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9 killed in Oklahoma tractor trailer crash

On Friday, 6/26/09, on I-44 near Miami, Oklahoma, a tractor trailer slammed into a line of stopped traffic, killing nine people.

The tractor trailer driver apparently made no attempt to slow or stop. Whether the driver was fatigued or distracted was not immediately reported.

Witnesses described the pileup in 100 degree heat as looking like a war zone, filled with twisted metal and dead bodies.

Investigation and discovery in such an incident should include careful examination of the driver’s logs, trip receipts, bills of lading, Prepass records, driver qualifications, and a long list of other operational records, as well as the driver qualifications, vehicle maintenance, etc.

Reportedly the tractor trailer was 76 years old. We have handled several cases in which elderly truck drivers made tragic errors related to their medical conditions, including COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder) or obstructive sleep apnea. While there is no hard age limit on truck drivers, the potential relation between age and physical condition is well known. One must question whether there were any violations of Driver Physical Qualification rules uner 49 CFR Part 391.41, including:

– Has no loss of a foot, a leg, a hand, or an arm.
– Has no established medical history or clinical diagnosis of diabetes requiring insulin for control. (injection only)
– Has no clinical diagnosis of any disqualifying heart disease.
– Has no clinical diagnosis of epilepsy.
– Has 20/40 vision or better with corrective lenses.
– Has the ability to recognize the colors (red, green and amber) of traffic signals.
– Has hearing to perceive a forced whisper.
– Has no history of drug use.
– Has no clinical diagnosis of alcoholism.

Compounding the tragedy is the fact that the amount of liability insurance required of interstate motor carriers has not been adjusted for inflation in decades. The minimum requirement of $750,000 — or the more common $1 million policy — is grossly inadequate for a tragedy of this magnitude. Attorneys working on such a case must explore all other potential sources of liability coverage, including a separate MCS-90 endorsement on the trailer, and potential exposure of shippers, brokers, etc., though those are tough theories of liability.

Ken Shigley is a trial attorney in Atlanta, Georgia who has been listed as a “Super Lawyer” (Atlanta Magazine), among the “Legal Elite” (Georgia Trend Magazine), and in the Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers (Martindale), and is a Certified Civil Trial Advocate of the National Board of Trial Advocacy. He served as chair of the Southeastern Motor Carrier Litigation Institute, is on the National Advisory Board for the Association of Interstate Trucking Lawyers of America, and is a frequent speaker at continuing legal education programs for the Interstate Trucking Litigation Group of the American Association for Justice. Mr. Shigley has extensive experience representing parties in trucking and bus accidents, products liability, catastrophic personal injury, wrongful death, spinal cord injury, brain injury and burn injury cases. Currently he is Treasurer of the 40,000 member State Bar of Georgia.This post is subject to our ethical disclaimer.

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