Georgia Truck Accident Attorney Blog
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One day in Kansas City, I took the deposition testimony through an interpreter of a Bosnian immigrant truck driver. He was driving with a Florida Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) when he crashed an 18-wheeler into my client on a Georgia interstate highway.

I asked where he got his truck driver training. He said some Russian guy in North Carolina, whose name he could not recall, trained him. How did he study the Commercial Drivers License manual, published in English?   He said his 10-year-old daughter read it and translated it for him. She may have been a precocious child, but really? I didn’t think then to dig into how he was able to take and pass the Florida CDL tests.

For several years, a high percentage of our serious truck crash cases have involved immigrant truck drivers who have to testify through interpreters. They drive the highways of America in little bubbles of their home countries, talking by cell phone as they drive with people in their home countries, listening to music in a native dialect, and never really interacting with America language or culture.

When I look back over the past several years, all the truck drivers with inadequate English whom I have encountered in truck crash cases had obtained their CDL’s in either Florida or New Jersey. Perhaps that is just a coincidence. Perhaps.

I deeply respect the immigrant work ethic that leads many newcomers to this country to work hard in jobs that it is hard to find enough Americans to do. Occasionally I have represented hard-working immigrant truckers, visited in their homes and met their wives and children.  But language proficiency has real implications for safety. That is why interstate commercial truck drivers are required to be able to read and speak English well enough to read signs, make entries on records and interact with the public and police. (49 C.F.R Section 391.11)

Now FBI and Florida law enforcement officials have charged four people, including three Russian immigrants, with operating a fraudulent business to provide CDL’s to unqualified immigrants.

Ellariy Medvednik,, Natalia Dontsova, Adrian Salari, and Clarence Davis  have all been indicted for conspiracy to aid and abet the unlawful production of Florida driver licenses and commercial driver licenses. According to the indictment, they were associated with Larex, Inc., a commercial truck driving school that marketed itself online to Russian speakers.

Russian speaking people from elsewhere seeking Florida CDLs would contact Medvednik to arrange for Larex’s services at a price of $2,000 to $5,000. It only took a few days to get a license through the school. A typical truck-driving school lasts three or four weeks and costs at least $6,000.

Many of the CDL applicants were Russian-speaking immigrants living in New York, Illinois, California and Virginia. These  would travel to Florida to obtain their CDLs with the intention of returning to those states immediately afterward.

However, to obtain a Florida CDL, an individual must first possess a Florida driver license. Florida restricts its driver licenses and CDLs to Florida residents. The Russian defendants would provide false documentation that the applicants resided with them in Florida, so that the applicants could obtain Florida driver licenses.

They would then proceed to fraudulently obtain a Florida CDL.  Dontsova, using covert communication equipment, provided answers to the students during the written portion of the CDL exam, leading to issuance of a CDL permit.

Second, Larex hired Davis, a third-party tester authorized by the State of Florida, to administer vehicle inspection tests, basic control skills tests, and road tests. According to the US Attorney, Davis routinely passed and certified students who should have failed based on their test performance. Based on Davis’s certifications, these Russian applicants were able to obtain Florida CDLs. At least 600 people have been identified as utilizing Larex’s services with Davis as the third-party tester to obtain a CDL.

The FBI started investigating the school in June 2013 after the Orange County Tax Collector’s Office noticed that many people had applied for a CDL using the same home address. This led to a sting investigation in which a Russian-speaking informant posed as an applicant and went through the whole process, and ultimately a federal search warrant for the records at Larex.

The implication for public safety across the United States is that hundreds of unqualified truck drivers, who are not sufficiently proficient in English to qualify for a CDL, and who could not pass either the written or the road tests, were authorized to drive 80,000 tractor trailers on every highway in the United States. Most probably were hired for small, fly-by-night trucking companies that to turn a blind eye to  driver qualifications and compliance with safety rules.

I hope they do not run into my future clients on the road.

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Ken Shigley is an Atlanta trial attorney focused on serious personal injury and wrongful death cases. He is currently chair of the American Association for Justice Motor Vehicle Collision, Highway & Premises Liability Section. Previously he served as president of the State Bar of Georgia and chair of the board of trustees of the Institute for Continuing Legal Education in Georgia. He is lead author of Georgia Law of Torts: Trial Preparation and Practice and a board certified civil trial attorney of the National Board of Trial Advocacy.

