Articles Posted in Georgia truck accidents

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The families of the Georgia Southern nursing students killed or injured this week when a tractor trailer ran over them on I-16 bear a huge burden of pain and grief. As a parent, I cannot imagine anything worse than the sudden death of a child who has had you wrapped around her finger from the first time you held her in your arms.

The families need time, space, privacy and gracious consideration from others to have space to grieve, each in their own way.

After any such tragedy waves of welcome and unwelcome people descend upon the survivors.

First may come the well-meaning relatives, friends, neighbors and pastors. I can imagine that each family’s home has been deluged with casseroles and that parents’ Sunday School classes have signed up to provide meals for the next month. That loving embrace can help one keep going through the early days.

But then, after the funeral, folks go back to their everyday lives, leaving parents and siblings to sit in the departed child’s bedroom and weep for hours in the dark. Each must process the stages of grief.

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Georgians are shocked and saddened today by a truck crash on I-16 in Bryan County that snuffed out the promising young lives of five nursing students at Georgia Southern University.

The grief is personal for a 2013 Georgia Southern graduate in our office who was a close friend of two of the five girls who were killed. For me as the father of two young adults, I shudder to comprehend their parents’ loss. One friend on the coast described the whole event as “surreal.”

The crash happened about 5:45 AM in predawn darkness on Wednesday. The five nursing students were in a sedan and SUV headed east on I-16, going to their last day of clinical training for the semester at St. Joseph’s/Candler Hospital in Savannah. Traffic had slowed due to another accident ahead.

A tractor trailer failed to stop and crashed into the stopped traffic, causing a seven vehicle pileup. The Georgia Southern students were in an SUV and a passenger car, both of which were impacted. The passenger car burst into flames.

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Sgt. Ronald Nabors was a decorated Marine who survived his honorable service in Afghanistan but his life was taken by a tractor trailer in Georgia. In Albany, Georgia, on Sunday, June 30the, his motorcycle crashed into the passenger side door a tractor-trailer truck that turned left in front of him into a Pilot truck stop. Sgt. Nabors, 26, a Texas native, who was stationed at the Marine Corps Logistics Base in Albany, was traveling north on his Harley Davidson motorcycle along Cordele Road when the collision happened.

Possible charges are pending against the driver of the tractor-trailer operated by Millis Transfer, Inc. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration records, that company is based in Black River Falls, Wisconsin, but the company website lists a terminal in Carterville, Georgia. News reports to not mention whether the alcohol and drug tests required under federal law were done.

It is speculative to guess why this tragedy happened, but some of the likely suspects in similar truck crashes are:

Illegal left turn. Georgia law requires that the driver of a vehicle intending to turn to the left within an intersection or into an alley, private road, or driveway shall yield the right-of-way to any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction that is within the intersection or so close to it as to constitute an immediate hazard.
Possible hours of service violation. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations require that drivers of commercial vehicles in interstate commerce drive no more than 11 hours out of 14 hours on duty, then take a 10 hour rest break, and to get longer weekly breaks. We often see hours of service violations in truck drivers from the Midwest traveling to Georgia. I don’t know whether that is the case here.
Truck driver impairment due to fatigue, medication, illness, etc. This often goes hand in hand with hours of service violations, but we also often see drivers impaired by medication.
Possible use of a hand held cell phone or other driver distraction. A relatively new Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration rule restricts the use of all hand-held mobile devices by drivers of commercial vehicles. My guess is that the Georgia State Patrol Specialized Collision Reconstruction Team (SCRT) is checking any cell phone SIM card and billing records.

Georgia wrongful death law gives designated survivors the right to bring a wrongful death action against the responsible parties. In Georgia, there can be two separate claims that may be asserted against a person or corporation who negligently causes a death:

– A “wrongful death” claim for the “full value of the life” which belongs to survivors designated by statute. If there is neither a spouse nor child surviving, then the decedent’s parents have the right to sue under Georgia law. If the parents of a deceased child are divorced or living apart, the trial court has full discretion to allocate the wrongful death recovery between them, considering any pertinent factors.
– A “survival action” which belongs to the estate and is brought by the executor or administrator of the deceased for pain and suffering before death, medical expense and funeral expense. This claim may be filed by the administrator or executor of the decedent’s estate.

