Articles Posted in Atlanta truck accidents

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“Sunday storms blamed for I-85 semi collision,” shouted a headline in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution last Monday.

The accompanying article stated that heavy rain

…could be to blame for a tractor-trailer crash near Spaghetti Junction. Driving rain may have caused two tractor-trailers heading north on Interstate 85 to crash and overturn in DeKalb County late Sunday night. Police shut down northbound lanes of I-85 for several hours, backing up traffic for miles. Two people were injured in the crash.

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Wrongful death and catastrophic injury cases involving commercial trucks are seldom just about a moment’s inattention. Usually we find there are issues of training, supervision and rule violations, though frankly with a local delivery truck in rush hour it is sometimes simpler than that.

Lithonia truck driver Stephen Scott has been charged with second degree vehicular homicide and following too closely in the Friday crash that killed a Lawrenceville couple, Donna and John Kesse, on I-985 in Gwinnett County, according to media reports.

Traffic was slowed in the interstate’s southbound right-hand lane due to merging traffic from Ga. 20 about 3:20 p.m. Friday when a box truck driven by Scott slammed into the Keese vehicle, then careening into a Dodge Ram pickup truck and a Saturn minivan towing a small trailer with an ATV on it.
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Two people were killed this afternoon on I-985 southbound under Georgia 20 in Gwinnett County when the vehicle they occupied was rear-ended by a box truck, according to a report in the by Angel Brooks in the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Reportedly, traffic was slowed or stopped at the ramp from Ga. 20 to I-985 south when the box truck crashed into a Nissan. See aerial photo.

The names of the two people killed will not be released until notification of the next of kin.
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Plans for truck-only lanes on metro Atlanta expressways are among the aspirations cut from the Atlanta Regional Commission’s transportation long-range plans released this week.

The ailing economy and strapped government budgets led the ARC to ax or defer beyond my likely lifetime:

– optional toll lanes alongside I-75 and I-575 in Cobb and Cherokee counties
– a component that would carry only tractor trailer trucks
– widening South Cobb Drive from Cobb Parkway to Atlanta Road, and from Atlanta Road to Bolton Road
– widening University Ave. from Metropolitan Parkway to the Downtown Connector
– new interchange at I-675 and and Cedar Grove Road
– mass transit line across northern I-285 from Cumberland to Perimeter Center Continue reading →

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Two people were injured when a truck crashed into a railway bridge in northwest Atlanta on Tuesday morning, causing a huge chunk of concrete to fall onto the truck and another car below.

According to news reports, a 13-foot high truck was trying to clear the bridge, which is only 13 feet, 5 inches high, when a hydraulic lift attached on the truck hit the bridge. The impact caused a 25-foot section of the bridge, 12 inches thick, to collapse onto the truck, trapping the driver. The driver of another car was also hit by debris from the bridge collapse.The truck driver was charged with transporting an unsecure load, failure to obey a traffic control device, and collision of an object adjacent to the street.

This news story caught my eye for several reasons:

– Most of my law practice involves trucking accidents.

– One of the first truck crash cases I handled, about 25 years ago, involved defense of a company whose truck mounted crane raised up when it should not have, knocked the Windy Hill Bridge on I-75 over a couple of inches. GDOT tried to bill my client for the entire replacement bridge, until we discovered that GDOT had already contracted for a much larger replacement bridge before the accident happened.

– The location is extremely familiar to me. Having grown up in Douglasville in the days before completion of the Atlanta freeway system, Bolton Road was he most direct route to Buckhead when I started driving in the late 1960s. It has remained my occasional back route to get to my mom’s house in Douglas County.
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As a trucking accident attorney in Atlanta, I have sometimes wondered how can one predict which truck drivers will be in crashes. Now a study by the American Transportation Research Institute reveals the predictive value of driver records. Drawing on data from 582,772 U.S. truck drivers over a two-year time frame, the study shows that:

* A ‘failure to use/improper signal’ conviction was the leading conviction associated with an increased likelihood of a future crash. A truck driver convicted of this offense had a risk of future crash increased by 96 percent.

