As a Georgia trucking accident attorney, I expect accidents involving truck drivers who are extremely fatigued, cheating on their driving hours, distracted, or impaired by medications or by amphetamines used to stay awake. I expect mechanical and maintenance issues. I just don’t expect interstate truck drivers to be drunk behind the wheel. I know and respect a lot of truckers, and expect better than that.
But there are exceptions. On New Year’s Eve, a trucker from Texas was charged with DUI and vehicular homicide after he struck a Michigan couple’s car and killed the wife, as he got off the I-75 exit at Sam Nunn Parkway in Perry, Georgia.
Janice Hanes, 65, of Fenwick, Michigan, was declared dead at the hospital in Perry. Murray Hanes, 66, her husband, was transported by ambulance to The Medical Center of Georgia in Macon with head injuries.
Luis Lopez Guzman Jr., 50, of San Antonio, also was charged with DUI and leaving the scene of an accident. He was driving a 2000 Kenworth tractor-trailer when he struck the Hanes’ pickup truck. According a news report by Becky Purser on Macon.com, he fled the scene and was apprehended on I-75 headed south toward Florida. The news reports do not identify the company for which he was driving.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations are quite strict about use of alcohol by truck drivers. 49 C.F.R. § 392.5 bans use or possession of alcohol in operation of a commercial motor vehicle. “No driver shall . . . [u]se alcohol, . . . or be under the influence of alcohol, within 4 hours before going on duty or operating, or having physical control of, a commercial motor vehicle; or . . . [u]se alcohol, be under the influence of alcohol, or have any measured alcohol concentration or detected presence of alcohol, while on duty, or operating, or in physical control of a commercial motor vehicle.” Any driver is violation of this is placed in “out of service status” for 24 hours. “No motor carrier shall require or permit a driver to . . . [v]iolate any provision [of this section or] [b]e on duty or operate a commercial motor vehicle if, by the driver’s general appearance or conduct or by other substantiating evidence, the driver appears to have used alcohol within the preceding 4 hours.”
Intoxication of a truck driver is grounds for punitive damages in a personal injury case and in a survival action by the estate of a decedent in Georgia. While a wrongful death claim in Georgia does not include punitive damages, the measure of damage is the full value of the life of the decedent, including both economic and intangible aspects of life.
Ken Shigley is a trucking safety trial attorney representing seriously injured people and families of people killed in tractor trailer, big rig, semi, intermodal container freight, log truck, cement truck, dump truck and bus accidents statewide in Georgia.
Mr. Shigley has extensive experience representing parties in interstate trucking collision cases, and in the past two years has spoken at national interstate trucking litigation seminars in Chicago (trucking insurance), New Orleans (trial tactics and side underride issues), St. Louis (punitive damages), San Francisco (dealing with insolvent trucking companies), Atlanta (trucking insurance, closing argument), Nashville (use of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations), and Amelia Island (overview of trucking litigation).
He served as chair of the Southeastern Motor Carrier Litigation Institute in 2005, is a national board member of the Interstate Trucking Litigation Group of the American Association for Justice, and is on the National Advisory Board for the Association of Interstate Trucking Lawyers of America.
A Certified Civil Trial Advocate of the National Board of Trial Advocacy, he has been listed as a “Super Lawyer” (Atlanta Magazine), among the “Legal Elite” (Georgia Trend Magazine), and in the Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers (Martindale). In addition to trucking litigation, he has broad experience in products liability, catastrophic personal injury, wrongful death, spinal cord injury, brain injury and burn injury cases. Mr Shigley is currently Treasurer of the 41,000 member State Bar of Georgia, of which he will become President-Elect on 6/19/10 and President in on 6/4/11. This post is subject to our ethical disclaimer.