Articles Posted in Atlanta truck accidents

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The news in Atlanta today reported a collision in which a 15 passenger hotel airport shuttle van struck the side of a tractor trailer that was attempting a u-turn. As a transportation safety trial lawyer who is a frequent passenger on airport shuttles, it caught my eye.

As more reports have come out, it appears 18 people were injured and at least two are in serious condition.

Intrastate passenger carriers with this size vehicle in Georgia are required to carry bodily injury liability insurance of only $100,000 per person and $500,000 per accident, although interstate passenger carriers are required to have $5,000,000 liability coverage.

News reports indicate the shuttle bus was operated by MTI Limo & Shuttle Services, Inc., an intrastate passenger carrier with five vehicles and 20 drivers. Its liability insurance coverage is not publicly disclosed. It operates from the same address (2581 Sullivan Road, College Park) as MTI Bus Company, Inc., an interstate bus company based in College Park with $5,000,000 liability insurance coverage with Occidental Fire & Casualty.

According to news reports, the shuttle left skid marks 158 feet immediately before the impact. I will leave it to accident reconstruction experts to determine the speed of the bus before it struck the side of the tractor trailer.

Whenever I hear of a tractor trailer attempting a u-turn in the roadway, I suspect a possible violation of O.C.G.A. § 40-6-121, which prohibits a driver from attempting to proceed in the opposite direction where such a turn could not be made in safety and without interfering with other traffic. Violation of that statute is negligence as a matter of law. Motor carriers are required to exercise care in planning routes and to follow state traffic laws.

If the tractor trailer was an interstate motor carrier it is required to have at least $750,000 liability coverage, and is more likely to have at least $1,000,000 liability coverage. Larger companies often have much higher levels of coverage.

In a collision between a 15 passenger van and a tractor trailer resulting in serious injuries or death, one would need to investigate a broad range of safety issues regarding the operation of both vehicles, including speed of the van, improper u-turn by the tractor trailer, etc.
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When a loved one is killed or catastrophically injured in a collision with a tractor trailer, there may be a temptation to wait for a “decent interval” before hiring a lawyer who specializes in commercial trucking trial practice. The trucking company’s insurer may encourage that reluctance by saying some soothing things to lull you into inaction.

But it is important to know that the trucking company and its insurance company get a rapid response team to the crash scene before the vehicles are moved. While the victims are in an ambulance or in the emergency room, the trucking company has its investigators massaging evidence and trying to influence the police report.

Some electronic data from tractor trailers may be lost or destroyed within a few days if there is not quick action to assure that it is preserved. Every minute of delay leads to loss of crucial evidence.

Therefore, it is vitally important for the victim’s family to move quickly after a catastrophic truck crash to hire a lawyer who specializes in trucking cases and who can deploy his or her own rapid response team. While responses may be scaled to the seriousness of the case, the ultimate rapid response may include:

• a highly qualified accident reconstruction expert with solid experience in reconstructing crashes involving large commercial vehicles, not just car wreck.

• a trucking safety expert qualified to assess violations of trucking safety rules;

• a conspicuity expert qualified to assess visibility of vehicles in the conditions existing at the time of the crash;

• a forensic evidence photographer qualified to preserve the actual appearance of the vehicles and conditions under existing lighting conditions;

• a human factors expert who can assess perception and reaction under the conditions on
the roadway;

• a forensic computer expert qualified to obtain and interpret the wide array of event data recorders and computers on large commercial trucks.

In a catastrophic truck wreck it is a mistake to rely solely upon the police report, even when reasonably well qualified police accident reconstructionist are involved.
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ABCO Transportation, Inc., a refrigerated freight haulder based in Dade City, Florida, has a chronically unsatisfactory record with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration with regard to unsafe driving violations. In my experience as a trucking trial attorney, when a trucking company has a record as bad as ABCO, often there are issues of management turning a blind eye to safety.

