieces missing from the puzzle. Because the client hesitated in hiring counsel, we will be at the mercy of the trial court seeking a spoliation charge to hold the trucking company responsible for allowing evidence to disappear.
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations
These regulations govern 1) the hiring process and requirements, 2) annual safety reviews on the drivers, 3) Inspection and Maintenance requirements for the tractors and trailers, 4) the number of hours the driver can safely drive, 5) alcohol and drug use testing, 6) what safety equipment and procedures to use in the event of a break down, and 7) how long the trucking company must retain their records. Let’s discuss how each of these areas must be scrutinized when a client has been injured by a negligent Georgia truck driver.
I. The Hiring Process, Annual Reviews, and Other Requirements:
A trucking company is required under Section 391.21 to maintain a complex application called a driver qualification file. They are required to inquire as to:
a) prior driver’s licenses;
b) the applicant’s experience;
c) A list of all crashes in the prior three years and any injuries it caused;
d) A list of all traffic tickets for the past 3 years;
e) A explanation of prior license suspension;
f) A list of the prior employers for the last three years including the reason for leaving;
The trucking company is required to send out faxes to the prior employers to learn whether the driver had safety or substance abuse issues. In our experience, the smaller trucking companies tend to partially or completely ignore these safety requirements and the result is unsafe truckers driver 80,0000 lbs trucks.
The trucking company is required to send a request to the department of motor vehicles for a three year prior driving history, and this request has to be refreshed every year on the anniversary of hiring. Many carriers either neglect this requirement completely or don’t bother looking at the results.
The trucking company is required to give the truck driver a medical exam to make sure his health does not pose a safety risk to the motoring public.
A number of trucking companies fail to conduct their annual reviews and leave drivers on the road that should be disqualified. For example, below is a list of the infractions that will disqualify a trucker for at least a year, and yet every year we see ineligible drivers killing and maiming Georgia families in trucking crashes. The following offenses under Section 391.15 will prohibit a Georgia Trucking company from hiring or retaining a truck driver:
- Driving a commercial vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. They are excluded if the person’s alcohol concentration is 0.04% or above or if they refuse to undergo testing (what we call a less safe DUI in Georgia).
- Driving a commercial motor vehicle while on a Schedule I controlled substance (speed, cocaine etc);
- Transportation, possession, or use of a 21 CFR 1308.11 Schedule I drug; and
- Leaving the scene of an accident while operating a commercial vehicle; or committing a felony while using a commercial vehicle.
Tractor Trailer drivers in Georgia are suspended for a period of 1 year for their first offense. Subsequent offenses will bar them for three years or longer.
Under §391.25, the Georgia trucking company is required to make an annual review of the trucker’s record including:
a) Asking the DMV for the MVA for each driver;
b) Every 12 months they have to sit down with the driver and review the driving record;
c) The company should look at evidence that the driver has violated any laws especially speeding, reckless driving, and operating while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. ( this is one of the areas we often explore to determine if this driver should have been on the road at all)
As you can imagine, with these type of administrative requirements, smaller trucking companies tend to miss these requirements which can lead to devastating accidents when those mistakes put unsafe truck drivers on Georgia roads.
II. Inspection and Maintenance:
Under §396.3, “…every motor carrier shall systematically inspect, repair, and maintain, or cause to be systematically inspected, repaired, and maintained, all motor vehicles…” The trucking company is also required to maintain a record of what was inspected, by whom it was inspected, and when it was inspected for at least a year.
In addition to the company requirements, the driver has to conduct a pre-trip inspection before every trip and there are strict requirements post-trip as well. Under §396.11, the company shall require the Driver to prepare a report in writing at the completion of each day’s work on each vehicle operated. The report has to cover brakes, steering, lighting and reflectors, tires, horn,windshield wipers, mirrors, wheels and rims, and emergency equipment.
III. How Many Hours Can a Trucker Legally Drive?
Truck drivers in interstate commerce can only drive a limited number of hours per day and per week. These rules were promulgated to keep tired truck drivers off the road. Under section 395.3, truck drivers cannot legally drive more than 11 cumulative hours following 10 consecutive hours off duty. They also cannot drive for any period after the end of the 14th hour after coming on duty following 10 consecutive hours off duty. In looking at the work week, the driver cannot drive if they have been on duty 60 hours in any 7 consecutive days or having been on duty 70 hours in any period of 8 consecutive days if the employing motor carrier operates commercial motor vehicles every day of the week. This provision does reset if there are 34 hours of consecutive rest.
Truck drivers are required to record their hours of service every day. Some large trucking companies do this electronically, but most carriers still use paper logs. An experienced trucking lawyer will compare the logs to the dispatch records to see if the driver has a pattern of speeding or if they are faking their paperwork.
IV. Advanced Crash Data Recorders and Third Party Tracking:
Most truck engines built in the last ten years contain an Electronic Control Module which will record averages speed, rpm, time spent in gear etc. In addition it will record data from hard braking and crash events, allowing the engineer to know with certainty the speed, braking, and shifting actions taken in the seconds before and during the crash. This hard evidence can prove invaluable with a trucker who claims he was not speeding. In addition the historical data can show patterns of excess speed and can be compared to the hours of service records to see if the times for stops match up.
Commonly known as a “black box”, these electronic components help law enforcement and private attorneys to accurately reconstruct how fatal trucking collisions occur. The amount of information available after a Georgia trucking crash varies with year make and model.
