Court Awards $15 Million in Drunk Driving Tractor-Trailer Accident Lawsuit
A federal court returned a verdict for $15 million to accident victims in a tractor-trailer case where the truck driver was intoxicated and had exceeded his hours of service without adequate rest periods. Stanislaw Gil, a truck driver, plowed his fully loaded 18-wheeler into a car in a construction zone.
The crash initiated a chain reaction of collisions that killed four people on an Indiana highway. Gil's tractor-trailer, which was fully loaded with food, crashed into the vehicle that started the chain reaction accident. The accident claimed the lives of Beverly Zinsmaster, 66, and Phillip Zinsmaster, 69, of Sherwood, Michigan; Joan Auburt, 65, of San Gabriel, California; and Dimitry Karpov, 27, of Mayfield Heights, Ohio.
Evidence was presented that Gil was driving his tractor-trailer under the influence of alcohol. It was also established that Gil conspired with his employer to doctor his logbooks in an attempt to hide evidence that he had been driving longer than allowed under Department of Transportation hours of service regulations. The court also found that Gil's employer Net Trucking used fraudulent conveyances in an attempt to hide assets prior to the court reaching a verdict. Stanislaw Gil was sentenced in his vehicular homicide case to 14 years in prison after pleading guilty to four counts of reckless homicide and one count of criminal recklessness.
This case illustrates many of the key issues in tractor-trailer cases, as both drunk driving and driver fatigue are key causes of commercial trucking accidents. Truck drivers are often paid per mile. If a driver is off the road resting, the driver is not earning income so truck drivers sometimes forego safety guidelines and drive while fatigued to earn more money. Many experts consider truck driver fatigue to be as dangerous as driving while under the influence. A National Traffic Safety Board study found that between 30 percent and 40 percent of commercial trucking accidents were fatigue-related. When a sleepy truck driver is under the influence of alcohol when driving a fully loaded 70,000-pound tractor-trailer the results can be devastating.
The other significant issue illustrated in this case is the common trucking industry practice of doctoring logbooks. A trucking accident victim has the benefit of government mandated record-keeping requirements that are imposed on commercial truck drivers. The most important of these records is the logbook, which each driver is required to maintain. The logbook contains daily log sheets, which must be completed by the driver. They track the driver's hours of service, miles traveled, on or off duty status and other information about the trip for each 24-hour period. These are designed to ensure that truck drivers are resting sufficiently to reduce fatigue related tractor-trailer accidents.
An experienced trucking accident attorney in Georgia will also seek to preserve other documents that can be checked and compared to each other and the logbook to ensure the accuracy of each document. The best tractor-trailer attorneys will seek these documents during the discovery process and then reconcile the documents to ensure that all of them match the logbook and the motor carrier's account of the events. A tractor trailer attorney will analyze all of the documents for evidence of a pattern or practice of doctoring logbooks and/or other documents, exceeding speed limits, exceeding hours of service requirements or violations of state or federal laws.
One of the biggest obstacles in trucking cases is the tendency of evidence to be "lost" or destroyed. All big rig trucks have an onboard computer referred to as a black box. This electronic monitoring system records a wealth of information including critical information regarding vehicle maintenance issues, such as tire pressure. The data recorder will also record important information related to the truck driver's actions including speed, sudden braking, following distance and hours of service. The black box devices may also contain email correspondence between a driver and the trucking company addressing mechanical or fatigue issues or similar issues that may be relevant to establishing fault. Data from black box recorders is often conveniently erased following an accident. At Montlick and Associates, Attorneys at Law, we put the trucking company on notice that the black box data is to be preserved.
Montlick and Associates, Attorneys at Law, has been representing those who suffer serious injury or wrongful death in tractor-trailer accidents throughout Georgia for over 36 years. If you or your loved one has been injured or killed in a tractor-trailer accident, Montlick and Associates will work quickly to prevent the destruction or altering of key evidence. Our experienced Georgia tractor-trailer accident attorneys are available to assist clients throughout all of Georgia and the Southeast, including but not limited to Albany, Athens, Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Gainesville, Macon, Marietta, Rome, Roswell, Savannah, Smyrna, Valdosta, Warner Robins and all smaller cities and rural areas in the state. No matter where you are located our lawyers are just a phone call away, and we will even come to you. Call us 24 hours a day/7 days a week for your Free Consultation at 1-800-LAW-NEED (1-800-529-6333). You can also visit us online at www.montlick.com and use our Free Case Evaluation Form or 24-hour Live Online Chat.