Georgia Semi truck crashes devastate families and yet year after year, some tractor trailer companies push their drivers well beyond their capacity as “big box” companies squeeze the drivers down to the penny on their margins. All of this downward price pressure creates a deadly combination of tired truck drivers and worn out equipment. The DOT is spread thin and relies on traffic enforcement to pull drivers off the road and that system typically misses 99% of the violators.
After spending seven years defending semi truck drivers and trucking insurance companies after serious crashes, we formed our firm to represent the victim’s families. Civil law attorneys are not effective in prosecuting cases on behalf of victims unless there are bright and experienced lawyers representing the families. If you are reading this article after a family member has been hit by a tractor trailer in Georgia, there are some key things you should know.
Hire a Georgia Semi Truck Crash Lawyer Early
Hiring a trucking lawyer early on will drastically increase your success rate because without a thorough investigation, evidence will disappear. Even though many families are in the middle of the grieving or healing process, for serious cases, it is essential that you hire a semi truck crash law firm immediately.
A case we recently took in is illustrative. We are handling a case involving a gentleman rear-ended on the interstate by a tractor trailer. He sustained a fractured shoulder and has undergone two surgeries to repair the clavicle. Without critical recordings from the 911 call center we would have been unable to prove that the truck driver was lying about not seeing the victim prior to the crash. If we had been contacted 2 months later, the evidence would have been gone. In Georgia, police departments only retain 911 records for a certain period of time, often only 90 days. If the request for the records is not received in a timely fashion, the records can be overwritten.
Skid marks and yaw marks get washed away within a week of the crash in most cases and the paint marks from the SCRT (Georgia State Patrol Serious Collision Reconstruction Team) unit will wash off within months. Witnesses move away and forget. Most importantly, operational documents from the trucking company can be destroyed and without a strong spoliation letter from the trucking lawyers, it is more difficult to argue that the trucking company should have retained the records beyond the six months required by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations.
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations
The United States Department of Transportation has control over interstate trucking and created a series of complex rules to govern how tractor trailers operate. When litigating semi truck crash cases involving serious injuries, one of the key issues involves the trucking companies lack of compliance with these rules.
A Sampling of the Relevant Rules
Choice of Drivers
A trucking company is required Pursuant to Rule 391.21, semi truck companies have to keep the driver’s detailed application forms, called a Driver Qualification file. As a part of this file they must obtain
a) verification of all prior truck driver’s licenses;
b) verification of the driver’s prior truck driving experience;
c) verification of all prior crashes and traffic tickets in the prior three years;
d) contact with any prior trucking companies that the driver worked for over the last three years and inquiry into the reason for termination of employment. As a practical matter, the tractor trailer company sends out faxes to the old employers asking about safety and substance abuse issues. The smaller a trucking company is, the more they tend to fail to follow procedures.
In addition to asking questions, the tractor trailer company has to request three years of driving history from the DMV before hiring and if the driver does not meet the minimum standards, they must decline to hire. If the driver is hired, every year they must refresh the request to see if there have been new unreported violations.
Section 391.15 of the FMCSR says that the Georgia tractor trailer employer cannot hire or keep a driver convicted of:
1) DUI in a tractor trailer. Remember the DUI level for tractor trailers is a Blood alcohol concentration of .04% or greater and if they refuse the alcohol tests;
2) Driving a big rig while on a Federal Schedule I controlled substance like cocaine etc;
3) Fleeing the scene of a crash while in a semi truck.
There is a one year suspension for the first offense and any subsequent offense will suspend the commercial license for three years or more.
The employer has to pay for a doctor to give the truck driver a medical exam to make sure his health does not make him a driving danger.
Semi Truck Maintenance
Section 396.3 requires that “…every motor carrier shall systematically inspect, repair, and maintain, or cause to be systematically inspected, repaired, and maintained, all motor vehicles…”
The drivers themselves must also do a pre-trip inspection before every load is hauled. See §396.11
Driving Over Hours
Semi truck driver cannot drive longer than eleven total hours after 10 consecutive hours off duty under section 395.3. If they have been working a total of 14 hours in a day, regardless of whether it was driving or not, they cannot drive and more that day.
Over the course of a week, the trucker cannot drive if they have been on duty for 60 hours in any 7 consecutive days or having been on duty 70 hours in any period of 8 consecutive days.
Truckers have to keep detailed logs showing how long they have been driving and we frequently see truckers cheat on these records to make it look like they are driving less than they actually do. One way to catch a cheating trucking company is to compare the driver’s fuel receipts, GPS tracking points and dispatch reports with their hours of service logs.
If you or your family is in need of a lawyer, please contact us to discuss the matter further.
Christopher M Simon
3535 Piedmont Road
Building 14 Suite 410
Atlanta GA 30305