Georgia Truck Accident Attorney Blog
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Cherokee county mapLast week in Cherokee County, a Comcast truck failed to stop behind a car that had stopped to turn, went into the opposite lane, and struck head-on an oncoming car, killing the driver.

According to media reports, at the intersection of Ga. 140 and Avery Road, a Ford Fiesta  stopped to turn left onto Avery Road just before 12:30 p.m. on September 28, 2015.  For unknown reasons, a Comcast truck steered to the left to avoid hitting the Ford and traveled into the westbound lanes striking a Chevy pickup head-on.

The driver of the pickup — who I understand was a really good guy with whom I have several friend in common —   died at the scene of the crash. The driver of the Comcast truck and an occupant of the Fiesta were also injured.

One must reserve judgment pending investigation, but the list of possible causes may include driver distraction (e.g., cell phone, texting, GPS manipulation, food or beverage, etc.), driver impairment (medical, fatigue, etc.), speed, following too closely, mechanical failure, etc.

This is similar to the scenario in a case I tried several years ago in Calhoun in Gordon County. A box truck failed to stop behind a retired teacher who was preparing to make a turn at an intersection. The truck driver was not medically qualified to drive a commercial truck, lacked depth perception, and failed to accurately judge time, speed and distance as he approached the stopping car. He crossed into the opposite lane, passed through the intersection on the wrong side, and crashed into an approaching pickup truck. Fortunately, our client was able to avoid headon impact but the driver’s side of his vehicle was shorn away in the impact. He lived but had a shattered femur that caused a permanent impairment. The jury in Gordon County awarded a verdict of $2.3 million for his injury.

Even though the first priority is the need to process grief and celebrate the life of the loved one who was killed, in such cases it is important for family members to act quickly to make sure the case is properly investigated. Commercial vehicles generally have a great deal of data that can be downloaded after a crash. If police fail to do a thorough investigation and reconstruction, and allow a truck to be removed from impound before the family has a chance to send its own investigator, that electronic data evidence may be lost. For example, we had a case involving a fatal collision south of Atlanta. The police impounded the truck, but somehow allowed the trucking company to remove it from impound prematurely. The truck was repaired, put back in service and driven several hundred miles, overwriting data about the crash. We were able to retrieve some data from a Garmin GPS unit that was found on the dash in the truck cab, but that was far less valuable that the data that was erased.

The first step in such an investigation is to immediately serve the company with a notice of the need to preserve evidence, including a list of categories of evidence to preserve inviolate. Then as soon as practicable an inspection should be scheduled with a competent accident reconstruction expert.

Georgia wrongful death law includes two types of potential claims. First is the wrongful death suit for the “full value of the life,” which may include both economic damages such as value of lifetime income and benefits reduced to present value, and intangible value of life for what the experience of living was worth to the person who was killed. This claim must be brought by specific categories of survivors in priority order: spouse, children, parents, and then by the representative of the estate on behalf of other heirs at law. Second is a “survival action” for pain and suffering before death, medical and funeral bills, etc. The “survival action” must be filed by the executor or administrator of the estate. Sometimes we include both claims in a suit, and sometimes for tactical reasons we file one and leave out the other.


Ken Shigley is a trial attorney practicing statewide in Georgia, focused on serious personal injury and wrongful death cases, especially arising from commercial truck accidents. 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 theInstitute 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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driving-in-fogOnce again, a tractor trailer making a u-turn in dark or fog on a rural Georgia road has proven fatal. Once again, a turning tractor trailer forms a deadly and virtually invisible fence across a highway.

On September 30th at Lenox, Georgia, a man was killed when he collided with a Scruggs Concrete semi-truck attempting to make a u-turn in the roadway in foggy conditions. He was killed when the collision sheared off the top of his pickup truck.

This is an all too common form of truck crash across the United States, largely due to poor training and management at companies that operate the trucks.

A poorly trained, poorly manged and poorly supervised truck driver might not know better than to make a u-turn in the road at night or in the fog. But the intelligent, trained action is to avoid this. The fundamental duty of any driver is to exercise reasonable care. A lot of things can go into that. For a professional driver of tractor trailers, safety regulations, vehicle size, professional training and industry standards must be considered.

