Articles Posted in Southeastern truck accidents

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I-16 truck crash May 19 2015

Truck crash on I-16 at I-95 on 5/19/2015 killed 5. Truck driver admitted falling asleep, is charged with 5 counts of vehicular homicide.

In the spring of 2015, there were two separate five-fatality truck crashes on I-16 in Georgia. The first one got most of the publicity because the victims were all beautiful young nursing students, but both were equally lethal and egregious. In both cases, there were at least indications that a truck driver fell asleep before running over a line of stopped traffic.

On April 22, 2015, in Bryan County, John Wayne Johnson, a truck driver from Louisiana driving for Total Trucking, a subsidiary of US Express, ran over vehicles stopped traffic. He killed five Georgia Southern University nursing students and injured two others. It appears he went to sleep as there was clear visibility on a long, straight stretch of road before he ran over the stopped vehicles. Johnson admitted he had been texting and exchanging sexually provocative message with a woman while driving but denied he was on the phone at the time of the crash.

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driving-in-fogOnce again, a tractor trailer making a u-turn in dark or fog on a rural Georgia road has proven fatal. Once again, a turning tractor trailer forms a deadly and virtually invisible fence across a highway.

On September 30th at Lenox, Georgia, a man was killed when he collided with a Scruggs Concrete semi-truck attempting to make a u-turn in the roadway in foggy conditions. He was killed when the collision sheared off the top of his pickup truck.

This is an all too common form of truck crash across the United States, largely due to poor training and management at companies that operate the trucks.

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NOTE TO TRUCK DRIVERS:

Our law practice focuses on representation of people who are seriously injured, and families of those killed, in crashes with large commercial vehicles. While those are often truck drivers, we do not handle truckers’ employment law matters. For legal advice on issues with your employer or truck driving schools, see Truckers Justice Center. 

One day in Kansas City, I took the deposition testimony through an interpreter of a Bosnian immigrant truck driver. He was driving with a Florida Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) when he crashed an 18-wheeler into my client on a Georgia interstate highway.

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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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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.

Continue reading “Hit and Run by Tractor Trailer Kills Woman in Gwinnett” >>
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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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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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This weekend an 18-wheeler that crashed and overturned at the Interstate 65/85 interchange in Montgomery, Alabama. Fortunately, no injuries were reported in this incident, unlike a fatal crash when a big rig overturned on a ramp Friday in San Jose, California.

While news reports stated the incident was under investigation, one might speculate that the tractor trailer was going too fast in the curve.

Investigation in trucking crashes often extends beyond what happened immediately on the roadway. We often find that a pattern of disregard for safety in the management of the trucking company is an underlying factor. It may involve negligence in hiring, training and supervision of truck drivers, failure to adequately monitor compliance with hours of service rules, and failure to monitor driver speed and operations.

In Georgia, we represent families and individuals in serious neck and back injury, burn injury, brain injury, amputation injury, spinal cord injury, fracture injury and wrongful death cases arising from tractor trailer and big rig crashes.
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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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