- Act quickly. The trucking company and its insurance company may use any delay to “lose” or delete critical evidence. Don’t let them do that.
- Hire a well-qualified trucking lawyer. Don’t just hire a firm with a tv ad or billboard. Much as you want a board-certified surgeon, look for a board-certified truck accident civil trial lawyer. The National Board of Trial Advocacy is authorized by the American Bar Association to run certification programs that include vetting of experience and ethical practice and require tough written examinations. Ken Shigley was the first Georgia lawyer to earn three board certifications from the National Board of Trial Advocacy: Civil Trial Practice(1995), Civil Pretrial Practice (2012), and Truck Accident Law (2019). He is a former President of the State Bar of Georgia, lead author of eleven annual editions of Georgia Law of Torts: Trial Preparation & Practice (Thomson Reuters West, 2010-21), and received the Traditions of Excellence Award for lifetime achievement (2019). Partners John Adkins and Ed Stone are younger, energetic versions of the same.
Over decades of representing victims of catastrophic truck crashes and their families, we often have seen fly-by-night truckers hired by larger entities that knew or should have known of the dubious safety records of the truckers they hired. Sometimes we have been able to assert claims against the larger companies for negligent hiring of unsafe truckers.
For several years, insurers for trucking freight brokers have tried relentlessly to use the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act (FAAAA) to preempt claims for negligent selection of unsafe motor carriers. The defense position has been that the FAAAA, 49 U.S.C. § 14501(c)(1)) trumps all other state and federal rules authorizing liability of motor carriers, brokers, and freight forwarders. That code section says:
“General rule.—Except as provided in paragraphs (2) and (3), a State, political subdivision of a State, or political authority of 2 or more States may not enact or enforce a law, regulation, or other provision having the force and effect of law related to a price, route, or service of any motor carrier (other than a carrier affiliated with a direct air carrier covered by section 41713(b)(4)) or any motor private carrier, broker, or freight forwarder with respect to the transportation of property.”
Since 1981, forty years ago at the beginning of the Reagan Administration, minimum liability insurance required for large trucks in interstate commerce has remained unchanged at $750,000. Everything else has gotten more expensive in the past forty years. Nothing costs the same since then–not the truck, the repairs, the gas, or the tolls, so it is completely unrealistic for the truckers to have the same insurance as they did forty years ago.
If adjusted for the general rate of inflation over the past forty years, it would be $2,203,415.84 today. People who are injured by trucking negligence need to pay their medical bills so trucking safety advocates have sought for years to bring some balanced fairness to others on the road. If adjusted to the rate of medical inflation it would be about $5 million. But opponents of advancing public safety on the highways repeatedly have blocked an inflation adjustment on the amount of insurance required.
This year, a 2019 recipient of the “Tradition of Excellence” Award from the State Bar of Georgia General Practice & Trial Section. as a reasonable compromise.
Log trucks crashes are distressingly common tragedies across rural Georgia, often causing death or terrible injuries.
Most log trucks operating in the middle of Georgia operate exclusively intrastate, inside the state of Georgia, and do not cross state lines. They are governed by the Georgia Forest Product Trucking Rules, which exempt applicability of numerous provisions of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. Log trucks operating near state lines may cross into neighboring states, subjecting them to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations.
Length of loads.
Over decades representing individuals and families devastated by highway crashes with large trucks, one of the most poorly understood hazards we have seen is that of tractor trailers parked on the side of the road. Among the hazards presented by semi trucks parked in the emergency lane is decapitation of people in an approaching car due to trailer underride.
Often late at night on Georgia highways, we see tractor trailers parked on what many people commonly refer to as the “emergency lane” next to the traffic lanes. Unfortunately, many people even in the trucking industry do not appreciate how dangerous this can be for the truck driver and for motoring public.
Stopping on the roadside increases risks of a potential deadly crash, which can be prevented through management practices that include good trip planning, vehicle inspections, and appropriate equipment maintenance.