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Every year we see many reports of tractor trailers overturning in metro Atlanta and across Georgia. Usually it is just another half-comical story of traffic tie-ups because some truck rolled over in a freeway interchange, spilling a load of watermelons, beer, Christmas packages, or whatever.

But too often tractor trailer rollovers result in serious injury or death to the truck driver and sometimes others. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has worked for years to reduce the incidence of truck rollovers, which are a major safety concern for both truck drivers and other motorists on the highway.

The Large Truck Crash Causation Study documented over a decade ago that tractor-trailers are particularly vulnerable because of the trailer’s high center of gravity and frequently unstable loads. In that study, the great majority were driver errors, including excessive speed in curves, often misjudging sharpness, drifting off road, often counter-steering abruptly, not adjusting to the trailers high center of gravity, being impaired physically (e.g. fatigue, drowsiness) or emotionally (reckless, angry). Vehicle-related problems include top heavy and badly distributed or unsecured loads, poorly maintained brakes or suspension and under-inflated tires, many of which were the driver’s responsibility to check. Improved driver training, especially for tanker truck and concrete mixer truck drivers, is a big part of rollover prevention.

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One of the leading causes of tragic tractor trailer crashes is the influence of drugs – even perfectly legal prescription or over-the-counter medications — on drivers’ motor skills, balance, coordination, perception, attention, reaction time, and judgment. Even small quantities of some legal drugs can have a crucial impact on driving ability.

In 2009, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration reported results of a study finding that 18% of fatally injured drivers tested positive for at least one illicit, prescription, or over-the-counter drug. Perhaps more significantly, drugs 7 times as likely as alcohol to be present in weekend nighttime drivers — 16% testing positive for drugs compared with only 2% above the legal limit for alcohol. In our practice, we have also seen the catastrophic impact of drivers who combined some alcohol with a mix of various legal and illegal mind-altering drugs.

When you combine the witch’s brew of drugs and alcohol with the huge kinetic force of an 80,000 pound tractor trailer, the danger is exponentially greater than when a similarly intoxicated person is driving a small passenger car.

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Will some truck drivers alter their routes and schedules to avoid safety inspections during a 72-hour period of enhanced truck inspections across North America next week? For years, I have heard from truck drivers stories of how they would take alternate routes to avoid speed limit enforcement and safety inspections. Once, when my daughter was attending a college in a neighboring state, a truck driver told me that she should avoid a certain non-Interstate route because all the truckers who wanted to evade the law took that route.

28th Annual International Roadcheck Begins June 2, 2015
The 28th Annual International Roadcheck will take place between June 2 and June 5, 2015. The Roadcheck is conducted by The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance together with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators, Transport Canada, and the Secretariat of Communications and Transportation in Mexico.
Within the 72-hour period, there will be over 10,000 certified commercial truck and bus inspectors on the roads of North America. Some believe that because of heightened scrutiny, many carriers will choose not to operate during the three day period. The goal of the campaign is to average 17 inspections per minute over a 72-hour period.

North American Standard Level I Inspection
According to The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, the North American Standard Level I Inspection will be conducted, which is the most thorough roadside inspection. “It is a 37-step procedure that includes a thorough examination of both the driver and vehicle. Drivers will be asked to provide items such as their license, endorsements, medical card and hours-of-service documentation, and will be checked for seat belt usage and the use of alcohol and/or drugs. The vehicle inspection includes checking items such as the braking system, coupling devices, exhaust system, frame, fuel system, lights, safe loading, steering mechanism, drive line, suspension, tires, van and open-top trailer bodies, wheels and rims, windshield wipers, and emergency exits on buses.”

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An overturning concrete mixer truck injured former Atlanta Mayor and United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young on Monday afternoon, May 11th, at the corner of Hemphill Avenue and 14th Street, in the trendy West Midtown area just north of the Georgia Tech campus. Young, the visionary 83-year-old icon of civil rights and Atlanta politics, was taken to a hospital as a precaution.

News photos of the scene make it clear to me what probably happened. In loaded cement mixer trucks the center of gravity is high and constantly shifting. Standard truck driver training materials in the ready-mix concrete industry detail the handling characteristics. Concrete industry training materials describe how a loaded cement mixer truck will tip up on two wheels when making a ninety degree turn on level pavement at 12 miles per hour, and will roll over at 16 miles per hour.

The news photos show a typical pattern of a concrete mixer truck overturning in a right turn at an intersection.

