Articles Posted in Strange truck accidents

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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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As a trucking accident trial attorney in Atlanta, Georgia, I often litigate about trucking accidents. As a seminar speakers, I often talk about them at continuing legal education seminars around the country. On this blog, I frequently write about them.

But last Sunday, I saw one.

While helping my son move his car and his stuff home from California, I was taking a turn driving east of Albuquerque when we saw a column of black smoke just ahead. As traffic ground to a halt, we saw that about 200 yards ahead on the westbound lanes of I-40, one tractor trailer had rear-ended another, and was beginning to burn.

Another bystander said that her husband had broken out a window in the cab of the striking vehicle and pulled the unconscious driver out before his rig burst into flames.

As traffic was blocked in both directions, my son and I waited over an hour, watching as the truck was engulfed in flames and a huge column of black smoke rose into the clear New Mexico sky.

Numerous emergency vehicles responded. Eventually a helicopter landed in our eastbound lanes and evacuated the truck driver.

While we waited, I talked with the drivers of trucks stopped behind us. A bulk freight tanker filled with plastic pellets was stopped behind me at an angle blocking both lanes. One of the other truckers thanked him for blocking both lanes that way, so that others would not get closer to the fire before stopping. He responded that he had no choice. Due in part to handling characteristics with that load, he had a hard time stopping without hitting us, and wound up at an angle across both lanes.

The truck drivers waiting on the road talked some about the new CSA 2010 (Comprehensive Safety Analysis) program coming online soon at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. A seasoned truck driver (about my age) was concerned that anyone who has been driving over the road for 30 years, with the diet and exercise difficulties that go with that, is bound to have medical conditions that require medication that would be reported under the new system.

They also talked a little about how they manage rest, diet and exercise. Or don’t manage it, as the case may be. One mentioned the near monopoly in the truck stop business, and the lack of healthy food or exercise facilities at truck stops. If the giant players in the truck stop industry would put in healthy food and fitness facilities, it would help a lot in improving truck driver health and public safety.

Eventually the helicopter took off and we were able to drive away. As we passed the burned out tractor trailer, it was difficult to recognize the completely incinerated tractor. Traffic was backed up for many miles on the westbound lanes of I-40 and probably was not cleared for quite a while longer.

No, I don’t know the causes of the crash — fatigue, distraction, speed, following too closely, or even sudden stopping in the middle of an open interstate through the desert.

Fortunately, it was another tractor trailer that was hit. While the trailer of the lead vehicle was destroyed, there was no direct impact to the cab. If a small vehicle had been hit in that manner, and then involved in the truck fire, it is unlikely any occupants would have survived.
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Here is a remarkable video of a tractor trailer tipping over on a straight, level road. My hunch is that it was caused by a load shift due to improper loading. It is usually the truck driver who is most likely to be injured in such incidents.

Since truck drivers are required the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, 49 CFR 392.9, to check the load unless it is sealed, however, recovery from the shipper on behalf of the driver normally requires proof that the freight was improperly loaded by the shipper and that the trailer was sealed when it was picked up by the driver.
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A fatal truck crash in the Philadelphia area involved such egregious safety violations that vehicular homicide charges have been brought against:

The driver. He had been ordered to be taken out of service on four of six compliance checks since June due to faulty brakes and a falsified log-book. Before the fatal crash he had called his boss to report that the brakes were bad, but continued on until the fatal crash.

The truck owner. He allegedly knew that the rig’s brakes were defective and took no steps to fix them.

A garage owner, who allegedly sold an inspection sticker for the truck for $200 without inspecting it.

Pennsylvania state police reported that

Of the ten brake assemblies on the truck tractor and trailer, none were working more than 50 percent capacity. . . . Three brake assemblies failed completely. . . . Two were grossly out of adjustment and barely functioning. . . . All were close to rupturing or exploding.

Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman said, “This was a 74,000-pound death machine that was careening across the highways of this country, endangering people until it took [the victim’s] life.”

The prior safety violations occurred in Iowa, California, Arizona, Maryland, and Kentucky. Pennsylvania officials blamed a “loophole” in the nation’s trucking-oversight system, as repair after citation for violations is primarily on an honor system.
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Two cement mixer trucks rolled over yesterday morning in Mississippi. This highlights something I have learned as a Georgia trucking accident attorney.

In loaded cement mixer trucks the center of gravity is high and constantly shifting. Road tests described in standard truck driver training materials in the ready-mix concrete industry graphically describe the handling characteristics. It is well known in the industry, and covered in training videos and Power Point presentations, that a loaded cement mixer truck will tip up on two wheels when making a ninety degree turn on level pavement at 12 miles per hour, and will roll over at 16 miles per hour.

Recently I handled a case in which cement mixer truck in Georgia rolled over when making a turn in a level intersection, landing on a family vehicle. The cement truck driver had just obtained his CDL a couple of month earlier, and his training on cement mixer truck driving consisted of showing him how to work the mixer controls. At his deposition, I showed the driver the standard industry training video. He swore that he had never been trained on any of that, and if he had been trained the accident and injury would not have occurred.

The cement company admitted responsibility for its driver and filed a motion to exclude to independent negligence claims against the corporation for its negligent hiring, training, entrustment and supervision. However, when we responded to their motion with a brief showing that under the Georgia tort reform legislation that requires apportionment of damages between the employer and driver, they soon agreed to a fair settlement in mediation.
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Today a tractor trailer accident on a frozen Michigan highway spilled a truckload of eggs when the driver fell asleep and crashed. The spilled eggs broke, scrambled and froze on the concrete. Fortunately, there were no injuries reported.

This reminds me of a case we had on I-75 in south Georgia a couple of years ago. A truck driver trying to make it from Milwaukee to Tampa with a load of frozen hamburger meat without any rest recorded on a log fell asleep at the wheel, striking our client’s vehicle. The state trooper told me his biggest challenge was crowd control, stopping local deputies from making off with all the spilled hamburger patties.

There are at least a couple of possible violations of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations evident in the news report.

* 49 CFR 392.3 prohibits operation of a commercial motor vehicle when driver’s ability or alertness is so impaired, or so likely to become impaired, through fatigue, etc., so as to make it unsafe to drive. When truck drivers fall asleep at the wheel due to excessive fatigue, we often uncover violations of the hours of service regulation at 49 CFR 395.3.

* 49 CFR 392.14 requires “extreme caution” in the operation of a commercial motor vehicle when hazardous conditions, such as those caused by snow, ice, sleet, etc., adversely affect visibility or traction. The news report does not specify whether there was ice on the road, only that the eggs froze after the crash.
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A tractor trailer accident on an icy interstate highway in Indiana underscores the importance of the rule requiring drivers of commercial vehicles to exercise “extreme caution” in hazardous weather conditions.

On I-74 in Indiana, a firefighter was suffered a crushed pelvis, broken leg, and multiple internal injuries when he was struck and pinned under the rear drive axle of a tractor trailer as it came to a rest in the soggy ditch of the icy interstate. Police said the accident happened while I-74 was covered with ice after freezing rain fell. Sheriff Ken Campbell added: “Emergency responders are put at an unnecessary risk by motorists who insist on driving too fast in these road conditions.”

49 CFR 392.14 requires:

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. Whenever compliance with the foregoing provisions of this rule increases hazard to passengers, the commercial motor vehicle may be operated to the nearest point at which the safety of passengers is assured.

As a truck driver client recently told me, it’s better to pull over in bad weather than to unnecesarily risk injury or death to himself or others.
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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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