Ken Shigley is past president of the State Bar of Georgia (2011-12), past chair of the Institute for Continuing Legal Education in Georgia board of trustees (2012-13), board certified civil trial and pretrial advocate (National Board of Legal Specialty Certification) lead author of Georgia Law of Torts: Trial Preparation & Practice (2010-13). His Atlanta-based practice focuses on cases of wrongful death and catastrophic personal injury, including brain injury and spinal cord injury.
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A deadly hit and run crash involving a tractor trailer highlights the reason many people have a fear of driving next to big rigs. The crash occurred Monday just after 1:00pm on I-85 in Gwinnett County,Georgia. According to Gwinnett County Police, the hit and run killed one woman and injured a man and two children. The incident serves as a tragic reminder of the importance of enforcing trucking safety rules.

Reports have surfaced that the deceased was driving a Nissan Pathfinder on I-85 in Gwinnett County when a tractor trailer switched lanes and forced the vehicle into another lane which was occupied by a box truck. After the vehicle hit the box truck, it left the road at high speeds crashing into a steep hill between I-85 and the interstate ramp at Steve Reynolds Boulevard.

Gwinnett police spokesman Cpl. Jake Smith said the vehicle flipped several times which caused the woman to be ejected from the front passenger seat. The children and the man in the vehicle were taken to Children’s at Egleston Hospital where Cpl. Smith said they are likely to survive. Smith reports that the box truck stopped at the scene and was cooperative with investigators. However, the tractor trailer failed to stop and was later found in Cobb County, according to investigators.

“The truck driver was questioned,” Gwinnett County police spokesman Cpl. Edwin Ritter said. “Investigators are following up on all leads.”

When fatal crashes such as this one occur, the Georgia State Patrol Specialized Collision Reconstruction Team (SCRT) is called to the scene. The mission of this specialized team is to provide a means by which fatal crashes can be investigated by specially trained investigators. The SCRT works to collect and document all evidence so their can be a successful court hearing. The SCRT is also responsible to gathering information that could help avoid future collisions. There are five teams of investigators throughout the state to assist officers with deadly crashes. These officers are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week and help with cases ranging from fatal crashes to officer involved shootings.

It is still speculative to guess the cause of the crash, but a few of the many Federal Motor Carrier Regulations that could be implicated in this case include:
– Improper lane change in violation of Georgia traffic law: This would become a violation if investigators find the truck failed to use a signal, failed to be within a reasonably safe passing distance, or failed to signal a stop or sudden decrease in speed.
– Possible hours of service: This would become a violation if the investigation reveals the truck driver was a long haul driver in interstate commerce and had not complied with the rule requiring a 10 hour rest break after operating no more than 11 hours in a 14 hour work day.
– Possible use of a hand held cell phone or other driver distraction: A new FMCSA rule restricts the use of all hand-held mobile devices by drivers of commercial vehicles. Unless the call can be made with a single button, hands-free phone in close proximity. It would be considered a violation if the driver is also reaching for a mobile device in a way that requires the driver to move out of the driving position.

– Truck driver impairment due to fatigue, medication, illness, etc.

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Georgia has long allowed people hurt in wrecks with intrastate trucking companies to sue the trucking company’s insurer directly, either alone or in the same lawsuit with the trucking company and truck driver. But it is necessary to have independent grounds for venue as to both in order to sue both the insurer and trucking company in the same lawsuit.

One advantage of this “direct action” statute is that the injury victim or decedent’s survivors would not have to chase down a trucker who might be elusive. Another is that it removes any doubt from jurors’ minds as to whether the defendant has insurance, though the amount of coverage is not revealed.

