Articles Posted in Truck Accidents

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Insurance Policy (11-26-11).jpgInsurance is complicated business, and many of our auto accident clients get a crash course in coverage only after the collision. One common question from people involved in Baltimore auto accidents is whether there is insurance coverage for their automobile accident. Sometimes, this is in context of a negligent driver who was not the owner of the vehicle. There are three typical situations:

Auto Accident With Permissive Car Use

When the accident is caused by a non-owner, but the driver had permission of the owner to drive the car, the owner’s insurance will cover the accident and all injuries related to it. In that case, any lawsuit filed will be against the driver, but the insurance company will step up to defend the case. The lawsuit can also include the owner of the car if that owner knew or had reason to know that the driver was a dangerous driver. That is a very high bar, and requires a clear showing that the negligent driver had a history of accidents that the owner should have known about.

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electronic truck driver log.pngHeavy Duty Trucking Magazine published a fantastic review of a new highway agreement. Here are the important points:

  • Trucking interests were denied their requested increase in truck weight restrictions to 97,000 pounds (see more on this at our earlier post: Cutting Bigger Big Rigs Off At The Pass)
  • Electronic driving logs will be required
  • the FMCSA will conduct a study of the 34-hour restart rule

Electronic driving logs, if implemented correctly, will ensure accuracy, can prevent tampering, and can foster accountability. Driving logs are one of the most important sources of information in Maryland truck accident lawsuits–we obtain those records and comb through them in order to find rest and sleep violations, which are frequently the cause of serious or fatal truck accidents.

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Employee Handbook.jpgThe scourge of distracted driving is so bad that I predict many attorneys will be adding to their lawsuits complaints against employers for failure to have policies, procedures and protocols to discourage distracted driving. First, a little bit about agency.

An agent is someone who is working for someone else. When an employee gets in his car to go do something for his employer, he is the agent of the employer. When the driver negligently causes a Maryland auto accident, both the driver is responsible and the employer is responsible.

Because distracted driving is such a big deal right now, employers are jumping on the bandwagon to come up with policies about when their employees can and can’t use cell phones while driving. Some companies are prohibiting the use of handheld phones; others are prohibiting all cell phone use, even hands-free conversation. Where an employer does not take the step to set a policy, they are setting themselves up for more liability in the event of an accident. Realistically, they will be on the hook for any auto accident injuries regardless of whether the company was negligent, but it gives one more reason for the judge or jury to decide that the company is responsible. Also, it puts forth negative conduct by the company, which makes a jury more likely to decide against them if the question of liability (whether the employee was negligent) is unclear.

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Oil Truck.jpgThe federal government has closed a loophole that was the cause of untold numbers of trucking accidents. Truck drivers who hauled material to and from oil drilling sites were limited to spending 14 hours of work before resting–the problem is that the former rule did not include time at the drilling site. So, truck drivers could spend 14 full hours on the road, and any amount of time on duty loading, unloading or performing truck maintenance at the site. Other duties could easily increase the time between significant rest periods to 15, 16 or 17 hours.

The New York Times wrote about the problem a few weeks ago, and included heartbreaking stories of preventable deaths. In one, the driver had been working for almost 21 hours straight. The data is striking: one-third of all oil worker deaths are caused by highway crashes, compared to one-fifth in all industries combined. That article may have motivated the Department of Transportation to change the rules, and hopefully save some lives.

Perhaps most disheartening is that the employers sometimes allow or encourage fatigue-related truck accidents:

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Skid Marks.JPGThe 1998 Court of Appeals decision in Beynon v. Montgomery Cablevision ruled that pre-impact fright is compensable in Maryland auto accidents. We all know what pre-impact fright is–those brief moments before an impending collision when you realize that another car is going to hit you. This is the moment that causes you to freeze, to shut your eyes, to pray, to hold your breath. It’s that moment that the adrenaline shoots through your system.

The old rule was that damages could be recovered for injuries like fright only with physical impact, but that rule was done away with in 1909. For the run of the mill auto case though, a better case is made with some element physical impact or injury–a close call doesn’t usuallycut it. The Beynon case was about whether pre-impact fright was compensable in a wrongful death case where the driver was killed in the collision. In that tractor-trailer collision, a driver collided into the rear of a truck. The allegations against the truck driver were that the truck did not have proper lighting in the rear, making it difficult to see. Leading to the point of impact were over 71 feet of skid marks–a clear indication that the driver knew what was coming. He died on impact. The trial jury decided that $1,000,000.00 in pre-impact fright damages were sufficient (according to Maryland law applicable at the time, that figure was reduced to $350,000.00).

