Still No Minimum Training Standards For Tractor-Trailer Drivers

Though tractor-trailers make up just .7% of the 253 million vehicles on U.S. roads, they play a major role in traffic fatalities, accounting for one in 10 highway deaths. That’s 10% of all fatal accidents, suggesting that large trucks pose a much more significant danger than traditional passenger vehicles. Yet the key federal regulators in the trucking industry – the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) – have delayed over 20 years in producing minimum safety standards for tractor-trailer drivers, leaving motorists in danger from inexperienced tractor-trailer drivers.

The Slow Drive Toward Better Regulations

Back in 1991, Congress ordered the DOT to establish training standards for entry-level truckers by 1993. Instead, the Department ignored the order, issuing rules only in 2004. Safety advocates took the DOT to court, arguing that the rules issued by the regulator were grossly inadequate. In 2005, a court ruled that the FMCSA had ignored safety data and again demanded that the regulatory agency issue new rules.

By 2007, the DOT issued another proposal. This one called for 120 hours of training to get a commercial driver’s license, including 44 hours of behind-the-wheel supervision and training.  Unfortunately, the rule was never adopted. By 2012, Congress yet again ordered the department to issue a new rule and demanded that the new rule set minimum safety standards in addition to requiring classroom and behind-the-wheel training. In 2013, the department withdrew its proposed rule and promised to develop a new rule, as well as a new rule-making process.

The Latest In a Round of Safety Lawsuits

In September of 2014, a group of safety advocates – including the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways – filed a lawsuit asking the District of Columbia Court of Appeals to force Anthony Foxx, the secretary of transportation, to issue final training standards. This could mark the end of a 20-year battle to finally establish unified safety and training standards for one of the riskiest occupations in the country.

So what will happen next? The FMCSA just announced its plan to create a negotitated rule-making committee which would be charged with creating new standards. The committee will include safety experts and representatives from the trucking industry. The committee must then work together to devise new rules – a process that isn’t always clean, as the history of lawsuits surrounding this issue suggests. However, if the rules are devised and finally implemented, the industry will finally get a much-needed update to its safety standards.

Proposal Will Help Prevent Tractor-Trailer Underride Accidents

Tractor-trailer underride collisions are dangerous and horrifying accidents that, with the right safety equipment, are preventable.

Underride collisions occur when a car strikes the rear of a truck and slides underneath.  Often, the outcome is a car that is ripped in half and occupants who are killed or catastrophically injured. Though these types of collisions are relatively rare, they represent a quarter of all truck-related fatalities, showing how deadly these wrecks are. According to the NHTSA, 423 people die due to these collisions every year. A new proposal for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) aims to reduce the frequency and severity of underride crashes.

NHTSA Works to Reduce Underride Collisions

Underride guards are steel bars than hang from the rear of a tractor-trailer that help prevent cars from sliding under tractor-trailers in accidents. While these guards are already required on many trucks in the United States, the force they are required to withstand is half that required in Canada.

In response to petitions by safety groups, the NHTSA has agreed to pursue new regulations for underride guards. The first change would require single-unit trucks – large trucks mounted on a single chassis – to use underride guards. The second change is to begin exploring rule changes to make regulations in the U.S. more similar to those in Canada. Specifically, trucks would be required to change the height at which guards are mounted; current regulations have them at 22 inches above the ground, but safety groups say 16 inches is a safer bet.

Are Changes To The Law Coming?

The changes are in their preliminary stages, so don’t expect to see sweeping changes just yet. Instead, the NHTSA has agreed to accept the safety group’s petition, which is a preliminary step toward changing regulations. According to the NHTSA, there’s ample evidence that trucks that are currently exempt from underride guard regulations play a role in a large number of fatalities, so it’s likely that more safety groups will eventually support the potential changes.

