Articles Posted in Trucking Accidents

If you have driven on an interstate highway or other major multi-lane roads, then you know that large commercial trucks can be a hazard to other vehicles simply because they are so large. These tractor-trailer rigs, also referred to as semis or 18-wheelers, often consist of a large truck towing a trailer as much as 53 feet long, and rarely less than 48 feet long. These vehicles travel the nation’s roads and highways right alongside passenger vehicles every day, usually without incident. But when a tractor-trailer and a passenger vehicle collide, there is no mistaking which vehicle is going to get the worst of it. If injuries or deaths occur in such an accident, odds are that the occupants of the passenger vehicles will be the victims.

Truck Accidents Rarely Go Well for the Occupants of Passenger Vehicles

In 2018, nearly 5,000 people died in accidents involving large trucks, and another 151,000 were injured. Roughly 80% of the deaths were the occupants of passenger vehicles, pedestrians, bicyclists, or motorcyclists. A majority of the injuries likewise were suffered by people other than the occupants of the large trucks.

In any personal injury case, there is always a risk that the defendant has insufficient assets to pay any judgment or settlement and will therefore seek bankruptcy protection. In many cases, this means the plaintiff–the victim–is out of luck. What happens if there is a co-defendant who is not bankrupt? Can they be held solely responsible for the plaintiff’s damages?

Meeks v. Newcomb

The Atlanta-based U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals recently addressed such a case. In Meeks v. Newcomb, a man was killed after his vehicle crashed into the back of a tractor-trailer. The victim’s widow subsequently sued both the company that owned the truck as well as the individual driver.

As a general rule, you cannot directly sue an insurance company for a personal injury caused by someone they insure. In other words, if you are in a car accident caused by a negligent driver, you cannot name that driver’s insurance company as a defendant. Such “direct action” is not permitted under Georgia law.

Daily Underwriters of America v. Williams

But there are exceptions. Georgia law includes two separate provisions that permit direct action against insurance companies that insure motor carriers, i.e. semi-trucks. In a recent decision, Daily Underwriters of America v. Williams, the Georgia Court of Appeals explained how these two provisions can be applied in practice.

When an accident involves a commercial truck, there are usually records available with respect to the vehicle’s safety and maintenance. Such records can be made available to an injured victim during the discovery process of a personal injury lawsuit. If those records are improperly withheld–or even destroyed before they can be disclosed–a trial judge has the authority to impose sanctions on the offending party.

Allen v. Sanchez

It is important to note, however, that a judge will only impose sanctions for “spoliation” of evidence when certain standards are met. An ongoing federal personal injury lawsuit, Allen v. Sanchez, helps illustrate how courts deal with these situations.

When it comes to trucking accidents, Georgia has what is known as a “direct action” rule. This means that if you are injured due to a commercial truck driver’s negligence, you can name not only the trucking company but also its insurance carrier as defendants. This is an exception to the normal rule. In a personal injury case arising from a normal car accident, you cannot directly sue the insurer. This is because it is generally considered unfair to the trucking company if the jury is made aware that an insurance company is paying for any potential damages.

Wallace v. Wiley Sanders Truck Lines, Inc.

Trucking companies are understandably unhappy with the direct action rule, especially after they lose a lawsuit. But their complaints often fall on deaf ears. Consider this recent case from Columbus, Georgia.

While many personal injury lawsuits settle without the need for a trial, plenty of cases still go before a jury. Jurors are supposed to be fair and impartial. Attorneys for both sides question prospective jurors to screen them for possible biases. But the system is not perfect. The United States Supreme Court recently dealt with a case where there was evidence of juror bias that may have unduly affected the verdict in favor of a defendant.

Warger v. Shauers

Personal injury cases, such as those arising from an automobile accident, are almost always tried under the law of the state where the accident took place. But when the parties are from different states—say, the plaintiff lives in Georgia and the defendant is an insurance company based in Delaware—the case is tried in a federal court. This means that, while the underlying negligence claim is decided according to the forum state’s laws, the rules governing the trial itself are determined by Congress and the Supreme Court.

An “uninsured motorist” policy provides coverage to the insured when he or she is the victim of an accident caused by another party that has insufficient resources to pay the full amount of any legal damages. In this context, “uninsured” also means under-insured. Thus, for example, if Driver A is in an accident caused by Driver B, and Driver B’s insurance only covers half of the damages awarded in a subsequent lawsuit, Driver A’s uninsured motorist carrier would pay the remaining half.

But what if Driver B is an agent of the State of Georgia? Normally, state agencies (and their employees) enjoy “sovereign immunity” from most civil lawsuits. The idea is that a state cannot be sued in its own courts without its consent, which is normally granted through legislation. However, when a local government in Georgia purchases liability insurance, sovereign immunity is waived up to the limit of said policy. What does this mean for accident victims with uninsured motorist coverage? A federal judge in Savannah recently attempted to answer this very question.

FCCI Insurance Company v. McLendon Enterprises, Inc.

If you’re in a motor-vehicle accident, it can matter a great deal who owns the offending vehicle, at least when it comes to assessing legal liability. The State of Georgia and its subsidiaries, including cities and counties, are immune from most lawsuits arising from the negligent operation of vehicles by their employees. This “sovereign immunity” can extend even to egregious cases of failure to maintain vehicles in proper working order, as a recent decision by the Georgia Court of Appeals illustrates.

City of Milledgeville v. Primus

Lucious Primus is an officer with the Georgia Department of Corrections. In 2006, Primus had to transport an inmate from a work detail in Milledgeville back to a nearby prison. The City of Milledgeville owned and maintained the bus Primus was driving. On this particular day, the brakes on the bus failed, causing Primus to drive off the road and hit a utility pole, injuring his neck and shoulders.

Although it’s commonly said that police “protect and serve,” a local government is not necessarily liable when its sworn officers fail to protect the general public from harm. In a 1993 decision, the Georgia Supreme Court adopted what became known as a “public duty doctrine.” This doctrine holds that a municipality can only be liable for nonfeasance–a police officer’s failure to act–if there’s a “special relationship” between the individual alleging negligence and the local government. As defined by the Georgia Supreme Court, this means the police must give the person “an explicit assurance” of protection or assistance that the person then relies upon to his or her detriment.

Stevenson v. City of Doraville

Recently, the Supreme Court considered the application of the public duty doctrine to a negligence lawsuit arising from a multi-car traffic accident in DeKalb County. During a rainstorm one evening, a driver on Interstate 285 experienced car trouble. The driver was in the lane nearest the median. He attempted to cross six lanes and bring his car onto the shoulder, but the car stalled in the middle of the road.

Under Georgia law, the winning party in a personal injury (or any other civil) lawsuit is usually not entitled to recover attorney fees or costs in connection with the litigation. As the Georgia Supreme Court noted in a 1941 decision, “Where there is a bona fide controversy for the tribunals to settle, and the parties can not adjust it amicably, there should be no burdening of one with the counsel fees of the other, unless there has been wanton or excessive indulgence in litigation.” The Georgia legislature may make exceptions to this rule, however, and one such example was the subject of a recent Georgia Court of Appeals decision.

Horton v. Dennis

This case began with a 2008 accident in Telfair County. A tractor trailer crossing Highway 31 near McRae crashed into a truck. The truck driver suffered serious injuries, including a mild traumatic brain injury and permanent erectile dysfunction.

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