Because of its size — 80,000 pounds (or more for some types) and 48 to 60  feet in combined length — a tractor trailer cannot move quickly from a starting position.   A widely quoted estimate is that it takes 15-30 seconds for an 18-wheeler to execute a u-turn.  During that time, the trailer will have the highway blocked in both directions for roughly 12 seconds.  If the truck driver has difficulty executing the turn in the space available, the truck will block the road even longer.

An approaching motorist, especially at night or in fog, may not have time perceive, react to, and avoid the tractor-trailer during the time that the highway is blocked. The result, as in this tragic incident, is often that the approaching motorist cannot stop in time to avoid going under the trailer that blocks the road.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations include rules on conspicuity (visibility) commercial motor vehicles such as tractor trailers. In general, trailers must meet the conspicuity standards found at FMVSS 108 (49 C.F.R. § 571.108). In a u-turn case, rules about visibility from the side are most significant. These vary slightly between federal and state rules for intrastate operations in some instances, but generally the rules require lights and reflective tape or sheeting to make the trucks visible to other motorists. The reflective material must have alternating red and white colors and be positioned horizontally, beginning and ending and the front and rear ends of the trailer.

Often in cases where a tractor trailer is attempting a u-turn in low light conditions, all an approaching driver sees is headlights in the opposite lane. By the time the driver perceives that a tractor trailer is straddling both sides of the highway, there is too little time to react and avoid a crash.

Conspicuity tape and reflectors are cheap. Going another half mile down the road to a place where a turn can be made safely off the highway is cheap. Lives are precious. Too often companies operating big trucks on the highway fail to weigh those values.

We often see tractor trailers that do not comply with conspicuity standards. In one recent case involving a log truck making a u-turn on a rural Georgia highway in the dark, side lights and reflectors were missing and what little reflective tape was on the trailer was worn and dirty. In sum, it had less than one-third of the conspicuity devices required by even the relatively slack rules governing log trucks in Georgia. With logs extending 20 feet off the rear of the trailer and lights not working properly, it formed a black fence across the highway in the dark.

Georgia Code Section 40-6-121 says, “No vehicle shall be turned so as to proceed in the opposite direction: (1) Upon any curve; (2) Upon the approach to or near the crest of a grade where such vehicle cannot be seen by the driver of another vehicle approaching from either direction; (3) Where such turn cannot be made in safety and without interfering with other traffic; or (4) Where a prohibition is posted.” Trucking industry standards go beyond that, taking into account vehicle size and visibility.

Drivers of tractor trailers are professionals who require special training and licensing. Operating vastly larger vehicles than a passenger car or pickup truck, their standard of reasonableness in driving takes into account the type of vehicle they are operating. The basics of that are outlined in the Commercial Drivers License (CDL) manual, which is essentially the same in all states.

Driver manuals from major trucking companies with good safety programs include industry standards higher than the minimum requirements of statutes. Some flatly state that truck driver should never make u-turns in roads under any circumstances. Some command that their drivers never make a left turn on a highway. They should go to the next place they can turn around off the road without blocking the road by making a u-turn.

The concrete industry has a wealth of driver training videos through the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association, covering most any situation that can arise in operation of those specialized vehicles. Every time I have handled a case involving a concrete truck, I have found that there were great training materials that if used would have educated the driver to avoid the hazard. And every time, I have found that the company did not bother to use those training materials. Once a concrete driver, upon seeing the training video for the first time in his deposition, exclaimed, “them [expletive deleted] never showed me that; if I had known, this wouldn’t have happened!”

Root cause analysis of these totally preventable and unnecessary crashes usually goes back to corporate management, training and supervision.  If a driver was lost, it is likely because dispatch failed to provide good directions and GPS systems. If the driver was tired, we need to consider whether the company adequately monitored fatigue and hours of service compliance, including the auditing driver logs against available documents to catch log falsification.

The bottom line is that an 18-wheeler driver simply cannot safely make a u-turn on a public road, especially in conditions of reduced visibility. Every time a tractor-trailer driver makes a u-turn in a highway, he creates a clear and present risk of injury or death just to save the time it would take  to go a little way down the road to a place he
could safely change directions. Every company that fails to train its drivers to avoid u-turns has an unspoken policy of endangering the public.


Ken Shigley is a trial attorney practicing statewide in Georgia, focused on serious personal injury and wrongful death cases, especially arising from commercial truck accidents. 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 theInstitute 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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burritoDistracted driving accidents often involve cell phones, texting and other electronic devices. For example, we recently concluded a case in which a truck driver was talking on his cell phone with someone in South America for nearly half an hour before he ran over a line of stopped traffic.