The American Trucking Association, which represents almost all major trucking companies in the country, has not raised any objections to the law, stating instead that it supports measures that make trucking safer. The organization, however, says it would prefer for the NHTSA to focus its energy on making passenger vehicles safer, suggesting the ATA might eventually oppose new regulations.

$150,000 Settlement For Post-Concussive Syndrome From Car Accident

We recently settled a case against Allstate Insurance Company for $150,000 on behalf of a young woman who suffered a concussion in a car accident and developed post-concussive syndrome as well as suffering injuries to her neck and back.

The Wreck

Ms. M was 21 years old and was on her way to school at a local university.  She was driving through an intersection and had a green light and the right of way when a driver coming the opposite direction tried to turn left in front of her.  Ms. M didn’t even have time to brake and her car crashed into the other car, causing her head to snap forward and strike the airbag.

This was a bad wreck and both cars were totaled and had to be towed from the scene.  The police spoke with two witnesses to the wreck who both said the other driver made a left turn in front of Ms. C so the police found the other driver at fault for the wreck and cited her for failure to yield while turning left.

The Injuries

After the wreck Ms. M got out of her car and felt dazed and groggy.  She tried to call 911 but couldn’t remember the password for her cell phone.  A family member came and picked her up and they immediately went to the emergency room.  Doctors ordered a CT scan, which showed a probable contusion on the front of her brain.  The hospital kept her overnight and she was discharged the next day.

In the weeks following the wreck Ms. M kept feeling groggy and began experiencing problems with her memory such as forgetting the names of people and restaurants and would sometimes stutter or struggle to find the right word to use, a medical condition known as aphasia.  She saw a neurosurgeon and a neurologist, both of whom diagnosed her with post-concussive syndrome with cognitive deficits.  They prescribed medication to help with the symptoms of the concussion and referred her to speech therapy at the Shepherd Center.

When Ms. M’s neck and back didn’t get better a couple of weeks after the wreck, she went to see an orthopedist.  The doctor ordered MRIs of her neck and back that showed mild disc bulges in her cervical and lumbar spine.  The orthopedist referred her to physical therapy and when that didn’t help she underwent a series of facet joint injections.

With therapy and time, Ms. C’s post-concussive syndrome resolved and her neck and back got better.  She graduated from college with good grades and got a good job with a local business where she’s doing well.

Lawsuit & Settlement

When Allstate refused to make a fair settlement offer to Ms. C we filed a lawsuit on her behalf.  The other driver admitted that she was at fault for the wreck so the case was about fair compensation for Ms. C’s injuries and what she went through after the wreck.  After the case was put on a trial calendar Allstate offered to mediate the case and we were able to reach a $150,000 settlement for Ms. C.

 

Electronic Tracking: Coming To A Tractor-Trailer Near You

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that tractor-trailer drivers account for about 15% of car accidents every year. Many of these wrecks are due to truck driver fatigue, with the NHTSA estimating that 30% to 40% of accidents are caused by driver fatigue. A new proposal by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) will require tractor-trailer drivers to electronically log the hours they work and drive, reducing the number of tired tractor-trailer drivers and wrecks caused by truck driver fatigue.

The Problem: Tractor-Trailer Driver Fatigue

Though the FMCSA has long worked to combat driver fatigue, trucking companies and truck drivers have both continued to push back. Many trucking companies and drivers are paid by the mile, which creates financial incentives to cover as many miles as possible, even if that means driving more than allowed by trucking safety regulations.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration currently limits truck drivers to 11 hours of active driving each day. Drivers must log their miles to ensure they and their employers are in compliance. But this mileage logging system relies on the “honor system” from both drivers and trucking companies, making it easy to cheat the safety regulations.  In fact, the logs are often called “liar logs” because it’s so easy for truck drivers to “fudge” the hours and miles driven to make it look like they’re complying with the safety regulations.

