Throughout rural Georgia, clearly unsafe log and pulpwood trucks operate on the highways with little apparent concern for safety of the public with whom they share the roads. Just as trucking accident cases are different from car wreck cases, log truck cases are different from other trucking accident cases.
– Insurance coverage. Most log trucks in Georgia operate intrastate, solely within Georgia, just hauling logs from Georgia forests to Georgia paper mills. Under Georgia law, they are only required to have $100,000 in liability insurance coverage. Other log trucks haul across state lines to paper mills in adjacent states, and must have at least $750,000 liability insurance. In practice, pulpwood vendors and paper companies often require by contract that loggers hauling pulpwood for them carry $1,000,000 liability insurance.
– Different rules. Loggers operating solely within Georgia, or who are engaged in a trip that is entirely inside the state, are governed by the Georgia Forest Products Trucking Rules. Log trucks hauling loads across state lines are governed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. While similar in a number of ways, there are crucial differences, particularly with regard to conspicuity (visibility) of extended loads at night.
– Venue. Owners and drivers of log trucks often reside in rural counties where jury pools are likely to include their friends and relatives and forest products are vitally important to the local economy. Suit must be filed in the county of residence of a defendant who has liability. The potential for “home cooking” is obvious. Within the past year I have reviewed several log truck cases in which the owner and driver were residents of counties with populations under 5,000. While I don’t want to over generalize, it is not uncommon for jurors on log truck cases in such counties to say, in effect, “we know this logger broke the rules, but so does every other log truck we see every day, and we’re not going to hold this one accountable for doing what we see everyone else doing.” To avoid that, the plaintiff may have to move outside Georgia in order to establish diversity of citizenship required for federal court jurisdiction.
– Law enforcement issues. In counties where the forest products industry is prominent, law enforcement officers are likely to have friends and relatives in the business, and thus may be sympathetic to the loggers. Moreover, most deputy sheriffs and city police are not trained on the requirements of the Georgia Forest Products Trucking Rules, so they don’t know what to look for in an accident investigation. Ignorant of the rules, they don’t know enough to enforce the rules or even to call in state investigators who do know the rules. The result is incomplete investigations, failure to document the facts, blaming the victim, and jumping to the conclusion that the logger bears no responsibility.
– Experts. Many of the prominent expert witnesses who testify capably about interstate motor carrier wreck cases lack the background to be credible expert witnesses in logging and pulpwood trucking cases.
If you or a loved one have been seriously hurt with a brain, spinal cord or back injury, or a family member has been killed, by one of these log trucks, you need an attorney experienced in log truck accident cases, who knows the pitfalls in log truck accident litigation and how to work around them.
Ken Shigley is president of the 42,250 member State Bar of Georgia, a Certified Civil Trial Attorney of the National Board of Trial Advocacy, and has been listed as a “Super Lawyer” (Atlanta Magazine) and among the “Legal Elite” (Georgia Trend). He is a national board member of the Commercial Trucking Litigation Group of the American Association for Justice and a former chair of the Southeastern Motor Carrier Liability Institute.