Trucking Accident Award of $58.5 Million Provides a Primer on Trucking Industry Negligence


April 23, 2013

Our  Georgia Truck Accident Lawyers have written a number of blog articles on the unique hazards posed by truck drivers who ignore fatigue, and trucking companies that tacitly encourage violation of hours of service rules. We also have previously addressed the importance of working closely with an experienced Georgia trucking accident attorney if you or someone close to you is injured or dies in a trucking collision because of the unscrupulous practices sometimes employed by trucking companies to avoid liability.

A recent jury verdict in the amount of $58.5 million in a New Mexico wrongful death lawsuit arising out of horrific trucking accident provides a primer that shows how all of these issues may play out in a trucking accident case.

Overview of the Facts

The truck driver was on his last trip after 13 loads of transporting water from a well when he dropped off his final load and was driving back to the yard of the commercial carrier. The truck driver made an unsafe left turn in front of the plaintiff, who was unable to stop before slamming into the tanker truck. The plaintiff died shortly after the collision.

Fatigued Truck Driver & Indifferent Trucking Company

The truck driver admitted during trial that he was probably fatigued from transporting loads for 13 consecutive hours. Evidence was provided at trial indicating that not only did the trucking company turn a blind eye to the issue of fatigue, but actually encourage drivers to disregard and cover-up fatigue. The trucking company did not pay commercial drivers based on an hourly rate but rather on a per job basis. This "piecemeal" type pay structure provided an incentive for truck drivers to driver faster and work longer to increase their pay.

This trucking company engaged in a practice that is not that uncommon in the industry by trying to destroy evidence of fault. The judge in the case denied the trucking company the right to assert its primary defense of contributory negligence by the plaintiff. The judge found that the trucking company had intentionally destroyed log documents that could have provided evidence that the truck driver was violating hours of service (HOS) rules that limit hours on the road or on duty without minimum intervening break periods.

Lack of Training and Experience

Many trucking companies disregard the inexperience of a driver or fail to provide proper training or supervision upon hiring a commercial driver.   In this case, the driver had only been driving commercial trucks for six months and did not receive any certified training covering the unique handling features of commercial trucks, nor safe driving practices that reduce the risk of causing a trucking collision, such as appropriate stopping distance, estimates of reaction time and challenges of driving a big-rig at night.

The established industry norm for training of commercial drivers is a thirteen week course according to standards suggested by the Department of Transportation. This lack of any training program was even more egregious because the commercial driver had never been behind the wheel of a tractor-trailer before being hired by the trucking company that was the defendant in this trucking accident lawsuit.

Company Disregard of Safety Violations and Mechanical Issues

The trucking company in this case had a history of repeated violations that required its vehicles to be pulled off the road. Evidence produced at trial showed that the commercial carrier's number of citations was double the national average. Many of these citations were for speeding violations, which is not surprising because the compensation structure used by the trucking company encourage truck drivers to decrease the time it took to complete a job by any means available.

These violations were compounded by mechanical inspection and maintenance issues involving the 18-wheeler truck involved in the fatal trucking accident. The tanker truck involved in the collision had an expired registration and worn tires so it should have been out of service.

Given this litany of unsafe practices, the hardly surprising result was a fatal tractor-trailer collision and jury award of $47.5 million in punitive damages. Our Georgia truck accident attorneys at Montlick and Associates are available to provide effective legal representation to personal injury victims throughout all of Georgia and the Southeast. Call us today 24/7 for your free consultation, or use our Free 24/7 Online Live Chat at www.montlick.com.

Category: Truck Accidents

Please Note:
Many of our blog articles discuss the law. All information provided about the law is very general in nature and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Every situation is different, and should be analyzed by a lawyer who can provide individualized advice based on the facts involved in your unique situation, and a consideration of all of the nuances of the statutes and case law that apply at the time.