But something as apparently innocuous as eating and drinking is very often a fatal distraction too. We have had several cases in which a truck driver leaned over to pick up a dropped water bottle when he ran over other vehicles, killing or seriously injuring the occupants.

In this recent case in Albequerque, New Mexico, a bus driver was caught on video eating a burrito with both hands when he crashed into another vehicle and caused a chain reaction with other cars.

When my kids were learning to drive, we joked about people who drove while eating a burrito, talking on the cell phone, reading a newspaper and applying makeup. Any one of those is enough to be a fatal distraction.

Any food that is messy, requires more than one hand or can be a problem if dropped can be a fatal distraction for drivers. When I’m on a trip and feel the need to eat on the road, I try to stick with something simple like a banana or chicken nuggets. A burrito or a sloppy burger is just too distracting to eat while driving. If you must eat those, pull over, park and finish eating before driving. If a water bottle or other beverage is dropped on the floor, let it go until you are stopped in a safe place, If passengers want to have a five course meal on the road, that’s up to them, but the driver should minimize distractions from any source, including food and beverages.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has rated the top 10 most dangerous foods and beverages to consume while driving, some of which are more dangerous than texting while driving. They are:

  1. Hot coffee.  When hot coffee sloshes on your hand, lap or the front of your clothing, it is dangerously distracting. Rather than drinking it from an open cup or a flimsy paper cup from Starbucks or McDonald’s put it in an insulated and well-sealed commuter mug before you start driving. Not all commuter mugs are created equal. If you have one that dribbles, just trash it.
  2. Hot soup.  Some people are tempted to eat or drink soup from one of the microwaveable single serving container. That is pretty obviously a bad idea. If you really need soup while traveling, transfer it to an good commuter mug. Better yet, eat it before you start driving.
  3. Tacos. Everything I said about burritos applies equally to tacos. When it spills into your lap, as it almost inevitably will, it will result in dangerously erratic driving.
  4. Chili.  You can’t even consume good chili from a commuter mug. Just don’t even think about it.
  5. Juicy hamburgers.  When it dribbles on your clothing or the tomato falls in your lap, you will be dangerously distracted. Eat it before you drive. Or as my personal trainer (and son) would advise, don’t eat it at all.
  6. Barbeque.  Any BBQ worth eating is dripping with sauce. (I won’t get into the debate between the varieties of BBQ native to various regions of the south.) Getting BBQ sauce all over your clothes and  car seat will surely lead to distracted driving. Don’t think you can outsmart messy BBQ sauce by spreading napkins all over yourself. Eat it before you drive.
  7. Fried chicken.  Even if you can eat fried chicken with one hand, this finger-licking good Southern specialty will have you licking your fingers, wiping grease off the steering wheel, and generally getting distracted.
  8. Donuts filled with jelly or creamy stuff, or dusted with sugar. You know these are messy to eat. The fillings ooze and drip, the powdered sugar scatters on your clothing, and you get distracted. And as with several of these foods, there are healthier alternatives anyway.
  9. Canned or bottled drinks. You may be OK as long as you keep it in a drink holder, don’t dribble and keep your eyes on the road. If you fumble or drop it, let it go even if it messes up your car. As I mentioned above, I have had several cases in which innocent people died because a truck driver leaned over to pick up a dropped water bottle and took his eyes off the road.
  10. Messy chocolate.  You may be OK snacking on M&M’s that melt in your mouth, not in your hand. But any chocolate that melts, smears and gets on your hands may be dangerously distracting when you drive.


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 theInstitute 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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pinball different pathWhat do you do when insurance coverage is grossly inadequate for a catastrophic truck crash personal injury or wrongful death case?

Big truck wrecks can cause a lot of carnage. When a small passenger car is run over at highway speed by a 80,000 pound tractor trailer bigger than a Sherman tank, a tremendous amount of kinetic energy is unleashed. The results are often than catastrophic.

Unfortunately, the liability insurance required for big trucks has not been adjusted since President Reagan’s administration. Minimum insurance for general freight tractor trailers in interstate commerce was set at $750,000 in 1981. Minimum coverage for interstate hazmat trucks and passenger buses was set at $5,000,000 in 1985.

