Articles Posted in Trucking regulations

Published on:

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.
Continue reading →

Published on:

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” >>
Continue reading →

Published on:

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.
Continue reading →

Published on:

Driver fatigue is a major cause of truck crashes among drivers of commercial tractor trailers, semis and big rigs. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations mandate that truck drivers can drive only 11 hours out of a 14 hour work day, followed by a 10 hour rest break. There are also restrictions on weekly totals. Handling injury and death cases arising from truck accidents in Georgia, I often seen cases where drivers were too fatigued to drive safely.

But most of us have personal experience to know that a driver can be dangerously sleepy in far less than 11 hours of driving.

Australian researchers have confirmed what we intuitively know. Caffeine can help maintain driver alertness. But caffeine alone is not enough, and naps can help too. In “Use of caffeinated substances and risk of crashes in long distance drivers of commercial vehicles: case-control study,” published at BMJ 2013; 346 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.f1140 ( 19 March 2013), Lisa N Sharwood and her collaborators reported on their study.

Their bottom line:

– Caffeine helps, but that alone is not enough.

– Breaks help, whether used for naps, exercise or drinking coffee.

All this seems like common sense, but it bears repeating. One problem in the trucking industry is that trucking companies and shippers sometimes insist on driving the maximum hours allowed (or longer), so that no credit is given for drivers who take breaks to help maintain alertness within those hours.

However, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations include not just the hours of service rules but also a more general restriction against operating a commercial vehicle when too fatigued or ill to safely do so.
Continue reading →

Published on:

Drivers of commercial tractor trailers, semis and big rigs are responsible for piloting an 80,000 pound rocket down highways shared with you and your family.

You may pray that they are well-trained, well-managed, safe and responsible. Most are. Some are not.

The duties of a commercial truck driver are spelled out in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, Commercial Drivers License (CDL) manuals, training materials published by industry associations and companies such as J. J. Keller, and company policies and procedures. While only statutes and regulations have the force of law, the others may be used as evidence of standards of care and of negligence when violated.

Some of the truck driver’s duties include:

– Know and understand the safety regulations and policies.

– Perform pre-trip and post-trip inspections, carefully going through a detailed checklist of the tractor and trailer.

A proper pre-trip inspection takes an experienced truck driver 20 to 30 minutes.Too often in truck accident cases we find inspections were no more than a quick walk-around or less, with a vertical line hurriedly drawn down the checklist rather than even bothering to inspect and check off each item. Earlier this week I was at a truck stop for my expert’s inspection of a tractor trailer involved in a fatal accident when we saw another truck driver do a 20 second “pre-trip inspection” that involved glancing at his tires. The result of inadequate pre-trip inspection can be operation of an 80,000 pound truck on the highway with unsafe equipment.

– Understand and comply with hours of service regulations, and truthfully log their driving, on-duty but not driving and off-duty time.

They are limited to driving 11 hours in a 14 hour work day, after which they must take a 10 hour rest break. The driver is responsible for planning a route with the hours of service rules in mind, and for notifying dispatch when he is out of legal hours.

I have handled cases in which drivers falsified logs in order to appear legal far beyond exhaustion of both their legal hours of operation and their bodies. Sometimes they are pressed to drive far beyond legal hours by trucking company dispatchers, third party logistics companies, freight brokers, shippers and consignees who turn a blind eye to safety. Those companies may share the legal blame, but the truck driver is still responsible as the pilot of the ship.

– Inspect his cargo to make sure it is safely distributed and secured before the trip, at particular points en route, and at the end of a trip.

Except when taking a sealed trailer that he is not allowed to open without special permission, the driver is required to inspect inside the trailer to make sure weight is properly distributed and the right methods and equipment have been employed to prevent the lad from shifting.

When operating a truck with a flatbed trailer, the driver must assure that the load is and remains securely tied down, following commodity-specific rules in order to prevent spilling, leaking, falling or blowing of cargo.

A while back, I handled a case in which a truck driver failed to secure a forklift on a flatbed trailer, with the result that the forklift came loose in a curve on a mountain road and landed on top of an oncoming vehicle. Police and the coroner were picking pieces of people out of that flattened car for days.

– Plan a route that takes into account weight limitations on roads and bridges, low height restrictions of bridges and tunnels, railroad crossings, one way streets and awkward turns.

A confused or careless truck driver can kill people when attempting a u-turn that blocks a highway in the dark or stuck in a railroad crossing or low bridge.