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The families of the Georgia Southern nursing students killed or injured this week when a tractor trailer ran over them on I-16 bear a huge burden of pain and grief. As a parent, I cannot imagine anything worse than the sudden death of a child who has had you wrapped around her finger from the first time you held her in your arms.

The families need time, space, privacy and gracious consideration from others to have space to grieve, each in their own way.

After any such tragedy waves of welcome and unwelcome people descend upon the survivors.

First may come the well-meaning relatives, friends, neighbors and pastors. I can imagine that each family’s home has been deluged with casseroles and that parents’ Sunday School classes have signed up to provide meals for the next month. That loving embrace can help one keep going through the early days.

But then, after the funeral, folks go back to their everyday lives, leaving parents and siblings to sit in the departed child’s bedroom and weep for hours in the dark. Each must process the stages of grief.

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Georgians are shocked and saddened today by a truck crash on I-16 in Bryan County that snuffed out the promising young lives of five nursing students at Georgia Southern University.

The grief is personal for a 2013 Georgia Southern graduate in our office who was a close friend of two of the five girls who were killed. For me as the father of two young adults, I shudder to comprehend their parents’ loss. One friend on the coast described the whole event as “surreal.”

The crash happened about 5:45 AM in predawn darkness on Wednesday. The five nursing students were in a sedan and SUV headed east on I-16, going to their last day of clinical training for the semester at St. Joseph’s/Candler Hospital in Savannah. Traffic had slowed due to another accident ahead.

A tractor trailer failed to stop and crashed into the stopped traffic, causing a seven vehicle pileup. The Georgia Southern students were in an SUV and a passenger car, both of which were impacted. The passenger car burst into flames.

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The Georgia House of Representatives last week passed a bill which, if passed by the Senate and signed by Gov. Deal, would incrementally strengthen the leverage of automobile insurance policyholders who make claims under their “UM” (uninsured / underinsured motorist coverages.

The sponsors of this legislation, House Bill 303, are Rep. Dusty Hightower (from my old hometown of Douglasville), Rep. Alex Atwood (of St. Simons Island, but who I knew at Douglas County High School eons ago), and my other friends, Rep. Ronnie Mabra of Fayetteville, Rep. Tom Weldon of Ringgold, Rep. Trey Kelley of Cedartown (where I tried my first case as a young prosecutor before he was born) and Rep. Stacey Evans of Smyrna. Hats off to them for their efforts.

UM coverage protects a policyholder who is injured due to the negligence of a person who has no liability insurance, or less liability insurance than the injured person has in UM coverage. Unless rejected in writing, new auto insurance policies in Georgia include UM coverage equal to the amount of liability coverage.

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For years, whenever I have visited Savannah, I have loved to sit at the riverfront and watch with fascination the huge ships stream past, with freight containers stacked high like a child’s colorful building blocks, filled with goods shipped to and from distant shores.

On Georgia highways – especially I-16, I-95, I-75 and I-85 – we see a steady stream of those freight containers mounted on tractor trailers from the ports of Savannah and Jacksonville. Just east of downtown Atlanta there is a vast intermodal freight yard, transferring freight containers between trains and trucks.

With the upcoming expansion of the Port of Savannah, intermodal truck traffic across Georgia will greatly increase. Usually the drivers are careful and safe, but when bad things happen the results can be catastrophic.

Most people who see intermodal freight on the highways don’t know what they are seeing. But if you see a tractor trailer with markings from China or Europe, it is an intermodal freight container.

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Several times recently, I have written about the projected inflation adjustment to minimum liability insurance coverages for interstate commercial vehicles. The process continues.

A few days ago, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued a 14-page Report to Congress, concluding the following:

1. Current limits are inadequate in covering catastrophic crashes.

2. Simply adjusting existing limits to adjust for healthcare inflation would require raising limits:

a. From the current $750,000 to $3,188,250 for general tractor-trailers, rather than the $4.2 million that was discussed for inflation adjustment since the $750,000 minimum was first set in 1980.

b. From the current $1 million to $4,251,000 for low-hazard hazmat tractor-trailers, e.g., fuel trucks, rather than $4.4 million that was discussed.

c. From the current $5 million to $21,255,000 for high-hazard hazmat tractor-trailers;

d. From the current $1.5 million to $6,376,500 for small buses; and
e. From the current $5 million to $21,255,000 for large buses.

3. “The Agency has formed a rulemaking team to further evaluate the appropriate level of financial responsibility for the motor carrier industry and has placed this rulemaking among the Agency’s high priority rules.”

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