Nine additional convictions were also significant crash predictors:

* A past crash – 88 percent * An improper passing violation – 88 percent * An improper turn conviction – 84 percent * An improper or erratic lane change conviction – 80 percent * An improper lane/location conviction – 68 percent * A failure to obey traffic sign conviction – 68 percent * A speeding more than 15 mpg over speed limit conviction – 67 percent * Any conviction – 65 percent * A reckless/careless/inattentive/negligent driving conviction – 64 percent
Prudent trucking companies try to assess the crash risk of drivers. Others just don’t seem to care enough to examine anything. One former employer of a truck driver — whose new employer had not followed the rule requiring background checks — told me “I wouldn’t trust that boy to drive a wheelbarrow.” If the new employer had bothered to call the former employer, he would not have been hired, the new crash would not have happened, and my client wouldn’t have had his back broken.
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Monday morning, an unidentified man died when he drove his Honda into the rear of an unoccupied tractor-trailer truck parked on the shoulder of a southbound ramp on to Interstate 85 in DeKalb County., according to a report by Rhonda Cash of the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

While strange to the uninitiated, this sort of event is common enough that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations include the following rule:

49 CFR 392.22 Emergency signals; stopped commercial motor vehicles.

(a) Hazard warning signal flashers. Whenever a commercial motor vehicle is stopped upon the traveled portion of a highway or the shoulder of a highway for any cause other than necessary traffic stops, the driver of the stopped commercial motor vehicle shall immediately activate the vehicular hazard warning signal flashers and continue the flashing until the driver places the warning devices required by paragraph (b) of this section. The flashing signals shall be used during the time the warning devices are picked up for storage before movement of the commercial motor vehicle. The flashing lights may be used at other times while a commercial motor vehicle is stopped in addition to, but not in lieu of, the warning devices required by paragraph (b) of this section.

(b) Placement of warning devices–

(b)(1) General rule. Except as provided in paragraph (b)(2) of this section, whenever a commercial motor vehicle is stopped upon the traveled portion or the shoulder of a highway for any cause other than necessary traffic stops, the driver shall, as soon as possible, but in any event within 10 minutes, place the warning devices required by Sec. 393.95 of this subchapter, in the following manner:

(b)(1)(i) One on the traffic side of and 4 paces (approximately 3 meters or 10 feet) from the stopped commercial motor vehicle in the direction of approaching traffic;

(b)(1)(ii) One at 40 paces (approximately 30 meters or 100 feet) from the stopped commercial motor vehicle in the center of the traffic lane or shoulder occupied by the commercial motor vehicle and in the direction of approaching traffic; and
(b)(1)(iii) One at 40 paces (approximately 30 meters or 100 feet) from the stopped commercial motor vehicle in the center of the traffic lane or shoulder occupied by the commercial motor vehicle and in the direction away from approaching traffic.

(b)(2) Special rules–(i) Fusees and liquid-burning flares. The driver of a commercial motor vehicle equipped with only fusees or liquid- burning flares shall place a lighted fusee or liquid-burning flare at each of the locations specified in paragraph (b)(1) of this section. There shall be at least one lighted fusee or liquid-burning flare at each of the prescribed locations, as long as the commercial motor vehicle is stopped. Before the stopped commercial motor vehicle is moved, the driver shall extinguish and remove each fusee or liquid- burning flare.

(b)(2)(ii) Daylight hours. Except as provided in paragraph (b)(2)(iii) of this section, during the period lighted lamps are not required, three bidirectional reflective triangles, or three lighted fusees or liquid- burning flares shall be placed as specified in paragraph (b)(1) of this section within a time of 10 minutes. In the event the driver elects to use only fusees or liquid-burning flares in lieu of bidirectional reflective triangles or red flags, the driver must ensure that at least one fusee or liquid-burning flare remains lighted at each of the prescribed locations as long as the commercial motor vehicle is stopped or parked.

(b)(2)(iii) Business or residential districts. The placement of warning devices is not required within the business or residential district of a municipality, except during the time lighted lamps are required and when street or highway lighting is insufficient to make a commercial motor vehicle clearly discernible at a distance of 500 feet to persons on the highway.

(b)(2)(iv) Hills, curves, and obstructions. If a commercial motor vehicle is stopped within 500 feet of a curve, crest of a hill, or other obstruction to view, the driver shall place the warning signal required by paragraph (b)(1) of this section in the direction of the obstruction to view a distance of 100 feet to 500 feet from the stopped commercial motor vehicle so as to afford ample warning to other users of the highway.

(b)(2)(v) Divided or one-way roads. If a commercial motor vehicle is stopped upon the traveled portion or the shoulder of a divided or one-way highway, the driver shall place the warning devices required by paragraph (b)(1) of this section, one warning device at a distance of 200 feet and one warning device at a distance of 100 feet in a direction toward approaching traffic in the center of the lane or shoulder occupied by the commercial motor vehicle. He/she shall place one warning device at the traffic side of the commercial motor vehicle within 10 feet of the rear of the commercial motor vehicle.

The reason for such a rule is that drivers approaching at the speed limit often do not perceive that a tractor trailer is sitting still until too late to stop, and then impact with an 80,000 vehicle is much like impact with a cement barrier. Moreover, impact with the side or rear of a stopped tractor trailer with typically weak under-ride bars can easily lead to decapitation of occupants of the striking passenger vehicle.

