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There are a lot of lawyers in Georgia that claim to handle tractor-trailer crashes, but it takes real-world experience for your lawyer to know where to look in the records to prove your case. As a former lawyer for the trucking companies and their insurance carriers, Mr. Simon spent six years defending semi-truck drivers after crashes. In the years since that time, he has concentrated 40% of his law practice on representing victims against those companies.
An experienced Atlanta tractor-trailer accident lawyer knows that for serious cases, the lawsuit should be filed every time because it is only with discovery and subpoena power that the operational records of the trucking company will come to light. When litigating cases worth hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars, it pays to hire a former industry insider who can expose the lies being used to prevent juries from seeing what some of these trucking companies really do.
There are a number of aspects to trucking crashes in Georgia that make the practice unique and without a lawyer that is experienced in the field, the client can quickly lose value on a case.
Atlanta trucking cases are more complex for a number of reasons. First, all interstate trucking companies are regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. They put out a massive book called the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations that takes years of study to master. When a tractor-trailer driver violates these safety regulations, the Court can charge the jury on negligence per se, which can make a world of difference in a disputed liability case. That means that if the rule is broken, the judge tells the jury that the breaking of the rule means the trucking company is somewhat responsible.
Second, tractor-trailers incorporate advanced computer systems similar to an aircraft “black box” and some have onboard radar and satellite tracking data that can tell the truth about why the crash happened, even when the driver is lying. Third, trucking crash collision reconstruction requires an engineer with specialized skills and only an experienced trucking lawyer has these engineers on their Rolodex. Fourth, trucking cases should never be settled without the lawyer at least deposing under oath the driver and risk manager as well as an exhaustive review of all operational documents. An average car accident lawyer is simply not trained to handle a trucking case in Georgia.
Radar detectors are forbidden under 49 CFR §392.71. If you are in a crash with a trucker with a radar detector, that fact in conjunction with speeding can support punitive damages.
Because the trucking company will allow the tractor and the electronic control module to be destroyed if you don’t pin them down. We recently handling an inspection of a tractor-trailer operated by Werner Enterprises. The client did not hire us until many months after the crash and by the time we inspected the tractor-trailer, it had been completely cannibalized for parts. The electronic control module had been disconnected from many of the sensors which lead to significant error codes in the data dump. Half of the brake lines had been salvaged and in short, there were serious pieces missing from the puzzle. Because the client hesitated in hiring counsel, we will be at the mercy of the trial court seeking a spoliation charge to hold the trucking company responsible for allowing evidence to disappear.
These regulations govern 1) the hiring process and requirements, 2) annual safety reviews on the drivers, 3) Inspection and Maintenance requirements for the tractors and trailers, 4) the number of hours the driver can safely drive, 5) alcohol and drug use testing, 6) what safety equipment and procedures to use in the event of a break down and 7) how long the trucking company must retain their records.
Let’s discuss how each of these areas must be scrutinized when a client has been injured by a negligent Georgia truck driver.
A trucking company is required under Section 391.21 to maintain a complex application called a driver qualification file. They are required to inquire as to:
The trucking company is required to send out faxes to the prior employers to learn whether the driver had safety or substance abuse issues. In my experience, the smaller trucking companies tended to partially or completely ignore these safety requirements and the result is unsafe truckers driver 80,0000 b trucks.
The trucking company is required to send a request to the department of motor vehicles for a three-year prior driving history and this request has to be refreshed every year on the anniversary of hiring. Many carriers either neglect this requirement completely or don’t bother looking at the results.
The trucking company is required to give the truck driver a medical exam to make sure his health does not pose a medical risk to the motoring public.
A number of trucking companies fail to conduct their annual reviews and leave drivers on the road that should be disqualified. For instance, below is a list of the infractions that will disqualify a trucker for at least a year, and yet every year we see ineligible drivers killing and maiming Georgia families in trucking crashes.
The following offenses under Section 391.15 will prohibit a Georgia Trucking company from hiring or retaining a truck driver:
Tractor Trailer drivers in Georgia are suspended for a period of 1 year for their first offense. Subsequent offenses will bar them for three years or longer.
Under §391.25, the Georgia trucking company is required to make an annual review the trucker’s record including:
As you can imagine, with these type of administrative requirements, smaller trucking companies tend to miss these requirements and when those mistakes lead to putting unsafe truck drivers on Atlanta roads, the results can be devastating.
Under §396.3, “…every motor carrier shall systematically inspect, repair, and maintain, or cause to be systematically inspected, repaired, and maintained all motor vehicles…” The trucking company is also required to maintain a record of what was inspected, by whom and when for at least a year.
In addition to the company requirements, the driver has to conduct a pre-trip inspection before every trip and there are strict requirements post-trip as well. Under §396.11, the company shall require the Driver to prepare a report in writing at the completion of each day’s work on each vehicle operated. The report has to cover brakes, steering, lighting and reflectors, tires, horn, windshield wipers, mirrors, wheels and rims, and emergency equipment.