The Solution: Electronic Tracking

The proposal by the FMCSA would require drivers to use electronic logging devices in their tractor-trailers. These devices use GPS and satellite tracking to automatically log miles and hours driven.  This will save truck drivers and trucking companies time and money, as drivers won’t have to fill out daily logs showing their hours and miles driven and trucking companies won’t have to monitor and audit the drivers’ logs for compliance with the trucking safety regulations.

More importantly, the logging devices will decrease truck driver fatigue and increase safety, as the devices make it virtually impossible for a truck driver to drive more than allowed by the trucking safety regulations without getting caught.  An analysis by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration suggests that the measure could prevent 20 fatalities and 434 injuries each year. The measure would also safe $394.8 million each year in traffic accident-related costs.

The proposed regulation also includes fines up to $11,000 for any company that harasses a driver for using the devices or encourages a drive to misreport his or her driving hours.

Takata Airbag Recall Affects Millions of Vehicles

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimate that as many as 11 million vehicles could be affected by a massive airbag recall. Takata, a little-known airbag manufacturer that provides airbags to many U.S. auto manufacturers, may have concealed data suggesting a widespread problem with the airbags. Congressional hearings investigating the manufacturer are underway, but in the meantime, the danger could affect millions.

What’s the Problem?

The problem arises from potentially defective inflater and propellant devices within the airbag. During a crash, these devices may malfunction, causing the airbag to hurl shrapnel-like particles at drivers and passengers.  The problem originally appeared to be with Toyota cars, but now has extended to several other brands. Preliminary evidence suggests that Takata did not know what caused the problem or how to remedy it, suggesting that some motorists were needlessly exposed to ongoing risks due to Takata’s unwillingness to recall the airbags. Takata may have known about the problem as early as 2004, and Honda drivers alone have sustained 30 injuries and two deaths due to the faulty parts.

Is My Car Affected?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration maintains an active list of vehicles which may be in need of replacement airbags. Visit this site for an up-to-date list. Currently, car manufacturers on the list – in order from highest to lowest number of total vehicles affected — include BMW, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru, and Toyota. If you own a vehicle on the list, contact your dealership or mechanic immediately. If replacement parts are not available in your area, the NHTSA advises motorists to have the airbags disabled until a replacement part becomes available.

If you or a family member has been injured by a defective airbag, contact us for a free consultation about your legal rights.

Settlement Reached in Stryker Hip Replacement Lawsuits

After numerous complaints and thousands of lawsuits related to their recalled Rejuvenate and ABG II hip replacements, Stryker Corp. recently agreed to over a $1 billion settlement. The hip implants were recalled in 2012 after patients reported complications from the metal debris inside the devices, in addition to pain and swelling near the implant site. The company advertised that their products were reliable for years, but many devices failed less than two years after being implanted, according to patient reports.

For patients who have already had the hip replacement surgically removed, the base settlement for cases is $300,000.  In order to qualify for the settlement, patients must show proof that their defective implant was removed before November 3, 2014.   Patients who suffered severe injuries as a result of the hip replacement may qualify for a larger settlement.  The deadline to submit a claim is March 2, 2015 and Stryker hopes to pay out claims by the end of 2015.

The hip replacements debuted with the Rejuvenate system in 2009 and the ABG II system in 2010.  Stryker did not complete any rigorous clinical testing on either system regarding long-term effectiveness or safety before putting the devices on the market. The company issued a safety alert on both devices in 2012, noting the following possible problems: pain and implant loosening leading to revision surgery, dissolution of the bone, the release of metal ions into the blood stream or body tissue, or premature tissue death.

Stryker hip implants were impacted by serious design flaws that caused pain and complication in patients, especially in situations where the hip implant metal debris broke loose and floated elsewhere in the patient’s body. The company was also accused of not warning patients about the potential risks of having the product implanted, leading many patients to suffer without adequate upfront knowledge about the possible danger. Many patients experienced degradation or fracturing of the modular neck inside the devices.