A primary concern of the court was to prevent fabricated and speculative claims. Particularly in wrongful death cases, the family could claim that there was pre-impact fright, but it can be a difficult thing to prove. Unless you have over 71 feet of skid marks.

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Self-driving car.jpgWe’ve all heard about Google’s research into self-driving cars. Now the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is getting into the mix, believing that 80% of automobile accidents can be prevented if vehicles are given the ability to communicate with each other (see article, Detroit Free Press).

This “vehicle-to-vehicle” communication and related technologies can be used to implement crash-warning systems, and lane departure alerts. According to the NHTSA’s Administrator:

Our research shows that these technologies could help prevent a majority of the collisions that typically occur in the real world, such as rear-end collisions, intersection crashes, or collisions while switching lanes.

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distracted driving accident attorney.jpgU.S. Secretary Ray LaHood is continuing his crusade against cell phones and upping the ante, proposing a nationwide ban talking, texting and e-mailing while driving. His latest forum (see the news story by Reuters) was a distracted driving summit in Texas last week. His main argument centers around the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s estimate of 3,000 fatal traffic accidents in 2011, caused by distracted driving. The NHTSA also states that cell phone use delays reactions just as much as a BAC of 0.08.

According to LaHood:

It used to be that if an officer pulled you over for drunk driving, he would pat you on the back, maybe call you a cab or take you home, but he wouldn’t arrest you. Now that has changed, and the same enforcement can work for people who talk on cell phones while driving.

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A blog post by a State Farm Employee has been making the rounds on a few lawyer listserves that I belong to. It is an entirely reasonable and well-written post titled “The Do’s and Don’ts of a Minor Car Accident.”

One point stated by the employee:

Don’t assume there aren’t injuries.

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18-wheeler truck accidentTruck drivers are subject to a great deal of regulation, and rightly so. These are huge machines, and the smallest errors, whether because of driver fatigue, inadequate pre-trip inspections, or distracted driving, can cause life-altering destruction. There is always an incentive by truck companies to cut corners, cut costs, and improve their bottom line. The good trucking companies ignore those incentives, and play it safe. The bad ones skirt the federal and state regulations, and cause Maryland truck accidents.

Here’s the story of one really bad one. Unfortunately, it’s a local business, based out of Anne Arundel County, Maryland. In November 2011, trucking company Gunthers Transport LLC was forced by the federal government to close up shop. Gunthers, an “imminent hazard to the public,” was cited for safety violations and seven collisions within a one-year period. The company was caught falsifying driver logs to circumvent driver rest and sleep requirements. In the 1990’s a prior version of the company recently lost a civil lawsuit from a situation where one of its drivers killed one person and left another permanently disabled. The company declared bankruptcy, and still owes its victim a substantial amount of the $16.5 million judgment.

Just a few weeks later, a new company was born–Clock Transport LLC. Interestingly enough, it had the same address as Gunthers, and the person in charge was the son of Gunthers. Maryland State Police quickly noticed this, and made it a point to pull over every single truck from that address to check for safety violations.

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Indiana Bus Crash.jpgThe IndyStar reports in Lawsuit in Fatal School Bus Crash Focuses on Seat Belts, that the family of Michael Watkins, Lenae Watkins and Neveh Hobbs filed an automobile accident lawsuit against the Miller Transportation, Inc. Miller owns and operates the school bus involved in the March 12 collision which took the life of another student (not named in the lawsuit), Donasty Smith. The bus collided into a concrete pillar.

The lawsuit includes claims that Miller did not adequately inspect the bus. At this point, the police have inspected the wreck and concluded that the bus passed inspection on January 3, and there was no indication of anything faulty. However, the plaintiffs are obviously preserving their claim and their right to have their own experts inspect the bus.

The lawsuit also makes claims that Miller did not adequately monitor the health of the bus driver, who died in the collision. The autopsy results have not been released, yet.

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