Articles Posted in Truck Accidents

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Chesterfield Bus Accident.jpgMax Kennerly of the Pennsylvania-based Beasley Firm writes about school bus accidents in the context of the recent Chesterfield, New Jersey tragedy. There, a dump truck slammed into a school bus, killing one child and injuring many. The dump truck had a flashing yellow light, and the school bus driver failed to stop for a stop sign.

Mr. Kennerly’s post is well-written (as are all of his posts), and brings some context to the complexities of automobile negligence litigation. My office is in Timonium, I live in Baltimore, and I try auto accident cases all over Maryland, but it never ceases to surprise me how frequently new fact patterns emerge. There is rarely a truly simple case, especially when the damages and injuries are severe. As Mr. Kennerly points out, the issues in this case include:

  1. driver distraction
  2. driver experience
  3. poor road design (defects including the road, surrounding trees and lights)
  4. bus crashworthiness (ability of bus to withstand crashes

Part of the last issue, crashworthiness, has to do with seatbelts on buses. We discussed bus seatbelts in a prior post. This New Jersey bus apparently had seatbelts, as required by New Jersey law. However, it is unclear what kind of seatbelts the bus had (two-point or three-point). Did the seatbelts prevent injuries or cause them?

These issues require serious consideration, and they crop up time and time again in auto accident cases. The other tragedy is that there is a time limit–because a governmental entity may be at fault, the victims must give proper notice to the state or city within 90 days of the accident. Nevermind that the state and city are obviously well aware of the accident. Failure to give proper notice within those 90 days (when families are trying to grieve for their loved ones, care for their injured, and move back to a place of normalcy) means that those families may be forever barred from recovering in a lawsuit.

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Maryland Bus Accident.pngI’ve learned to not take things for granted at trial. I had a case once where a witness was going to testify about something, the defense lawyer objected, and the judge sustained (agreed with) that objection. I explained the the judge the objection was improper, that the evidence was allowed under Maryland law, and that my client should have been allowed to testify. He didn’t even spend a second reconsidering, but denied my request.

[It’s not important for the purpose of the story, but the judge ruled that the witness could not testify about what she heard an employee of the defendant corporation say immediately after an accident on company property. The judge ruled that the employee was not the corporation, so the statement did not qualify as an admission by party-opponent. Therefore, it was hearsay and forbidden. This is dead-wrong on the law].

So, I’ve learned that judges are people, too. They don’t always have all of the answers. It must be hard to be a judge–they have to know a little about the law for criminal cases, family/domestic cases, and civil cases. Of course they will get things wrong from time-to-time. I was caught off-guard because I thought the evidence rule was a basic one that everyone knew. I never made that mistake again.

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Triple-Tractor-Trailer Accident Attorney.jpg
We recently reported about the Transportation Industry’s bright idea to make behemoth trucks even more monstrous (Big Rigs Getting Even Bigger?). If approved, it would not be uncommon to see 100-foot long triple-tractor-trailers sharing our roads with family vans, smart cars and Mini Coopers. To put it in perspective, two basketball courts side-by-side have a width of 100 feet.

The trucking industry is now asking Congress to permit them to increase the national weight limit on tractor-trailer trucks almost 20% from 80,000 to 97,000 pounds.

Well, the House committee on Transportation and Infrastructure said no, for now, at least. They are stalling the request, and mandating that trucks stay the same size, for now. Over the next three years they will study the costs associated with increased truck sizes. The committee was primarily concerned with the costs of repairing and replacing beat up roads (especially those costs to local governments and taxpayers). However, many people who are against the increase for safety reasons will take this opportunity to rally their forces for the next time this request is made.

Part of my problem with increasing truck sizes is certainly visceral. Those things scare me, sometimes. But my other problem is, as a Maryland trucking accident lawyer, I’ve witnessed not only the devastation that can be caused by a tractor-trailer accident, but I’ve seen the shoddy maintenance for our nation’s fleets of trucks. One of the biggest factors in trucking accidents is velocity–heavier trucks will often have a higher velocity. I’ve seen trucks that have failed brake inspections, and were put back on the road. Giving trucking companies license to use bigger trucks just puts us all in more danger.

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School Bus Accident Lawyers.jpgI’ve wondered this question ever since grade school. Back then, we didn’t have to wear seatbelts, but I remember dutifully doing so and chastising my parents when they didn’t (probably something we learned in school). In Maryland, we weren’t required to wear seatbelts until July 1986, and that was only for front seat passengers.

Buses were always an anomaly. School buses and commuter buses alike had no seatbelts. Even worse, you are allowed to stand up on commuter buses. There’s a bit of a bias against commuter bus accident victims (probably stemming from the stories we all hear about people rushing onto a bus after an accident to try to get a piece of the insurance pie); but common sense suggests that bus passengers, not tethered to their seats, may very well sustain more injuries. If not, then what are seatbelts for?

We’ve been told by our safety leaders that school buses are safe because of the design of the seats–they are well anchored, padded and high enough so that injuries are rare. Essentially, our children are compartmentalized to prevent injury. These improvements were a result of a UCLA study from about 35 years ago. However, that study also recommended the following that have never been implemented:

  1. Lap belts
  2. Aisle side panels

Why are lap belts and side panels important? The main reason is obvious–not all collisions are rear-enders. If a truck comes out of a side street and t-bones my child’s school bus, my child is going to move to the side, possibly fall into the aisle and onto the bus floor. If the bus rolls over on its side, my child will be propelled into the air. That’s not safety.

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Semi Tractor Trailer.jpgAs of January 3, interstate truck and bus drivers (those driving between states) are forbidden from using hand-held cell phones while operating their trucks. The enforcement angle isn’t as strong as it could be–drivers violating the rule are fined up to $2,750 per offense, and their truck-driving privileges can be revoked for multiple offenses. Employers may be fined up to $11,000. If we were really serious about this, there shouldn’t be a warning period. One strike and you’re out.

Truckers still have the option of various hands-free devices, including bluetooth or speakerphones.

It’s hard to say where all this distracted driving/cell phone publicity is going to take us by the end of 2012. There are some groups that want to eliminate all cell phone use in all vehicles–whether hands-on or hands-free. If we were honest with ourselves, we would all probably admit that hands-free isn’t much better than hands-on. On the other hand, drivers and the trucking industry are pushing back hard, arguing that this is an assault on our personal freedoms.

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There are 15.5 million truck drivers in the United States, and over 2 million tractor-trailers. AAA reports that trucking accidents account for 40% more fatal accidents than passenger cars. The trucking industry is now asking Congress to permit them to increase the national weight limit on tractor-trailer trucks almost 20% from 80,000 to 97,000 pounds. If approved, it won’t be uncommon to see triple-tractor-trailers on the roads.

Larger trucks may be more economical for moving goods across the United States, but the cost is too high. The risks are obvious–heavier trucks are harder to stop, and more likely to cause significant damages and injury when they can’t stop in time. Not only will this mean more trucking accidents, but it will mean more serious and fatal truck accidents, even here in Maryland.

This is a slippery slope–if Congress approves this change, the trucking industry will be asking to increase the maximum levels yet again. It is important to tell them no. See this AAA video clip for examples of the injury dangers of large trucks.