Articles Posted in Trucking Accidents

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.

Under Georgia law, an automobile insurance policy may exclude certain individuals from coverage. For example, if you purchase insurance coverage for your vehicle, you may want to exclude your child from coverage if he has a poor driving record; such an exclusion can improve your own insurance rate. The courts will generally honor an exclusion if it is clear and unambiguous.

A recent decision by a federal judge in Macon helps explain this subject. The underlying case arose from a fatal December 2006 automobile accident. One person–the driver deemed solely responsible for the accident–died while another man suffered serious injuries. In 2008, the surviving injury victim filed a negligence suit in Dooley County Superior Court against the estate of the deceased driver. The victim also sued the driver’s parents, who owned the car, for negligent entrustment, that is negligently providing their son with access to their automobile.

The parents held an insurance policy on their automobile from Progressive Max Insurance Company. About a month before the accident, the father signed a “Name Driver Exclusion Election” listing his son as an excluded driver. The language of the exclusion stated, “No coverage is provided for any claim arising from an accident or loss involving a motorized vehicle being operated by an excluded driver.” This included any claims made against the parents or their son for “vicarious liability” arising from the son’s operation of the vehicle. Vicarious liability refers to the responsibility of a superior for the acts of his agent. This commonly arises in cases where a company is liable for negligent acts committed by an employee.

Cobb State Court.jpgAs a Marietta Trucking Lawyer, I’m always interested in significant Cobb County trials involving tractor trailer collisions. On Thursday I watched closing arguments in the case of Theresa Foster v. Landstar Ranger, Inc. et al. The case was filed by a Blakely, Georgia woman seeking to hold a Florida trucking company accountable for a 2007 collision that killed her husband, William Foster, killed a friend, Jay Demont, and caused her serious personal injuries. The evidence presented by the widow’s lawyers was compelling. As I left the Courthouse that evening, I felt fairly confident the jury would return a large eight figure verdict, but then you never know. On Friday the jury reached a verdict, awarding $40 million to Mrs. Foster, thought to be a record in a Georgia wrongful death case.
The driver of the Landstar 18-wheeler, Stephen Collins, ran a stop sign and collided with the Foster’s vehicle on February 11, 2007 while they were on a hunting trip in the southwest Georgia town of Blakely. Mrs. Foster’s lawyers presented evidence that Mr. Collins ignored 10 indications that he was approaching a stop sign, including rumble strips, lights, and signs. At the time of the accident, Collins was transporting a cargo of rubber pellets that caused the weight of his 18-wheeler to be over 77,000 pounds when it crashed into Mr. Foster’s 2002 Ford F-150. Both Foster and Demott were riding in the front seat of the truck, while Mrs. Foster who suffered broken ribs and a fractured vertebra was the lone back seat passenger.

In Georgia, if a trucking company kills someone, they are responsible for the value of that person’s life as well as the lost earning capacity of that person. Mr. Foster was a large wage earner and a successful businessman. Mrs. Foster’s lawyers presented a thorough economic analysis, supported by testimony of expert economists, accountants, and Mr. Foster’s business partners, that Mr. Foster’s lost earning capacity exceeded $43 million dollars. Landstar’s lawyers argued that the number was too high, but failed to present any evidence supporting a different number. From my point of view, it appeared the defense strategy was to sit back and rely on the reputation of Cobb County juries to deliver low verdicts.

At Church on Sunday I was asked a good question. “If a Florida corporation killed a Blakely, Georgia man in Blakely, why did the case get tried in Cobb County?” The answer surprised them, in Georgia cases are tried where the Defendant lives. Corporations “live” wherever they choose to have a registered agent. Ironically, Landstar Ranger, Inc. choose to set up their registered agent in Cobb County, because of our County’s reputation for very low verdicts. They figured if they ever killed anyone with a tractor-trailer they would get to pay less if the case was tried in Cobb County. However, from my experience as a Cobb County Personal Injury Lawyer, this perception is outdated. More often than not, Cobb County juries do the right thing and reach verdicts based on the evidence, whether that means a large or small verdict.

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child_safety_seat_check.jpgAs of July 1, 2011 any child who has not reached the age of 8 must be restrained in a car or booster seat while riding in any vehicle. In addition, the car seats must be in the back seat, and the seats must be designed for the proper age, weight, and height of the child, as well as meet all U.S. Federal Guidelines.

Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death from children 3 to 14 years old, but when they are properly restrained it greatly reduces the risk of injury against everything from sudden stops to head-on collisions. Children who do not use child passenger seats are three times more likely to be injured than those who are using them. It is also very important to use child seats properly per the manufacturing guidelines as research shows that nearly 75 percent of child safety seats are not properly installed.

The Georgia Office for Highway Safety director Harris Blackwood, calls this new law, “a landmark in child safety.” Blackwood feels that the new law greatly improves the overall safety of 6 and 7 year olds riding in cars in Georgia.

The new law will apply to passenger vehicles, vans, and pickup trucks. It will be a few months before law enforcement will fully enact the law, but the first violation of the car seat law will result in a $50.00 fine, while second and subsequent convictions will result in $100 fines. The first conviction will add one point to a driver’s license, and the second and subsequent violations will add two points. Repeat offenders may also face losing their license all together.

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Interstate 75 was the scene of another fatal tractor-trailer crash this past Saturday night. WSBTV reported traffic was stopped on I-75 because of construction, when a tractor-trailer driven by Henry Lipps crashed into multiple cars. At least four adults were seriously injured and a 6 month old baby was killed. Mr. Lipps was charged with second degree vehicular homicide (a misdemeanor) and following too closely.

According to Cobb County Police, the 18-wheeler never hit his brakes before impact. At this point it is obviously too early to tell why Mr. Lipps did not brake. Even professional drivers can get distracted and make mistakes. However, often in collisions like this, driver fatigue is a factor. Experienced Georgia trucking lawyers will tell you the unfortunate truth is some trucking companies pressure their drivers into violating The Federal Motor Carriers Requirements limiting hours of service. Law enforcement in Cobb County takes all trucking fatalities very seriously and there will certainly be a thorough investigation. If it is determined that Federal Regulations were being violated by the driver and/or the trucking company, for the sake of the impacted families, I hope the driver and trucking company will be held accountable.

NAIC.jpgThe National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ eighteen month investigation of Allstate’s claims handling practices ended this month with Allstate agreeing to pay a $10 million dollar settlement. The primary focus of the investigation and settlement relates to Allstate’s use of a claims handling software called Colossus. Allstate has agreed to make several changes to it’s claims handling policies. However as a injury claim lawyer, I still advise caution when dealing with giant insurance companies like Allstate.

Their are many types of insurance claims where hiring a lawyer is typically not necessary, such as clear liability property damage claims. When dealing with a company like Allstate, whether you hire a lawyer or not, it’s always a good idea to at least consult with a lawyer. Most personal injury lawyers provide free consultations and information gathered from a lawyer consultation can be an invaluable resource for determining whether you are being treated fairly by an insurance company.

moveover.jpgOn Wednesday, October 13, 2010, Coweta County Deputy Jeff Bugg experienced an extremely close call when he was nearly run over during a routine traffic stop. Deputy Bugg pulled over a vehicle headed northbound on I 85 and was standing next to the vehicle when a tractor trailer crashed into both cars and kept going. Deputy Bugg was thrown to the ground by the impact, but miraculously escaped serious injury.

The hit and run tractor trailer was later found, parked behind a truck stop, and was charged with DUI drugs, possession of prescription drugs not in original container, leaving the scene of an accident involving injury or death, failure to maintain lane, and failure to pull over when approaching an emergency vehicle. That may seem like a lot, and it is, but this driver is lucky he didn’t end up with a vehicular homicide charge. Thankfully Deputy Bugg was not seriously hurt and perhaps this near tragic incident will raise awareness of Georgia’s move over law.

As a Georgia injury lawyer, I’m often surprised by the number of people that have never heard of Georgia’s move over law, O.C.G.A. 40-6-16. Georgia law requires that you move over one lane if possible when approaching stopped emergency vehicles. If you cannot move over you must slow down below the posted speed limit and be prepared to stop. Please protect our officers and move over.

I just finished up a case where a violent head on collision was caused by a texting teen. In my case, luckily no one was killed, but texting and driving is a huge problem that is killing American teens. Do’s Thumb Wars is a national campaign to help educate drivers on the dangers of texting and driving. Check out the site, they have free thumb socks! What are thumb socks you ask? Watch the video.

In the video above Ken Jeong (Community, The Hangover) and Joel McHale (Community, The Soup) share the sobering fact that car accidents are the leading cause of teen deaths in the U.S., while demonstrating how difficult it is to text when your thumbs are wearing socks.

In an attempt to fix this huge problem, the State of Georgia recently passed a law banning texting while driving. So who knows, if fear of a big traffic ticket doesn’t stop the problem, maybe thumb socks will.

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