In any serious injury trucking case, your expert should either download the data with the vehicle owner present or acquire the raw data from the tractor owner in a controlled exchange. Trucks with Detroit Diesel engines since December of 1997 have collision reconstruction information available. Mercedes-Benz bought Detroit Diesel, so they have the same data available after 2003. Volvo,Caterpillar and the other manufacturers have all had Electronic Control Modules on the engine since the beginning of the 1990’s.
Once you know there is data, the question is “how much?” In the Detroit power units from 1998 on-wards, there are generally two types of events recorded: a Hard Brake record and a Last Stop Record. The hard brake record is triggered when the tractor trailer slams on brakes and loses over 7 mph of speed in one second. When this happens, the recorder records one minute of data before the event and 15 seconds of data after the event. A Last Stop Record is recorded when the tractor comes to a stop, but it overwrites if the tractor begins to move again. Both events will record MPH, RPM, Braking, Clutch, Cruise Control, Throttle and Engine Load.
Some trucks are equipped with Qualcomm or another company’s satellite data. These systems can be set with a number of functions including GPS location check points, speed reports, and email in the cab. A Federal Court in Atlanta ruled that Qualcomm data is operational data that must be maintained for six months, so it is critical to hire an experienced lawyer to lock down those records.
Some trucks are also equipped with collision avoidance radar systems like the Eaton VORAD system. This system bounces waves off other vehicles and can warn the truck driver when they are too close or closing too fast on other vehicles. This data can be used to paint a picture of where the vehicles were prior to the crash and the speeds at which they were traveling.
V. Collision Reconstruction Engineers:
There are realistically probably only 8 qualified tractor trailer reconstructionists in the Southeast, and retaining one for a serious trucking collision in Georgia is critical. These individuals are usually Physical Engineers with a background in crash investigation. They can estimate speed from crush damage and skid marks. They can develop a three dimensional reconstruction of how the crash occurred. They can inspect the brakes on the semi after the crash to determine if they were out of adjustment and the effect that would have on their braking power. In serious Georgia injury cases, a reconstructionist is essential.
VI. Preserving Evidence:
While it is important to get legal advice from a Georgia Injury lawyer early in any serious case, this is never more true than with a trucking crash. It is essential that your lawyer send a Georgia spoliation letter to the trucking company in the first few days after the collision. Your lawyer should know to ask for at least the following items to be preserved:
- The Driver’s Employment Application;
- The Driver’s MVRs;
- The Driver’s Complete Qualification file including, 3 Years of Written Employment reference, DOT Drug Screen Results, and Dot Physical and Certificate;
- The Road Test Certification
- The Annual Driving Reviews
- The Driver’s Hours of Service logs for the 6 months previous to the collision;
- The Driver’s fuel card records and receipts for the 6 months previous to the collision;
- The company dispatch records for this driver for the 6 months previous to the collision;
- The Bill of Lading for the cargo the Driver was carrying at the time;
- The Driver’s post collision alcohol and drug testing;
- The pre and post trip inspections for this driver and for the tractor and trailer involved in the collision for the 6 months previous to the collision;
- The maintenance records for this tractor and trailer for the 6 months prior to the collision;
- Any satellite, GPS and/or Qualcomm data for the 6 months prior to and including the time of the collision;
- A complete download of the Electronic Control Module data from the tractor’s engine;
- A printout from any VORAD system on the tractor for the 6 months prior to and including the time of the collision;
- The tractor trailer in the same condition as it was at the time of the collision or in the alternative that you provide me with the opportunity to photograph the conspicuity markings on it and the trailer;
You can find a number of Georgia trucking collisions that are discussed in our where we will provide analysis and insight into how these crashes can be prevented.
R and L Carriers
Atlantic Distribution Systems, INC.
Augusta Transportation, INC.
B-H Transfer Co.
Benton Express, INC.
Bestway Systems, INC
Bo-Mark Transport, INC.
Bulloch & Bulloch, INC.
C & A Transportation, INC.
Colonial Cartage Corporation
D & D Transportation, INC.
Dahlonega Transport, INC.
Dennis Truck Lines, INC.
Diversified Trimodal, INC.
Energy Dispatch, LLC
F&W Transportation Co., INC
Fepco Container, INC.
Georgia Southern Transportations, INC.
Glenn – Lee Trucking, INC.
Great Southern Xpress, INC.
Hames Trucking, INC.
Hickman Transport Co., INC.
Howard Sheppard, INC.
Jackie B. Lovett Trucking Co., INC.
James Brown Contracting, INC.
Jenkins Transport, INC.
Jimmy Harris Trucking, INC.
Kennesaw Transportation, INC.
Lad Truck Lines, INC.
Lakeland Motor Freight, INC.
Lance Trucking Corp ( A Corp)
Langdale Forest Products Co.
Lumber Transport, INC.
Nationwide Southeast, INC.
Prime Time Transportation, INC.
Robert Bearden, INC.
Rosedale Transport, INC.
Run To Win Freight Lines, INC.
Sanders Truck Transportation Company, INC.
Southern Ag Carriers, INC.
Southern Freight, INC.
Starrete Trucking Company, INC.
Thom’s Transport Company, INC.
Transus Intermodal, LLC
United Parcel Service, INC., A New York Corp.
United Parcel Service, INC., An Ohio Corp.
Vaughan Transport, INC.
Williams Brothers Trucking, INC.
Zar Tran, INC.
Trucking Case Value Examples