For year there has been doubt about how this applied to interstate trucking cases. If the trucking company was just operating within Georgia, and the insurance company was authorized to do business in Georgia, the direct action law clearly applied. If the trucking company was from another state, we operated in a gray area in deciding whether or not to include the insurer in a suit. Trucking companies and their insurers generally contended that the Georgia Direct Action Statute prevented plaintiffs from joining insurers of motor carriers that do not engage in intrastate commerce in Georgia. In representing plaintiffs, we often searched for aspects of intrastate trucking in the business of even an out-of-state trucking company.

Several months ago in a case in which I was involved, Judge Thomas Thrash of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia ruled that the “direct action” statute also applies to interstate trucking cases in Georgia.

In Bramlett v. Bajric, 2012 WL 4951213 (N.D.Ga.,2012), Judge Thrash ruled that:

[I]nsurers of interstate carriers can be joined as parties under the statute. First, the statutory language itself indicates that the joinder provisions apply to both intrastate and interstate carriers. O.C.G.A. § 40–2–140(c)(4) states that “[a]ny person having a cause of action, whether arising in tort or contract, under this Code section may join in the same cause of action the motor carrier and its insurance carrier.” (Emphasis supplied). The phrase “Code section,” as used throughout the Georgia Code, refers to the entire section 40–2–140.FN1 The proper title for the section is Title 40, Chapter 2, Article 6A, Section 40–2–140. See O.C.G.A. § 40–2–140 (emphasis supplied). In the absence of any constraining language, there is no reason to think that the § 40–2–140(c)(4)’s reference to “this Code section” refers to anything but the entire code section, 40–2–140. Therefore, the plain language of the statute indicates that injured parties are able to join the insurers of interstate motor carriers.

This is significant in the handling of serious injury and wrongful death cases arising in Georgia against interstate trucking companies.

Along with the ability to seek an award of contingent attorney fees for violation of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, which may be considered as evidence of bad faith in the transaction under O.C.G.A. § 13-6-11, this helps make Georgia courts a viable option when there is a question where to file suit for a catastrophic trucking case.
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This morning at 5 AM, 2 EMTs and their patient in an ambulance were killed in a collision with a jackknifing tractor trailer.

According to early news reports, a car pulled over to yield to the approaching ambulance, with its lights and siren activated, as required under Georgia law, and the tractor trailer then jackknifed into the path of the ambulance.

The Georgia State Patrol’s Specialized Crash Reconstruction Team is investigating. It is early to speculate about what laws may have been violated, but possibilities include:
Following too closely
– Speed too fast for conditions – Failure of semi driver to yield to approaching emergency vehicle
– Possible hours of service violation if investigation reveals trucker was long haul driver in interstate commerce and had not complied with rule requiring 10 hour rest break after operating no more than 11 hours in 14 hour work day, etc.
– Possible driver distraction theories.

Investigation will probably include examination of data in the truck engine’s electronic control module (ECM) if it was turned on, in any Qualcomm or other satellite communications system, and in any GPS device in the truck. We find that sometimes when ECM data is lost or destroyed a GPS provides speed and hours of service data.
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Large truck operations are governed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations and largely identical state trucking safety rules. Sometimes people are surprised that these safety rules no not apply to tractor trailers only. Under 49 CFR 390.5, a commercial motor vehicle is defined to include any self-propelled or towed motor vehicle used on a highway in interstate commerce to transport passengers or property when the vehicle –

a. Has a gross vehicle weight rating or gross combination weight rating, or gross vehicle weight or gross combination weight 10,001 pounds or more, whichever is greater; or
b. Is designed or used to transport more than 8 passengers (including the driver) for compensation; or
c. Is designed or used to transport more than 15 passengers, including the driver, and is not used to transport passengers for compensation; or
d. Is used in transporting material found by the Secretary of Transportation to be hazardous.
Every state has adopted most portions of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations for intrastate transportation.
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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 AutoTrader.com (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 AutoTrader.com, 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.