– Use extreme caution when road or adverse weather conditions affect traction or visibility, and if necessary pull off the road and wait for conditions improve. CDL manuals instruct truck drivers to reduce speed by one-third in rainy conditions.

When a tractor trailer hydroplanes in a rain slick curve and knack knifes at highway speed into oncoming traffic, only a miracle an prevent deaths or catastrophic injuries, including that of the truck driver himself.


– Stop driving when ill or fatigued, even if still within the legal hours of service.

Sometimes we find that truck drivers work second jobs or pursue other activities during the required rest periods, so that. They are unsafely fatigued even when inside legal hours of operation. Other times we find truckers returning to work too soon after an illness, such as one who got a chiropractor to issue DOT medical certificate two weeks after open heart surgery.

Safety should always come first.

– Whenever stopped on the side of the road, truck drivers must activate hazard flashers, then put out reflective triangles or flares at specified locations behind the trailer.

– Hang up and drive.

Federal rules now ban use of hand held cell phones as well as text messaging during operation of a commercial motor vehicle in interstate commerce.

– Obey all state and local traffic laws.

Truckers must also obey local peed limits, traffic control devices, etc.

There is much more that could be included, but this may give you a taste of the issues we examine regarding truck driver duties.
Continue reading →

Published on:

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, see Truckers Justice Center. 

When we share the road with semi tractor trailer drivers who pilot 80,000 pound big rigs on highways across the country, we hope they are well-qualified and safety conscious. Most are but some are not.

Among the many things I examine as a trucking accident litigation trial attorney in Georgia are the qualifications, experience and background of the truck driver.

Commercial truck and bus drivers are required to have knowledge of and comply with all government trucking safety regulations and company policies. Motor carriers operating truck and bus lines are required to make sure drivers are adequately trained and monitor drivers’ performance.

Entry level truck drivers must obtain a Commercial Driver’s License, usually referred to as a CDL. That requires training in driver qualifications, hours of service, safe operations and whistle blower protection. The CDL manuals for all states in the US are materially identical. Drivers are required to know and understand pertinent provisions of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, so the CDL manual explains the regs in simpler, graphic terms.

Drivers of specialized commercial vehicles need additional training specific to those types of vehicles. Trade organizations and safety materials publishing companies produce training videos and manuals for a wide variety of specialized commercial vehicles such as concrete mixer trucks, crane trucks, etc.

These CDL manuals and specialized training materials are extremely useful in cross examining truck drivers after they crash.

In applying for a truck driving job, a truck driver must provide his or her CDL, employment history, driving records, record of convictions and violations, medical history, drug and alcohol history, and physical exam.

Trucking companies are required to conduct a road test of the driver, testing knowledge, skills, experience and training, using the same type vehicle the driver is expected to operate. The test must be conducted by an employee who is qualified to do so.

When representing the victims of a catastrophic semi tractor trailer crash, all this fair game for thorough and sifting examination. Any lawyer who thinks a commercial truck crash is just a bigger car wreck will be clueless and unprepared, vastly reducing the prospects for success in representing his client. That is why our years of experience in trucking litigation matters.

Source: Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations; Truck Accident Litigation (3d edition)

Continue reading →

Published on:

In trucking accident personal injury litigation in Georgia, plaintiffs often assert a claim for attorney fees and expenses of litigation including attorney fees under O.C.G.A. § 13-6-11, which was enacted as part of the Code of 1863. A decision this week by the Georgia Court of Appeals relied on existing case authority that an award of fees under this statute must be based on findings of fact, not determination simply as a matter of law.

O.C.G.A. § 13-6-11 provides:

The expenses of litigation generally shall not be allowed as a part of the damages; but where the plaintiff has specially pleaded and has made prayer therefor and where the defendant has acted in bad faith, has been stubbornly litigious, or has caused the plaintiff unnecessary trouble and expense, the jury may allow them.

“Indicative of whether a party acts in good or bad faith in a given transaction is his abiding by or failing to comply with a public law made for the benefit of the opposite party, or enacted for the protection of the latter’s legal rights. Evidence that appellants failed to comply with mandatory safety regulations promulgated for the benefit of appellees is some evidence that appellants acted in bad faith in the transaction, within the meaning of O.C.G.A. § 13-6-11.” Meyer v. Trux Transp., Inc., 2006 WL 3246685 (N.D.Ga., decided Nov. 8, 2006)(FMCSA violations); Windermere, Ltd. v. Bettes, 211 Ga.App. 177 (1993)(landlord’s to violation of fire exit safety regulations).