Over 4,000 lawsuits were filed against the hip implant manufacturer and consolidated into multi-district litigation. The company chose to pursue a settlement offer of more than $1 billion rather than heading to court, perceiving the potential losses from litigation to be even higher.

Our firm is still reviewing cases on behalf of people who received the recalled Stryker hip replacements.  We have offices in Atlanta, Georgia and handle cases throughout the country.  Call for a free consultation.

Wal-Mart, Tracy Morgan And The Seatbelt Defense

According to the CDC, more than half of all people who die in car crashes aren’t wearing their seatbelts. Seatbelts cut the rate of death and serious injuries from auto accidents in half, leading 33 states to require everyone riding in a car to wear a seatbelt.

But what happens to drivers or passengers who aren’t wearing their seatbelt and are injured in an accident?  In some states, not wearing a seatbelt is admissible against you in your personal injury case.  This is called “the seatbelt defense.”  However, Georgia and a majority of states have outlawed the seatbelt defense.  Juries cannot hear evidence that a person injured in an accident was not wearing a seatbelt and the defense can’t use it to argue you were responsible for your own injuries.

Before we go any further, let me be very clear: you should always wear your seatbelt.  It’s safe, it’s the smart thing to do and you greatly increase your risk of dying or being injured in a car accident by not wearing one.

The Sad Saga of Tracy Morgan

Famed comedian and former Saturday Night Live star Tracy Morgan’s devastating car crash made headlines back in June. The accident took the life of Morgan’s mentor, James McNair, and left Morgan critically injured and with a traumatic brain injury. Morgan and McNair were riding in a limousine when they were struck from behind by a Wal-Mart tractor-trailer driver. The driver had driven 700 miles before even beginning his shift.  Morgan sued Wal-Mart for criminal negligence, arguing that the driver should never have been permitted to drive a vehicle after so long on the road.

In its September response to the lawsuit, though, Wal-Mart alleged that Morgan’s injuries resulted, “in whole or in part, by plaintiffs’ failure to properly wear an appropriate available seatbelt restraint device.” The news stunned Morgan’s fans and the public, but to New Jersey lawyers accustomed to defending these suits, the claim comes as no surprise. In New Jersey, people who cause accidents can reduce their liability by arguing that the victim’s actions contributed to his or her injuries by not wearing a seatbelt.

The Seatbelt Defense & Georgia Law

Georgia has outlawed the seatbelt defense and whether or not a driver or passenger wore a seatbelt is inadmissible. That means that not wearing a seatbelt will not affect your case and that the defense can’t even mention it at trial. If Morgan’s accident had taken place in Georgia instead of New Jersey, Wal-Mart would have to find a different defense.

Changing Political Landscape For The Seatbelt Defense

The seatbelt defense may not be illegal much longer. In 2013, the Georgia Legislature considered a bill that would have allowed defense attorneys to present evidence that a driver or passenger failed to wear a seatbelt. The bill was withdrawn and sent back to committee, but is expected to come back up again this year.

This presents serious problems for people injured in car accidents as the insurance industry has consistently lobbied for this change to the law to try to reduce their liability.  Expect insurance companies to start claiming you weren’t wearing your seatbelt even if you were and hiring junk science “experts” to try to convince the jury that your injuries were not caused by the wreck but by not wearing a seatbelt. If you’re concerned about this issue, you’ll need to watch the Georgia Legislature carefully for the next several years. We’ll also keep you updated here.

$175,000 Verdict For Injuries From Tractor-Trailer Accident

Last week we obtained a $175,000 jury verdict for a husband and wife that were injured in a three-car accident involving a tractor-trailer and a third car.  The husband suffered a complete tear of his rotator cuff, called a “full thickness tear,” and required surgery to repair it. The wife aggravated pre-existing herniated discs in her neck and back, requiring physical therapy and epidural steroid injections.