There has been a lot of inflation in the past 30 years. If the $750,000 minimum insurance limit were adjusted for inflation from 1981 according to the Consumer Price Index, it would be about $2 million. If adjusted at the medical inflation rate, which a lot of folks say is more relevant for personal injury claims, it would be $4,422,000. But a dysfunctional Congress that can’t seem to accomplish anything on this except responding to lobbyists by blocking action in an Appropriations subcommittee markup of the transportation funding bill.

The situation is even worse for trucks operating only inside Georgia, where the minimum required coverage for big commercial trucks is only $100,000. That has remained unchanged for decades.

Confronted with inadequate insurance for catastrophic claims, we have to think outside the box. What other sources of insurance coverage are legitimately accessible?

  •  From $400,000 to ~ $3 million.  A tractor trailer driver distracted by an international cell phone call ran over a line of traffic stopped due to another accident up the road, killing three people and injuring several others. The trucking company’s insurer insisted there was only a single $1,000,000 policy. The insurer’s representatives insisted that all the victims’ families should just figure out how to split that.  Our client’s share would have been around $400,000. The family had a relative who was a corporate counsel for a major corporation in New York find a lawyer in Georgia, and ultimately chose me. Everyone else agreed to divy up  that $1 million policy. We declined and pursued a combination of intermodal freight and maritime law theories. That led to uncovering a lot more insurance. A year later we settled a hair under $3 million, more than the record verdict in the small county in south Georgia. Ironically, that was paid mostly by an insurance company that had before suit denied in writing that it had ever heard of the company it insured.
  • From about $200,000 to several million. Another tractor trailer ran over a line of traffic stopped in a construction zone, killing 5 people and injuring others. Again, the trucking company’s insurer insisted there was only a single $1 million policy. The trucking company itself had no unencumbered assets, just a bunch of leased equipment. We should just divide that between the give wrongful death  claims and go away. Lawyers for several of the families brought me in to lead the hunt for more coverage. Knowing where to look, I found another $50 million of insurance coverage. That case is still pending.
  • From $250,000 to $2 million. In another case, involving a defective piece of warehouse equipment rather than a tractor trailer,  the insurer for the Florida welding shop that made a knockoff work stage on special order, represented that there was only $250,000 insurance for a wrongful death claim. We kept digging and found that company had a cumulative total of $1 million coverage under insurance policies they did not realize overlapped. After collecting that million in Florida, we then came back to Georgia, classified a forklift as an office supply to due the distributor for violation if the Georgia Fair Business Practices Act, and collected their $1 million policy limit. In the end we collected $2 million after the first insurance company insisted there was only $250,000
  • From $25,000 to $400,000.  In one recent case, a log truck was making a u-turn in the dark on a rural highway without proper lights and reflectors. Witnesses said it was not visible until they were “slap up on it.” A man driving to work in predawn darkness was killed. The 18 wheeler log truck incredibly had only $25,000 insurance coverage.  After litigating over insurance coverage and bankruptcy issues as well as the original wrongful death claim, we collected about 16 times that much from the insurer for the logger who loaded the truck and the insurance agent that improperly handled the logger’s phone call reporting  the claim. It was less than the theoretical value of the claim but it was enough for the decedent’s daughters to get a good launch in adult life.

All this requires a bit of creativity, approaching problems with old knowledge, curiosity and a fresh eye. Creativity can be productive if it is accompanied by hard work and perseverance.  Creativity is not the same thing as IQ. The world is full of people with high IQ scores who are not creative and those with average IQ who are. Combine IQ, creativity and grit, and you really have something. I don’t claim any particular genius, but sometimes curiosity leads to creative approaches to solving legal problems.

The approaches to finding significant additional insurance coverage are not voodoo or alchemy.  But they do involve a critical knowledge of subtle complexity gathered over 38 years in law practice.  I will not publish the methods for free on the internet. But I am happy to assist clients and lawyers who hire me for that purpose.


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 theInstitute 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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Intermodal Trucking

Most people who see a tractor trailer crash have no idea of the significance when the trailer is a skeleton chassis with a freight container bolted to it. State troopers don’t know. Motor carrier enforcement officers don’t know. Accident reconstruction experts don’t know. About 99.99% of lawyers who handle tractor trailer crash cases don’t understand it. They have never been trained on it and have not had occasion to research and study it in depth.