Strategy is essential in litigation. Among the most important strategic considerations is determining in which court a case may be litigated and tried. Most trucking crash cases involve an analysis of jurisdiction and venue questions.
In Georgia state courts, cases must be filed in a county where a defendant is a resident. Federal courts are options if there is complete diversity of citizenship, meaning that all plaintiffs reside in a state different from all defendants, or if there is “federal question” jurisdiction. In tractor trailer crash cases, we usually but not always file in state courts in Georgia because of the relatively more user-friendly procedures in the state court system. Occasionally, we choose to file in a federal court when available rather than a small, rural county where the trucking company and its driver are located. Most often, plaintiff attorneys file cases in state courts against out of state trucking companies and drivers based on the Nonresident Motorist jurisdiction provisions which provide for venue where the crash happened or where the injured Georgia resident resides, Then the defense usually files a notice of removal to federal court under “diversity of citizenship” jurisdiction.
Rarely does a defendant in a trucking case claim “federal question” jurisdiction in federal court. However, that happened in a case recently in which we are co-counsel in five of six cases arising from a tragic crash at the intersection of I-16 and I-96 in Pooler just outside Savannah, and preparing the briefs in all six companion cases. As the plaintiffs and two defendants are Georgians, there was no diversity jurisdiction. The last defendant served filed notices to remove all six cases from the State Court of Chatham County to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia, claiming that the Shipping Act of 1984 created federal question jurisdiction. We immediately filed motions to remand all the cases back to the State Court of Chatham County.
Tom was having a good day. Between sales calls, he stopped his pickup truck at a red light at the end of bridge waiting to turn left onto a freeway ramp. He had been sitting there about thirty seconds when he heard a loud screeching sound. A dump truck fully loaded with gravel crashed into his rear, crushing the bed of his pickup and knocking the top of his toolbox through his rear window. By the time Tom hired us, the dump truck company had sold the truck and “lost” all the maintenance records. However, we had an expert who could tell from photos of the property damage that there were rusty cracks in mechanical components that may have contributed to the crash. While driver distraction and speed were bigger parts of the case, proof of poor maintenance helped establish that the company had been sloppy about safety for a long time.
Although many of the commercial truck crash cases we handle are caused by some combination of speed, fatigue or distraction, some also involve mechanical failure. That may be discovered by a motor carrier enforcement inspection after a crash, in an expert inspection we arrange if we are hired quickly enough, or it may be disclosed later in expert examination of photos of property damage.
A truck driver from Georgia has been charged with three counts of “three charges of grossly negligent driving with death resulting,” the Vermont equivalent of vehicular homicide.
Last December 29, Lashawn Jones, 41, of Alpharetta, Georgia, was driving Roehl Transport Inc. tractor trailer on slush and ice on U.S. 4 near the Killington Ski Resort in Vermont. The truck driver lost control on slush and ice and collided head on with a vehicle occupied by three people – Ryszard and Anita Malarczyk from Hastings-on-Hudson, NY, and their friend, Jaroslaw Karczewski from Poland. All three were killed in the crash.
According to media reports, at the intersection of Ga. 140 and Avery Road, a Ford Fiesta stopped to turn left onto Avery Road just before 12:30 p.m. on September 28, 2015. For unknown reasons, a Comcast truck steered to the left to avoid hitting the Ford and traveled into the westbound lanes striking a Chevy pickup head-on.
The driver of the pickup — who I understand was a really good guy with whom I have several friend in common — died at the scene of the crash. The driver of the Comcast truck and an occupant of the Fiesta were also injured.
Big truck wrecks can cause a lot of carnage. When a small passenger car is run over at highway speed by a 80,000 pound tractor trailer bigger than a Sherman tank, a tremendous amount of kinetic energy is unleashed. The results are often than catastrophic.
Unfortunately, the liability insurance required for big trucks has not been adjusted since President Reagan’s administration. Minimum insurance for general freight tractor trailers in interstate commerce was set at $750,000 in 1981. Minimum coverage for interstate hazmat trucks and passenger buses was set at $5,000,000 in 1985.