The tractor-trailer driver and the other driver both blamed our client for the wreck and asked the jury to return a defense verdict. Instead, the jury found the tractor-trailer driver 50% at fault, the third driver 25% at fault and our client who was driving the car 25% at fault.  Since the jury found our client 25% at fault, the verdict was reduced by 25%, resulting in a verdict of $131,250 for our clients.

Before trial, the insurance companies for the tractor-trailer company and third driver had offered a combined $95,000 to settle the case so the verdict represented a $36,000 increase over the last pre-trial offer.

The Accident

The wreck happened at the intersection of the I-85 off-ramp and Jonesboro Road. Our clients were exiting I-85 and stopped at a red light waiting to make a left turn from the off-ramp onto Jonesboro Road.  There were two left turn lanes and they were in the left / inside lane. The defendant tractor-trailer was in the right / outside lane and was also stopped waiting to make a left turn.  The third car was on Jonesboro Road waiting to make a left turn onto I-85 and had stopped 10-12 feet past the stop line, slightly blocking the intersection and our clients’ lane to make the left turn.

The light turned green and our clients and the tractor-trailer both began making the left turn.  During the turn, the trailer came into our clients’ lane, striking their car and pushing it into the third driver’s car.

Challenges At Trial

The case had challenges in proving who was responsible for the wreck and proving our clients’ injuries.  First, the third driver claimed that our clients tried to “squeeze through” between her car and the tractor-trailer and should have waited for the tractor-trailer to complete its turn.  Second, while the defense didn’t dispute that the husband was injured in the wreck,  the defense argued that none of the wife’s injuries were caused by the wreck because she has multiple sclerosis (“MS”), which can cause neck and back pain, and also had a history of chiropractic treatment for neck and back pain before the wreck.

The “Squeeze Through” Defense

To combat the “squeeze through” defense, we showed the jury that the third driver had made a series of inconsistent statements about the wreck.

The police officer who investigated the wreck testified that the third driver hadn’t said anything about “squeezing through” or that our clients should have waited to make the turn.  Then we used a statement the third driver gave to an investigator for the tractor-trailer company a week after the wreck.  In that statement, the third driver said she didn’t see the accident, didn’t know who was at fault, and that there was “plenty of room” for our clients to complete the turn.

We used these previous statements to show that the third driver’s testimony had changed over time and that she simply wasn’t a credible witness.  In interviews with jurors after the trial, they said they didn’t believe the “squeeze through” defense.

Proving Our Clients’ Injuries

We confronted the challenges posed by the wife’s MS and previous chiropractic treatment for neck and back pain head on.  In opening statement, we told the jury about both of these issues and that they were going to have a tough decision on whether the wife’s injuries were caused by the wreck.

During trial, we used testimony from our client’s doctors to show that while MS can cause neck and back pain, MS does not cause herniated discs, that herniated discs can cause neck and back pain and that herniated discs can be aggravated by car accidents like this one.  We showed the jury that while our client had previously treated with a chiropractor for neck and back pain before the wreck, the pain always went away with treatment.  We also showed the jury that the wife has not having any neck or back pain in doctor visits a month before the wreck and a week before the wreck.

Finally, we called several friends and co-workers of our client as witnesses.  They all testified our client was healthy and active before the wreck and that after the wreck she really suffered from neck and back problems and was very limited in her activities.

After the trial, several jurors told us that while they had struggled with deciding whether our client’s injuries were caused by the wreck they ultimately decided we had proved they were.

 

$110,000 Verdict For Broken Arm In Motorcycle Accident

Last week we obtained a $110,000 jury verdict for a man who broke his arm in a motorcycle accident, requiring surgery to repair.  Before trial, the defense admitted that they were at fault for the wreck and agreed that our client Mr. D was entitled to recover his medical bills.  Given this, the only issue for the jury to decide was how much in compensation to award Mr. D for his pain and suffering after the wreck.

post surgery 2

The Challenges

We had two challenges in arguing for the jury to award Mr. D compensation for his pain and suffering.