We have had good success with these cases, but I’m not going to publish a how-to manual for lawyers on the internet. If I did, one of my brethren would take the germ of an idea without deep study and mess it up.

But here are a few key points:

  1. What is intermodal freight?

If you stand on the riverfront at Savannah, Jacksonville or Charleston, or at other ports around the world, you seecontainer shipmassive ocean freighters stacked high with colorful boxes.  Those boxes are steel containers filled with all manner of freight, going to and from ports around the planet. Before and after their ocean voyages, these containers are mounted on train cars and truck trailers. It is called “intermodal” because the same freight container can transfer between ship, rail and truck without handling of the freight itself when it switches between modes. Intermodal shipping saves tremendously on expense, improves security, reduces damage and loss, and allows freight to be transported faster.


  1. What is the story of the evolution of container freight?

The idea of containerized freight handling began in the 1700s with tubs of coal on canal barges in England. The concept evolved with railroads and trucking but didn’t really get off the ground until the 20th century. In 1933, the International Chamber of Commerce established The International Container Bureau (Bureau International des Conteneurs, BIC), which set the first standards for freight containers used in international traffic. By the 1950s, standards developed by the US Department of Defense began to revolutionize container shipping.  Between 1968 and 1970, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) issued standards based upon American military practices. Since 1980, the use of 20 foot and 40 foot freight containers has come to dominate worldwide shipping.


Every time I drive down I-75 from Atlanta to Macon and then I-16 to Savannah, I see at least a hundred intermodal container freight tractor-trailer units sharing the highway with me. On I-95 between the Florida and South Carolina lines, it is pretty much the same.  When I look down from my office window in Atlanta, I often see freight containers double-stacked on rail cars on the track that runs parallel to the MARTA line across the street. With the expansion of the Port of Savannah, we will see more and more container freight in Georgia.

  1. What are the top container freight ports?

intermodal port Of the top 20 container freight ports in the world, 8 are in China. The  others are  at Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Dubai, Netherlands (Rotterdam),  Malaysia, Taiwan, Germany (Hamburg),  Belgium (Antwerp), and the US (Los  Angeles and Long Beach). Savannah ranks #46 in the world. It is about to get a lot  busier with enlargement of the Panama Canal and port expansion on which  dredging work has begun. Savannah has a favored location because of a  sophisticated analysis of efficient road and railway access to the South and    Midwest. It contributed to the role of Georgia and Atlanta as a commercial hub.  For that reason, expansion of the Port of Savannah has been a huge public policy  priority for the Governor of Georgia, Mayor of Atlanta, and a broad range of other  political and business leaders in Georgia.


Charleston ranks #82 in the world. Jacksonville, which handles freight traffic to Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, is not in the top 100 but it still contributes a lot of container truck traffic to I-95 in Georgia. Other busy container ports in the US include NY/NJ (#26), Oakland (#62), Newport News (#64), Houston  (#74), Tacoma(#78) and Seattle (#83).

  1. Who are the truckers towing intermodal container freight trailers?

When intermodal freight containers are put on trucks for the land portion of the shipment, the trucking company used is likely to be a small one with few assets, 20 to 50 leased tractors and a single-limit $1 million liability insurance policy. The drivers for those companies are typically pushed hard with inadequate pay and inadequate rest.

There may be a convoluted transaction involving a logistics company, a freight forwarder, non-vessel operating common carrier, ocean transportation intermediary or a freight broker, seeking  to provide layers of insulation between the most responsible entities and the little trucking company and driver. That is intended to insource the profits and outsource the risk, creating a barrier to financial accountability on the part of the larger companies that pull the strings.

When there is a catastrophic crash involving an intermodal tractor-trailer unit, the insurer for the tiny trucking company often goes to the survivors of however many people were killed and offers to split that one million dollar policy. If, for example, five people were killed, they will offer to give each of the families $200,000 each if they all sign full releases. If there were three deaths and a bunch of serious injuries, they might invite everyone to go to a mediation to decide how to split that million dollars. They swear that is all the insurance there is or will ever be.

Perhaps the lawyers and claims adjusters at that level really believe what they are saying. Perhaps they have been given the “mushroom treatment” – kept in the dark and fed manure.

Most people who don’t know better take that “low hanging fruit.”

But there is a lot more if you know how to get it.