When such incidents get into litigation, the challenge is to prove whether an unmarked tractor trailer or big rig had been sitting on the shoulder more than ten minutes. Often this requires an immediate demand for preservation of electronic data from electronic data recorders and satellite communications systems that many trucking companies employ.

In making such demands, one must anticipate that a trucking company will also demand an opportunity to download data from the electronic control module of the striking vehicle This may require an immediate investment of several thousand dollars in accident reconstruction costs.

One must also anticipate disclosure of cell phone billing records to determine whether the driver was distracted by a cell phone when he collided with the stopped big rig.

If the driver who struck the stopped truck was speeding or distracted, then rules of comparative negligence, contributory negligence and failure to avoid consequences of another’s negligence would reduce or bar tort recovery.

Thus, the starting point for survivors in such a situation may be to immediately check cell phone records and download electronic data from the car, and then make a decision about requesting data from the trucking company.
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Tonight, a tractor trailer changing lanes on I-285 west, near Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, struck a Nissan, sending it into a highway guard rail. After hitting the guardrail, the vehicle was then struck by the cab of another tractor-trailer. Newlywed Danielle Holly, 21, was was killed at the scene. Her husband was transported to the trauma center at Grady Memorial Hospital.

One report stated that the first tractor trailer attempted to change lanes in front of the young couple, clipped the car, and sent it into the inner barrier wall. The car bounced back into the traffic lanes where it was struck by a semi which not carrying a load, resulting in what was described as a horrible rollover.

Initial media reports do not identify the trucking company involved.

The root cause of such tragic crashes often lies in mismanagement of safety issues by the trucking company. A poor safety culture flowing from corporate headquarters may lead to tragedy on the highway. In addition to the police investigation and statements of eyewitnesses, proper handling of civil cases arising from such tragedies includes examination of driver logs, operational records, and records of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regarding the company’s safety history.
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The infant child of a young couple from Douglasville, my hometown, has died of injuries sustained when a tractor trailer ran over their car from the rear on I-75 near Windy Hill Road last Saturday night.

The truck driver, Henry Lipps, 59, from Indiana, has been charged with following too closely and second degree homicide by vehicle.

Police investigators said Lipps did not brake when he approached stalled traffic on a southbound lane of I-75 north of the Windy Hill Road exit. His 18-wheeler crashed into the back of a car in which the child and two adults, Donald Morgan, 25, and Candice Morgan, 24, were riding.

The child was taken to Scottish Rite with critical injuries while the parents were taken to Atlanta Medical Center. Two other adults riding in another car, Ramon Mcelrathbey, 24, and Cornelius Mcelrathbey, 21, were taken to Grady Memorial Hospital.

The tragedy of what happened is obvious. The unanswered question is “why?”

In my trucking accident trial practice in Georgia, I have seen this scenario too often.

In one case, a truck driver from Ohio ran over a family on I-75 a night, and showed Georgia state troopers a driver log that made it appear he was well within his legal hours of operation. But when, in the wrongful death lawsuit, we got all the documents and took his deposition in Ohio, his story slowly unraveled.

In the end, he admitted that his driver log was a complete fabrication. He actually had been driving 20 of the 24 hours immediately before running over a family and killing their child.

When we dug into the company’s records, the evidence was such that a federal judge wrote that the company “turned a blind eye” to habitual safety violations.

When such evidence is uncovered, the potential damages can be increased well beyond a “normal car wreck” tragedy.
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Monday was a rainy day here, and in the rain there were at least three tractor trailer wrecks on the Atlanta expressways. The worst was on I-285 Northbound just above I-20 West, as a tractor trailer overturned after colliding with at least one other vehicle.

One of the basic rules for operation of a large commercial truck is to exercise “extreme caution” when bad weather affects visibility or traction.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations §392.14 provides:

Extreme caution in the operation of a commercial motor vehicle shall be exercised when hazardous conditions, such as those caused by snow, ice, sleet, fog, mist, rain, dust, or smoke, adversely affect visibility or traction. Speed shall be reduced when such conditions exist. If conditions become sufficiently dangerous, the operation of the commercial motor vehicle shall be discontinued and shall not be resumed until the commercial motor vehicle can be safely operated. . . .

The Commercial Drivers License Manual says:

It will take longer to stop, and it will be harder to turn without skidding, when the road is slippery. Wet roads can double stopping distance. You must drive slower to be able to stop in the same distance as on a dry road. Reduce speed by about one-third (e.g., slow from 55 to about 35 mph) on a wet road.

Just an educated guess here, but I would bet that at least one of the truck drivers involved in those wrecks on Monday didn’t exercise extreme caution and slow down by one-third.
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