Truck drivers in interstate commerce can only drive a limited number of hours per day and per week. These rules were promulgated to keep tired truck drivers off the road. Under section 395.3, truck drivers cannot legally drive more than 11 cumulative hours following 10 consecutive hours off duty. They also cannot drive for any period after the end of the 14th hour after coming on duty following 10 consecutive hours off duty, In looking at the workweek, the driver cannot drive if they have been on duty 60 hours in any 7 consecutive days or having been on duty 70 hours in any period of 8 consecutive days if the employing motor carrier operates commercial motor vehicles every day of the week. This provision does reset if there are 34 hours of consecutive rest. Truck drivers are required to record their hours of service every day. Some large trucking companies do this electronically, but most carriers still use paper logs. An experienced trucking lawyer will compare the logs to the dispatch records to see if the driver has a pattern of speeding or if they are faking their paperwork.
Most truck engines built in the last ten years contain an Electronic Control Module which will record averages speed, rpm, time spent in gear, etc. In addition, it will record data from hard braking and crash events, allowing the engineer to know with certainty the speed, braking and shifting actions taken in the seconds before and during the crash. This hard evidence can prove invaluable with a trucker who claims he was not speeding. In addition, the historical data can show patterns of excess speed and can be compared to the hours of service records to see if the times for stops match up.
Commonly known as a “black box”, these electronic components help law enforcement and private attorneys to accurately reconstruct how fatal trucking collisions occur. The amount of information available after an Atlanta trucking crash varies with year make and model. Here is an example from a Caterpillar power plant showing throttle position, speed, gear, and other data. This is not the most advanced unit in operation but the speed and throttle data can be critical in piecing together what happened in a trucking crash.
Here is a sample video presentation that was used in a tractor-trailer crash mediation in Atlanta. In this case, our client got the ticket after being rear-ended by the tractor-trailer driver because the police claimed our towing lights were not activated. You will notice how badly the truck driver testifies and that his story becomes more and more implausible. You should also note the computer printout that is zoomed on the screen. That is the ECM of DDEC printout for the crash which proves that the driver was passing on a wet road with his cruise control on and that he never hit the brakes until one second before he crashed into our truck.
In any serious injury trucking case, your expert should either download the data with the vehicle owner present or acquire the raw data from the tractor owner in a controlled exchange. Trucks with Detroit Diesel engines since December of 1997 have collision reconstruction information available. Mercedes-Benz bought Detroit Diesel so they have the same data available after 2003 Volvo, Caterpillar and the other manufacturers have all had Electronic Control Modules on the engine since the beginning of the1990’s. Once you know there is data, the question is, how much? In the Detroit power units from 1998 onwards, there are generally two types of events recorded: a Hard Brake record, and a Last Stop Record. The hard brake record is triggered when they tractor-trailer slams on brakes and loses over 7 mph of speed in one second. In that event, the recorder records one minute of data before the event and 15 seconds of data after the event. A Last Stop Record is recorded when the tractor comes to a stop but it overwrites if the tractor begins to move again. Both events will record MPH, RPM, Braking, Clutch, Cruise Control, Throttle, and Engine Load.
Some trucks are equipped with Qualcomm or another company’s satellite data. These systems can be set with a number of functions including GPS location checkpoints, speed reports, and email in the cab. A Federal Court in Atlanta has ruled that Qualcomm data is operational data that must be maintained for six months, so it is critical to hire experienced counsel to lock down those records.
Some trucks are also equipped with collision avoidance radar systems like the Eaton VORAD system. This system bounces waves off other vehicles and can warn the truck driver when they are too close or closing too fast on other vehicles. This data can be used to paint a picture of where the vehicles were prior to the crash and what speeds they were traveling at.
There are realistically probably only 8 qualified tractor-trailer reconstructionists in the Southeast and retaining one for a serious trucking collision in Georgia is critical. These individuals are usually Physical Engineers with a background in crash investigation. They can estimate speed from crush damage and skid marks. They can develop a three-dimensional reconstruction of how the crash occurred. They can inspect the brakes on the semi after the crash to determine if they were out of adjustment and the effect that would have on their braking power. In serious Georgia injury cases, a reconstructionist is essential.
While it is important to get legal advice from a Georgia Injury lawyer early in any serious case, this is never more true that with a trucking crash. It is essential that your lawyer send a Georgia spoliation letter to the trucking company in the first few days after the collision. Your lawyer should know to ask for at least the following items to be preserved:
You can find a number of Georgia trucking collisions that are discussed in my blog where we will provide analysis and insight into how these crashes can be prevented.
A disputed liability case was settled for $2,000,000 in October 2015. The case involved a bobtail tractor-trailer driver denying that he came across the centerline, striking and killing the plaintiff. There was roadway evidence of skid marks originating in the tractor’s lane of travel into the oncoming lane. The defense hired a collision reconstruction expert to argue that the truck was responding to a sudden emergency.
The plaintiff was elderly and suffering from congestive heart failure. The defense likely gambled that with a somewhat grey liability case, they could keep damages down, the idea being a sickly person does not have the same life value as a healthy and hale one. The defense was also leaning heavily on the fact that the case would be tried in rural Worth County.