Lawyers in Macon, GA
A loaded tractor trailer truck weighs approximately 80,000 pounds so the effects of one of these beasts colliding with a 3500-pound car are often catastrophic. Each year there are approximately 500,000 wrecks involving tractor trailer trucks, resulting in 5,000 death per year. In fact, 74% of all fatal accidents involve a large truck.
The trucking industry is extensively regulated and lawyers experienced in handling large truck cases are often able to use these regulations in support of their client’s case. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration [FMCSA] is the federal agency that regulates the trucking industry. Its stated purpose is to “reduce crashes, injuries, and fatalities involving large trucks and buses.” The agency’s regulations are published in the Federal Register and compiled in the Code of Federal Regulations.
While there are many regulations, some of them we find frequently involve:
We handled a case recently where the truck was loaded with large wooden trusses. As the truck maneuvered around a curve, the load – which was not properly secured to the trailer – shifted, forcing the tractor trailer rig to jackknife and enter our client’s husband’s lane. There was nothing he could do to avoid being hit by the trailer as it quickly blocked his lane. He hit the trailer and was killed. We were able to recover a large settlement from both the truck driver who failed to make sure the load was properly secured and the truss distributing company for improperly loading the trailer.
Improper or inadequate pre-trip inspection
Often these types of cases involve some part of the truck that fails leading to an accident which, had a proper, federally mandated, inspection been done, would have been discovered and presumably repaired. Tires are frequently the cause of accidents that could have been prevented. Trucking companies often used recaps, not new tires, so problems with tires are fairly common.
Truck accidents are often caused by some mechanical defect. A mechanical failure leading to a truck wreck may provide the truck driver and company with a defense to the claim if they can establish they had no notice of any problems. A close and careful review of a truck’s maintenance record – which only an attorney with experience in trucking cases can adequately do – may establish that the truck driver or company should have known of the likelihood of the mechanical failure.
We handled a case recently where the brake line of a large truck was in need of repair, but rather than taking the vehicle off of the road until the needed repair could be done, the truck driver decided to use duct tape around the brake line until the needed repair could be accomplished. Tragically for our client, that driver’s Jerry-rigged repair failed on I-75, and when it did, the brakes locked up, causing the vehicle to suddenly stop in the middle of the road. Our client was involved in the resulting chain-reaction crash of several vehicles and was seriously injured. Through the trucking company’s own records, we were able to establish how long the brake line problem had existed prior to the accident and make a large recovery for our client.
Hours of Service Violations
These regulations impose limits on how many hours a truck driver may drive a vehicle. Those same regulations also require the drivers to maintain logbooks that document their driving time and mandate that the trucking company make sure the driver complies with the hours-of-service restrictions. The drivers used to keep a paper logbook in the cab of the tractor, but now most enter the logbook data digitally into an on-board computer system. They must account for twenty-four hours a day. If properly done, the driver’s log will establish the days and hours worked and how many of those hours involved driving.
These logbooks can often be used by an experienced trucking attorney as ammunition in the case against the driver and trucking company. The driver may have driven too long or not taken a long enough break between routes, either of which would establish a case against the driver and company. Further, if the logs reveal that the driver regularly exceeded the hours-of-service requirements and the trucking company did nothing, the logs could be used to establish a case for punitive damages against the trucking company for not making sure its drivers complied with the federal regulations.
Truck accidents occur because the truck driver and often the trucking company itself ignore these regulations. The truck driver does so because it is easier, and the trucking company does so to increase its profits.
In addition to the violation of the regulations published by the FMCSA, truck drivers must also comply with the same rules of the road we have to when we drive our cars. Unfortunately, while the vast majority of professional truck drivers do a good job, many others ignore these rules even though they are driving an 80,000-pound vehicle.
Many trucks on the road have a governor controlling its maximum speed, but most do not. As a result, it is not uncommon to see them driving at high rates of speed. Fortunately, the trucks are supposed to be equipped with an electronic control module (ECM) or “black box” which monitors the vehicle’s movements. If a crash occurs, the module can record the truck’s speed at the time of the collision. An experienced trucking attorney knows how to access, download, and interpret this data.