“Even slight evidence of bad faith can be enough to create an issue for the jury.” Morrison Homes of Florida, Inc. v. Wade, 266 Ga.App. 598 (2004). “The question of bad faith . . .is for the trier of fact to determine.” Monterrey Mexican Restaurant of Wise, Inc. v. Leon, 282 Ga.App. 439 (2006).

As trucking cases involve a body of mandatory motor carrier safety regulations — federal regulations for interstate trucking and analogous state rules for intrastate trucking — violation of those rules may be used by a jury as the basis for an award of fees and expenses under the “bad faith” prong of O.C.G.A. § 13-6-11. I have had trial judges who were skeptical of this theory read overnight the authorities I presented and come back the next morning to announce that it would be reversible error not to allow that issue to go to the jury.

However, it is clear that it is a fact question, not one that the court can determine as a matter of law. Meek v. Mallory & Evans, Inc., Case No. A12A1290, decided Nov. 8, 2012 in an opinion written by Judge Gary Andrews, was a landlord-tenant case, the merits of which are not relevant to this discussion. However, the trial court had awarded fees under OCGA § 13-6-11 as a matter of law. The court held:

the language of OCGA § 13-6-11 prevents a trial court from ever determining that a claimant is entitled to attorney fees as a matter of law. “Although the trial court may grant attorney fees or litigation expenses under OCGA § 13-6-11 where it sits as the trier of fact, it is not a trier of fact on a motion for summary judgment.” Covington Square Assoc. v. Ingles Markets, 287 Ga. 445, 448 (696 SE2d 649) (2010)

Does this make any difference in how lawyers handling trucking accident personal injury cases handle attorney fee claims under OCGA § 13-6-11? Not really. However, it does stand as a reminder that this is an issue to be determined by the jury, or occasionally by a judge serving at the trier of fact without a jury. It does require presentation of at least evidence even if it is perfunctory.
Continue reading →

Published on:

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.
Continue reading →

Published on:

Truck driver fatigue is one of the most common cause of catastrophic trucking crashes that I see in my law practice.

Many times we have combed through the paper logs maintained by truck drivers, sometimes referred to as “comic books,” and meticulously compared them to other records generated in the course of a cross-country trip. Time and again we have found that the trucker, pushed by employers and shippers to make impossible delivery schedules, had hardly slept for days before crashing into our clients. One truck driver who had run over a family vehicle, confronted by dissection of the evidence, admitted that he had been driving 20 of the previous 24 hours then broke down and cried over the child he had killed.

A solution that has been promoted for years is to require Electronic On-Board Recorders (EOBR) that are at least more difficult to falsify than handwritten paper logs. Major trucking companies and the American Trucking Associations support the EOBR requirement, which they say will help them enforce anti-fatigue rules. But independent truckers, represented by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, say the mandate would impose unfair costs on drivers who own their own rigs.

Last week in Congress, the House sent conflicting messages to the trucking industry. On Friday, the House adopted both a highway bill conference report that mandates electronic data recorders in trucks and an amendment to a spending bill that would bar the Transportation Department from spending money to implement the requirement.

The conference report on the surface transportation reauthorization (HR 4348), adopted in both chambers on Friday, included Senate language requiring the devices. The agreement was adopted in the House by a vote of 373-52.

After opponents in the House failed to get the provision stripped from the agreement, Rep. Jeff Landry, R-La., offered an amendment to the fiscal 2013 Transportation-HUD spending bill (HR 5972) that would disallow any Transportation Department expenditures supporting the recorder mandate. The amendment – which would block any expenditures on rules to require global position tracking, event-data recorders or electronic on-board recording devices on passenger vehicles or commercial trucks – was adopted by voice vote. The appropriations bill passed, 261-163.

American Trucking Associations President Bill Graves complained that “opponents of honest, fair and efficient enforcement of important safety rules have used this back door to thwart the will of Congress.” Graves said he expected that the conference report language “will be the final word on the use of electronic logs and that [the Transportation Department] will quickly move to require this important safety technology on all trucks.”

Having watched the ongoing struggle about trucking hours of service rules and their enforcement over the years, I make no bold predictions about any definitive action.

Meanwhile, efforts to update the trucking insurance requirements, which have not been adjusted for inflation in over 30 years, remain stalled.
Continue reading →

Published on:

“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.