Tractor trailers are massive vehicles, often weighing in at 80,000 pounds. These trucks transport goods across the United States, and Atlanta is considered a major trucking hub. When a large truck crashes into a passenger motor vehicle while traveling at 55 miles per hour or more, death or serious injury can result. Losing your loved one in this manner is a tragedy of epic proportions. The loss may leave your family in emotional and financial turmoil. To obtain compensation for your losses, you should explore the possibility of a wrongful death action against the truck driver or trucking company responsible for your loss.
At Montlick and Associates, Attorneys at Law, our Atlanta-based firm has assisted thousands of individuals who were injured or lost loved ones in a truck accident. We know that nothing can bring back your lost relative or heal the wounds inflicted from the accident. However, our caring attorneys represent each client to the fullest extent, doing the best we can to help you obtain justice from the negligent party responsible for a fatal accident.
Recent High Profile Truck Accident Cases
In the past two years, there have been several local and national cases that drew the nation’s attention to the dangers of truck accidents. One such case occurred right here in Georgia, 20 miles west of Savannah. On April 22, 2015, five nursing students attending Georgia Southern University were headed to a hospital in Savannah for their last day of clinical rotations. Traffic came to a slow down, but a tractor trailer failed to stop in time. The truck triggered a chain reaction crash that killed the five nursing students and seriously injured several others.
After the accident, it was discovered that trucking company Total Transportation had 266 unsafe driving violations on record, including violations for speeding, following too closely, and using cell phones while driving. The families of the nursing students killed in the accident sued Total Transportation along with several other defendants and managed to reach a favorable settlement. They presented evidence that the truck driver involved was following too closely and two of the families received $14 million each for the loss of their daughters.
Another now notorious truck accident is the one involving comedian and actor Tracy Morgan. Tracy Morgan was traveling along the interstate with several other individuals in a limousine. Suddenly, a truck traveling at a high rate of speed crashed into the limo. Tracy Morgan survived the accident but sustained serious injuries. His friend and fellow comedian James McNair tragically died in the crash. Later, evidence revealed that the truck driver had not slept in over 24 hours before the crash. McNair’s children were awarded a $10 million settlement from Walmart in connection with the accident.
Fatalities Caused by Truck Accidents
Trucks traverse the country every day, at all hours of the day. Although truck drivers are usually safe drivers who have received extensive training and often have several years of experience, some are inexperienced or behave in a negligent manner, leading to truck accidents. Due to the immense size of tractor trailers, crashes between a truck and a car will often result in fatalities for the car occupants.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Highway Loss Data Institute reports that over 2,485 car occupants were tragically killed in truck crashes in the year 2014. Another 531 pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists died in these crashes while 587 truck drivers were killed when their trucks hit another motor vehicle. Based on these figures, 97 percent of vehicle occupants killed in an accident between a passenger motor vehicle and a truck were occupants of the passenger vehicle.
Overall, truck accident fatalities have decreased from previous years, but rates remain unacceptably high. Most truck crashes occur on major roads other than interstates, while approximately a third of all truck accidents happen on the highway. Truck accidents can occur at any hour of the day, but are most often to happen between the hours of six a.m. and three p.m., which corresponds with busy work hours for truckers.
Causes of Fatal Truck Crashes
Every truck accident is unique and truck crashes can occur for innumerable reasons. Most truck accidents will fall into one of two categories: those that are caused by driver error and those that are caused by equipment failures.
Driver Error – Driver error is considered the single greatest cause of all motor vehicle accidents. Some errors truck drivers may make are:
- Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol—truck drivers must routinely submit to alcohol and drug testing. Despite these regulations, many truck drivers are found to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the accident.
- Driver fatigue—truck drivers work long, often odd hours. Federal regulations mandate how long truck drivers can be on duty before resting, but at times, drivers breach the federal guidelines or actually follow the guidelines but still end up fatigued.
- Truck rollover due to driver error—inexperienced drivers can speed around curbs, overcorrect their trucks, or perform other errors that cause the top-heavy vehicle to rollover.
- Distraction—driver distraction is especially dangerous for truck drivers, who are commandeering such massive vehicles. Distractions can include texting, emailing, talking on the phone, eating, drinking, and more.