Improper Lane Change
All too often, a truck driver changes lane without first making sure the lane he is entering is free from traffic. While those of us who drive cars have a blind side when changing lanes, trucking drivers typically do not. Their vehicles are equipped with several side mirrors which enable them to make sure no vehicles are in the lane they are moving into, but sometimes the driver is careless and changes lanes without first confirming that the lane is clear.
Following too Closely
An 80,000-pound vehicle takes a lot longer to stop than a passenger vehicle does. At 65 mph, we can stop our cars in approximately 300 feet, but a loaded truck takes almost two football fields to stop. As a result, drivers should keep an adequate buffer in front of them. Most drivers refer to following the “12-15-seconds rule” which means they try to look to the point in the roadway their truck will be in 12-15 seconds. The FMCSA’s recommended following distance is one second for each 10 feet of the vehicle, plus one second if going more than 40 mph and to double that following distance if there are adverse road conditions, including bad weather. Unfortunately, many drivers don’t follow these rules and drive too closely to the rear of the vehicle in front of them.
Failing to Keep a Proper Lookout Ahead and Distraction
Like the rest of us, truck drivers are required to keep a vigilant lookout ahead of their vehicle as they drive. Like the rest of us, they are also not supposed to be distracted by the use of any electronic device like a cell phone. We have handled cases in which the truck driver was looking at a device instead of out of his windshield. In fact, we handled one case where the driver had rigged up a small television and was watching it at the time he crashed into our client’s car.
Another law that comes into play with a tractor trailer that does not apply to car wreck cases generally involves multi-laned vehicles. Specifically, if a road has more than one lane in each direction, the truck is not allowed to be on the inside or median lane unless it is actively passing another vehicle. In other words, it can’t just stay in the left lane or even the middle lane of a three-lane road. Unfortunately, we see trucks violating this rule all the time.
We used this rule in one case recently to obtain a multi-million-dollar settlement. Our client was going to work in the middle lane of I-675 when another vehicle hit it from behind and pushed it to the left and in front of a tractor trailer who was improperly in the inside, left lane, which, in turn, slammed into our client’s car. The initial impact would have caused minimal or even no injury, but our client’s getting hit by the tractor trailer resulted in a permanent traumatic brain injury that has rendered him incapable of caring for himself. The trucking company had initially denied any liability, saying that the collision was the result of the negligence of the first car for striking our client’s car, but after we pointed out the truck’s statutory violation, it agreed to pay several million dollars to resolve the case.
Other Considerations in Trucking Cases
Heightened Duty of Care
While truck drivers typically only have to exercise ordinary care in the operation of their large trucks (and comply with FMSCA regulations), if there is bad weather, the driver must exercise “extreme caution” which makes proving the driver’s fault much easier. This regulation is only applicable in certain circumstances, and an experienced Macon truck accident attorney will know whether or not it is applicable.
If you are injured in a wreck with another car, any suit you would bring would be filed against the at-fault driver. His or her insurance company would pay any judgment (up to its limits of coverage), but Georgia law does not allow you to name the insurer as a party or even tell the jury that the driver had insurance. In trucking cases, on the other hand, you can actually name the insurance company as a defendant, or if you want, you can sue only the insurance company.
Due to the volume of cargo, many large companies use independent drivers to help with the distribution of their products. These independent drivers are often located and retained by trucking brokerage companies. While that broker may have no legal responsibility for an accident, an experienced trucking attorney may be able to establish a valid case against the broker which, in turn, would increase the amount of potential recovery.
Venue is the location where suit is filed. Typically, the venue in Georgia is set by Georgia’s Constitution and other statutes, but in cases involving big trucks, the federal regulations provide additional options. An experienced trucking attorney can determine which is the option most favorable to the client.
For your convenience, our office is in Macon, Georgia, but we serve clients throughout the southeastern United States and nationwide. The best Macon truck accident attorney for your case will put your needs above all else. Call (478) 217-2582 to schedule a free case evaluation today.