First, Mr. D thankfully made a great recovery after the surgery and is experiencing almost no problems with his arm. For instance, in each of his three follow up appointments with his doctor he said his arm was doing fine and that he wasn’t having any pain.  Second, the case was filed in a conservative county that isn’t known for large jury verdicts. Combined, we had an uphill battle to obtain a jury verdict that included a significant amount of compensation for pain and suffering.

Combating The Challenges

Here’s how we dealt with these challenges.

First, we spent a good deal of time in jury selection asking the jurors about their views on awarding compensation for pain and suffering. While most didn’t have strong opinions about it one way or the other, we did find several that were against awarding compensation for pain and suffering or would have had a hard time doing so and were able to strike them from the jury.

Second, we told the jury that we weren’t looking for a “payday” or to “hit the jackpot” but that we were only asking for fair and just compensation for Mr. D’s injuries.

Finally, we were very upfront with the jury about how Mr. D was doing.  We told them that he had made a great recovery and was doing well.  However, we had Mr. D explain to the jury the issues he was still having with his arm: how it just didn’t feel the same since the surgery and would cause him a dull ache and pain when the weather changed or when he was doing normal everyday activities that put weight on his arm, like mowing the lawn or lifting heavy objects around the house.  We also called Mr. D’s supervisor at work and one of his friends to talk about his recovery from the surgery and how his arm was doing now.  Mr. D’s supervisor and friend also helped explain to the jury how Mr. D tried not to let any of his injuries get him down, how he returned to work about a week after the wreck and how he had minimized everything that had happened to him rather than tried to make a big deal out of it.

The Verdict

After a day and a half trial, the jury awarded Mr. D $57,000 in medical bills and $53,000 in pain and suffering for a total verdict of $110,000.  We are proud to represent Mr. D in his trial and to help him obtain fair compensation for his injuries.

First DePuy Pinnacle Hip Replacement Lawsuit Goes To Trial

The first of more than 6,000 DePuy Pinnacle hip replacement lawsuits to go to trial is underway in federal court in Dallas.

The plaintiff, a 58 year old woman from Montana, received two Pinnacle metal-on-metal hip replacements in 2009.  Soon afterwards, she began experiencing pain and other complications and had the hip replacements removed in 2011.  When her surgeons removed the hip replacements, they found that they were black from wear and decay caused by metallosis.  Blood tests showed that she was suffering from chromium and cobalt poisoning and that her levels were 85 times higher than normal.

Evidence DePuy Knew Of Poisoning Risk, High Failure Rate

Evidence at the trial has shown that DePuy knew of the risk of metal poisoning from the hip replacements as early as 2001.

A doctor who consulted for DePuy on the development of the Pinnacle hips informed the company in 2001 that metal ions leaching from the hip replacements into the surrounding tissue and bloodstream was a “major issue.”  In 2008 and 2010, doctors also informed DePuy of their concerns that the Pinnacle hip replacements were harming patients, with one writing in an email that the problems with the hips “is an epidemic” and that “these products are harming patients.”

Internal DePuy documents introduced into evidence at the trial also showed that the Pinnacle hips had a 5-year failure rate of 15%, three times higher than the company expected.

DePuy Used Loophole To Bypass Federal Approval Process

DePuy first began selling DePuy Pinnacle hips in 2005. DePuy used a loophole in federal law that allowed it to bypass having the Pinnacle hip replacements approved for use in patients by the Food & Drug Administration, the federal agency that oversees prescription medicines and medical devices.  When the FDA closed the loophole and announced in 2012 that all new artificial hips would require approval, DePuy stopped selling the Pinnacle hip replacements.

Free Consultation for DePuy Pinnacle Hip Replacement Lawsuits

Our attorneys continue to review cases on behalf of people who were injured by DePuy Pinnacle hip replacements as well as the DePuy ASR hip replacements.  We are based in Atlanta, Georgia and we handle hip replacement lawsuits throughout Georgia and the United States.  Call for a free consultation.