In ABCO’s case, this bad safety record culminated in a tragic crash on Wednesday on Thornton Road in Douglas County, Georgia, when an ABCO truck driver ran a red light, taking the lives of two co-workers at (a Cox Enterprises subsidiary) and injuring four others.

I was in Chattanooga, at the office of another trucking trial attorney, when I got a message to return a call from the family of two of the injury victims who had been referred by their family’s attorney in another state.

ABCO’s record with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration shows unsafe driving violations with a 74.3 percentile score. Anything over 60th percentile is unsatisfactory. In the past two years, ABCO had 81 reported unsafe driving violations, and has rated unsatisfactory for unsafe driving violations for every reporting period since December 2010. That is probably the tip of the iceberg, as it only indicates the times they got caught.

Specific reported violations include:

– Failure to obey traffic control device, 8 violations – Following too close, 11 violations – Improper lane change, 3 violations – Lane Restriction violation, 5 violations – Improper passing , 1 violation – Reckless driving, 1 violation – Speeding, 14 violations – Speeding 15 or more miles per hour over the speed limit, 4 violations – Speeding work/construction zone, 4 violations
In 2011 and 2012, ABCO has had 18 reported crashes, 8 of which involved injuries, with a total of 17 people injured. These include:

– 6/22/12, Pennsylvania, 2 injured – 12/9/11, New York – 12/2/11, Ohio – 11/29/11, Colorado – 11/2/11, New York, 1 injured – 10/11/11, Virginia – 9/9/11, Missouri – 4/27/11, Kentucky – 4/7/11, Florida, 1 injured – 3/5/11, Alabama – 2/10/11, Virginia, 7 injured – 1/20/11, Ohio – 11/23/10, Florida, 1 injured – 11/3/10, Indiana, 1 injured – 10/25/10, Ohio – 8/29/10, Texas, 1 injured – 7/31/10, Virginia, 3 injured – 7/9/10, Connecticut
Regarding fatigued driving, one of the most common underlying causes of truck crashes, ABCO is right at the threshold for an unsatisfactory rating — 59.8 percentile when anything over 60 percentile is considered unsatisfactory. ABCO was over the 60 percentile threshold for unsatisfactory driver fatigue rating for 4 of the past 6 reporting periods. Reported violations only indicate when they got caught, so they are normally the tip of the iceberg. Violations include:

– False report of driver’s record of duty status, 8 (lying about driver logs)
– Requiring or permitting driver to drive more than 11 hours, 8 violations – Requiring or permitting driver to drive after 14 hours on duty, 20 violations
It was with that background that an ABCO Transportation tractor-trailer operated by 64-year-old Robert John Sansom, of Colorado ran a red light on Thornton Road in Douglas County, Georgia, on Wednesday, July 11th. Two women on their lunch break were killed — Tracy Downer and Michelle Chinnis, both of whom in sales for, a website owned by Cox Enterprises. Four other people were injured in the crash . According to an article by Alexis Stevens in the AJC, Downer previously worked in advertising at the AJC from 1993 to 2010, was married with a son and a daughter, and Chinnis is survived by a 16-year-old daughter.

Victims and their families may choose separate attorneys or joint representation in such instances of serious personal injury or wrongful death, as this is a potential conflict that may be waived in writing after informed consent pursuant to Georgia Rule of Professional Conduct 1.7.

Whenever there are multiple victims of a crash such as this one, it is important to coordinate representation. Most recently, we were involved in the joint prosecution group coordinating representation of member of the Bluffton University baseball team arising from a bus crash in Atlanta in 2007. Where there are no substantial indications of fault on the part of any of the victims, the only potential conflict among them is generally concern about adequacy of insurance coverage and assets to cover all claims.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration website only shows for ABCO a $1,000,000 liability policy with Protective Insurance Company. However, an interstate motor carrier with 174 trucks is likely to carry an excess liability insurance policy with considerably higher limits, perhaps an additional $5,000,000 to $20,000,000. That information is not public and generally is reliably documented only in litigation.
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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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