Articles Posted in Atlanta truck accidents

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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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As Georgia trucking lawyer who has lived in Sandy Springs for 26 years, I was saddened to hear recently that a woman was killed when she was hit by a 18 wheeler on I-285 near Riverwood High School where my son had his glory days in high school football.

Rosario Velez, 44, was in her minivan stopped in the I-285 emergency lane at Riverside Drive, making a phone call, when she was struck by an tractor trailer that, according to the police report, crossed over into the emergency lane to hit her.

Today, Sandy Springs police arrested Joseph Leon Golden, 43, the truck driver from El Paso, Texas. He has been charged with second-degree vehicular homicide and a lane violation, and is being held at the Fulton County Jail on $5,500 bond.
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The driver of an Atlanta ice cream truck was seriously injured this morning when a tractor trailer pulled out in front of him.

According to a report by Chip Towers in the AJC, a tractor trailer on Camp Creek Parkway turned left on a green light, but without a green turn arrow. An ice cream truck traveling in the opposite direction had the right of way and was unable to avoid collision. The tractor trailer also collided with a county public works vehicle.

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations require compliance with local traffic laws, including Rules of the Road regarding proper turning.

We often see truck-car collisions in metro Atlanta in the morning hours that involve truckers who have driven all night and make misjudgments due to fatigue when they get into Atlanta traffic. Of course, it is pure speculation to guess that could be a factor.

However, in such a case it is always important to promptly request preservation of driver logs, trip documents, and an array of other records all interstate trucking companies are required to maintain. Some records, especially satellite communications GPS data, may disabppear within a few days. Drivers logs are only required to be kept six months.
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When you or a loved one have been badly hurt in a catastrophic trucking accident, you may expect someone from the trucking company or its insurer to try to lull you into complacency. The objective is to avoid paying the value of the case, which they recognize is substantial. The tactics may remind you of the old joke, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.” They are from the insurance company and are “here to help you.”

The standard tactics, which my friend Morgan Adams in Chattanooga discussed in a recent blog post, include some variation of the following:

1. Pretending to be your friend. At trucking defense seminars, claims adjusters talk about how they try to become friends with a family by apologizing and offering to buy them a car and a house in exchange for giving up their claims. The adjusters take every opportunity to demonize any lawyers that the family might hire to represent them. At all costs they want to prevent the family from talking to an experienced trucking lawyer who would know how to investigate the case, demand that the company preserve paper and electronic records, and discovery trucking company’s violations of laws that contributed to causing the crash. In one recent case we handled, the adjuster started out talking to the family about paying their deductibles and copays on medical expense, and replacing their car, while at the same time trying to dispose of the physical evidence. But when the family hired me, and I deployed a rapid response to preserve evidence and make appropriate demands, the company soon paid its million dollar policy limit. Insurance adjusters know that revealing the truth could increase the value of the case significantly, and will do whatever they can to prevent that.

2. The misuse of annuities. Structured settlement annuities are a useful tool in settling cases because all the lifetime payments are tax-free and the burden of managing investments is lifted. However, in considering structured settlements, it is essential to focus first on what the defendant or its insurer is paying. Insurance companies will often show an unrepresented plaintiff that they will pay your family a million dollars over the next thirty years, while failing to mention that the annuity only costs $100,000 (or whatever) while the case has a present fair value in excess of a million dollars. In addition, they will use one of their own affiliated companies and brokers to issue the annuity, just switching the money from one hand to another. Thus, they play a shell game and get by with paying only a fraction of what the case is worth.

3. Inflation. No one knows exactly what future inflation will be, but we know that historically there is likely to be inflation. The adjusters will not seriously discuss with you how inflation will affect the value of funds paid.

4. Future medical expense. They exclude consideration of future medical expenses that eat into money paid to the family.They often fail to inform you of the impact of reimbursement claims by your health insurer, and do not protect your interests against such claims.

5. Future income loss. They exclude consideration of the full loss of income of the victim. People who have had major injuries often can’t work as much or as long as they would have, even if they initially return to work at the same job and at the same rate of pay.

6. Non-economic loss. They treat the non-economic losses of the family as having little or no value. The loss of quality of life, or the loss of a parent, is a matter of immense value which must be accounted for in a fair settlement of a case.

Remember the insurance adjuster’s job is to try to minimize payments on claims. No matter how friendly they may act, they are not there to help you.
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This morning on I-85 near Newnan, Georgia, a tractor trailer wrecked due to a blown tire. A 72-year-old trucker driving a 1996 International 4000 tractor-trailer crashed when a right tire reportedly blew on the vehicle, causing him to lose control and strike a guardrail. Fortunately, no injuries were reported. It was a local truck delivering concrete forms.

Most of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations have been adopted for intrastate trucking within Georgia. The FMCSR, at 49 CFR 396.13, requires the driver to make a pre-trip inspection and sign a report noting any defect in equipment. The FMCSR at 49 CFR 392.7, specifies that the pre-trip inspection driver must confirm that the following are in good working order: service brakes, including trailer brake connections; parking (hand) brake; steering mechanism; lighting devices and reflectors; tires; horn; windshield wiper or wipers; rear-vision mirror or mirrors; coupling devices.
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A truck wreck in New Hampshire sounds similar to the the first interstate trucking personal injury case I handled as a “puppy lawyer” about 25 years ago, before I learned the basics of anything as fundamental as the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations.

In the New Hampshire accident this morning, a state snow plow truck on I-89 was struck in the rear by a tractor trailer. The tractor trailer driver was hospitalized for a head injury.

My case a quarter century ago arose out of a rare Georgia snow storm after Christmas. A Georgia DOT snow removal truck was outfitted with a blade in the front and salt spreader in back. With two workers in the cab, it was moving slowly clearing snow next to the median barrier. A flatbed tractor trailer running empty on the way home Texas was traveling way too fast, skidded on an icy spot, and skidded into the DOT truck. The Texas trucker clearly was not exercising the “extreme caution” required of commercial trucks in hazardous weather conditions.

The fellow “riding shotgun” in the DOT vehicle wasn’t hurt significantly in the initial impact, but was trapped, wedged between the median barrier and the 18 wheeler, when the snow removal truck caught fire. By the time someone broke out the windshield and pulled him to safety, he had second and third degree burns over much of his body. The case was a learning experience for me in that it was my first case involving a serious burn injury.
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