- 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.
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.