- Speeding—speed is one of the number one causes of truck accidents. Driving at unsafe speeds can prevent drivers from stopping in time to avoid an accident or could lead to jackknifing, running off the road accidents, and the like.
- Inexperience—a driver that lacks training or hours on the road can make serious mistakes. Truckers without adequate experience could overcorrect, not allow themselves enough stopping time, or engage in other negligent actions.
Equipment Failure – Eighteen wheelers are complex machines that operate with five axles, 12 different gears, a special braking system, and much more. These trucks must be carefully maintained to prevent equipment failures or malfunctions. Equipment failure can result from poor maintenance or manufacturing errors. Poor maintenance can lead to the following, among others:
- Tire blowouts
- Brake failure
- Transmission failure
- Defective steering
- Improper trailer attachment
- Defective lighting
Defective brakes and tire blowouts are the most common equipment failures. When brakes or tires fail, liability can fall to the trucker, trucking company, manufacturer, or company that loaded the truck. It is not always easy to uncover the true cause of an equipment failure, but with proper investigations and the help of an experienced and knowledgeable attorney, you can usually determine the cause.
Georgia’s Wrongful Death Statute
Georgia’s wrongful death statute can be found in O.C.G.A. 51-4-2. This statute states that the surviving spouse or, if there is no surviving spouse, the child or children of the deceased may recover for the homicide of the spouse or parent. Recovery will be for the full value of the life of the deceased. Georgia law defines a homicide, for wrongful death tort purposes, as the death of a human being by either criminal acts or negligence. Full value of life is defined as the value of life without deducting for necessary or personal expenses had the deceased lived.
Any recovery under the wrongful death statute will be split between the parties equally, with the surviving spouse receiving no less than one-third of the recovery, regardless of the number of children.
If a parent loses a child due to negligence, their right to recover is outlined in O.C.G.A. 19-7-1. Married parents will bring the action jointly while parents who are separated will both have the right to file a wrongful death action.
Frequently Asked Questions About Truck Accident Wrongful Deaths in Georgia
What is a wrongful death?
A wrongful death is a death caused by negligence or a criminal act. Truck accidents are just one potential cause of a wrongful death. If the truck accident that killed your loved one involved negligence, it could form the basis for a wrongful death action.
How soon do I have to file a wrongful death claim?
Each state defines its time period in which a wrongful death claim must be filed and various time deadlines, or “Statutes of Limitations,” apply to all legal matters. These limitations mean that if certain actions (such as giving proper notice or filing suit, to name a few) are not taken within applicable time periods, you can lose valuable legal rights, including your right to pursue a claim. Time deadlines in insurance policies may also affect your rights. Only an attorney who very closely examines your situation can determine exactly what time limitations apply to a particular legal matter. Therefore, you should always consult an attorney promptly to learn about your rights and any time deadlines that may apply. Thus, for assistance in determining the time limits in your particular case, consult with a licensed Georgia truck accident lawyer.
What damages could I receive in a wrongful death case?
Under Georgia law, the surviving spouse or children of the truck accident victim can seek to recover for the full value of the life of the deceased. This value could include:
• Lost wages and benefits, including those sums that the deceased might have reasonably earned if he or she had lived; and
• Loss of companionship, care, or other intangible benefits that the deceased provided to his or her loved ones, including intangible benefits that would have been conferred in the future had the deceased survived.
An estate, through a survival claim, can also seek damages to cover the financial losses related to their loved one’s death. These damages could include medical expenses incurred before the deceased’s death, funeral and burial expenses, and conscious pain and suffering endured by the spouse or parent prior to death.
Do I need a truck accident attorney to assist in my wrongful death claim?
The decision as to whether to retain the assistance of a truck accident attorney to pursue your wrongful death claim is one only you can make. You should consider the complexity of any wrongful death case, especially those stemming from a truck accident. Truck accident cases will involve complicated federal and state statutes, and trucking companies are often represented by large, aggressive law firms. A truck accident attorney can prove vital to pursuing a strong wrongful death case with the goal to obtain the recovery you deserve.