  1. How can I recognize that a tractor-trailer was carrying an intermodal shipping container?

On first glance, most intermodal tractor-trailer units look a lot like any other tractor-trailer. But if you know what to look for, you can tell the difference.

First, what are the name markings on the body of the trailer? If the trailer body is a freight container bolted to a trailer chassis, it probably bears the name of an intermodal shipping company. Those we see on the interstate highways in Georgia operating from the Port of Savannah include: Moller-Maersk (also Maersk Sealand), CMA CGM, COSCO, Hapag-Lloyd, Evergreen, APL, CSCL, Hanjin Shipping, NYK Line, Hamburg Sud, “K” Line, Yang Ming, Hyundai, ZIM, United Arab Shipping Co. (UASC), CSAV. There are also other intermodal shipping companies operating in the Caribbean trade out of the Port of Jacksonville that send a steady flow of containers mounted on trucks up I-95 through Georgia.container id

Second, what are the markings on the rear doors of the trailer? Intermodal freight containers include a 3-letter owner code, a one-letter product group code, 6 digit registration number, 1 digit “check digit”, 4 digit size and type code. Below that are the maximum weight, container or “tare” weight, payload weight (all expressed in both kilograms and pounds), and the cubic capacity expressed in both cubic meters and cubic feet.

Third, what are the numbers on the trailer frame below the doors and above the tag, and on the side of the center frame rail of the trailer? If it is an intermodal tractor-trailer unit, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration requires display of a USDOT registration number on the trailer chassis above the rear tag. It includes a four-letter code to indicate the registered owner, a six-digit registration number and one-digit “check digit.” With that we can figure out what company initially registered that trailer chassis.

None of this information appears on standard police crash report forms. Most law enforcement agencies simply don’t know to look for it. They will record information about the trucking company but none of the information about the trailer.

In addition to standard rectangular containers for general freight, we often see refrigerated (“reefer”) or insulated containers, open top bulk containers, flat racks used to transport machinery, and tank containers with cylindrical vessels mounted in a rectangular steel framework. They bear similar markings.

  1. What difference does it make to injury victims if a tractor-trailer unit included an intermodal container chassis trailer?

There are no published court decisions on this. Perhaps there never will be as serious claims tend to be settled confidentially before any court decision. However, we have had success in combining federal motor carrier regulations, federal maritime regulations, ocean bills of lading and international maritime treaties to reach insurance coverage far greater than a single limit one million policy typically carried by a small trucking company. My friend and colleague, David Nissenberg in California, author of The Law of Commercial Trucking: Damages to Persons and Property, has been invaluable in figuring this out.

We have found that if we do it right, we can gain access to enough additional insurance to obtain a fair but confidential settlement of almost any cases that may arise with intermodal freight shipments on the highways of Georgia.  Due to settlement terms, I am not liberty to reveal anything about any of the intermodal cases we have handled.

I am not publishing the legal theories we use or posting copies of briefs and legal memoranda online. That is for the same reason that I did not publish an article or give seminar presentations years ago when I figured out that by classifying a forklift truck as an office supply I could bring a wrongful death suit against an equipment distributor under the Georgia Fair Business Practices Act, which provides for treble damages, punitive damages and award of attorney fees.  I knew then, and know now, that if I freely shared my work product, some lawyer who has not studied it in depth would try to use it without studying the foundations in depth, lose, and mess it up for everyone else.

  1. What if an intermodal truck crash happened in a state other than Georgia?

Intermodal freight has worldwide scope. Our practice is primarily in Georgia. But that does not mean we are limited to handling cases arising from intermodal truck crashes in Georgia. Most major ocean carriers and intermodal equipment providers do business in Georgia through the booming Port of Savannah. If an incident has a Georgia nexus, we may be able to handle the case in Georgia. Every question of jurisdiction and venue require a fact-sensitive analysis of details. But, for example, any Georgia resident injured in a crash occurring anywhere in the country may file suit here so long as the rig is on an interstate trip and the trucking company has registered an agent for service of process covering Georgia.

  1. Every case is different.

We cannot promise an outcome in any case. Each of these cases is different. While there are points of commonality, the facts of each case are different and the specific combination of legal theories may be different. One size does not fit all.

If a loved one was catastrophically injured or killed due to a collision with a tractor-trailer in which the trailer was an intermodal container chassis with freight container mounted on it, call us.


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 theInstitute 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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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.


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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