The complex nature of Georgia trucking accident lawsuits begins with the fact that they so often result in profound injuries. Devastating injuries reported time-and-again in Atlanta truck accidents have included crushed and broken bones, amputated limbs, fractured facial bones, severed spinal cords, painful burns and permanent scarring and emotional trauma. Those who walk away are often never quite the same. They may not be able to work or enjoy the activities they once did. Ongoing medical expenses can last a lifetime.
Longtime Georgia truck accident attorneys at Apolinsky & Associates LLC know that like any crash, driver negligence is often a prime factor. But unlike most other serious collisions, there is often more than one entity responsible when something goes wrong leading to a trucking accident.
Georgia Trucking Accidents On-the-Rise
Large trucks have long been problematic on Georgia’s rural roads and highways.
In the release of 2017 large truck crash statistics, the FMCSA’s Analysis Division, reported the number of large trucks involved in fatal crashes spiked 10 percent in a single year, totaling 4,657 in 2017. Even accounting for the uptick in the number of miles large trucks traveled, the rate increased 6 percent, from 1.48 fatal truck crashes per 100 million miles to 1.56. The number of people injured in large truck/bus crashes went from 138,000 nationally in 2015 to 180,000 in 2016. One-third of all deadly crashes in highway work zones involved a large truck (in excess of 10,000 pounds). More than 10 percent of all deadly large truck crashes resulted in more than one fatality.
In Georgia, we went from a steady average of 153 large truck crashes from 2009 to 2014 to a sudden jump to 214 in 2017. Of those, 195 (or 91 percent) were fatal. Most of those deaths (82 percent) were occupants in other vehicles — primarily attributed to the size and weight disparity between passenger cars and these 10,000+-pound behemoths.
Additional Duties and Responsibilities of Truck Drivers, Carriers and Owners
Truck drivers are held to a higher duty of care when operating commercial vehicles, whether delivery vans or tractor-trailers, which fully loaded can weigh 80,000 pounds. The stopping time and distance is longer, the blind spots are wider and maneuverability is limited. Even the loads themselves can be dangerous.
That’s why federal regulators impose additional responsibility on not just the drivers and their employers, but also the companies that own the trucks and the goods onboard, as well as truck and part manufacturers and those responsible for maintenance. Each have statutory responsibilities to make sure every trip is as safe as possible.
As monitored by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, some of these duties include ensuring:
- Drivers do not exceed the stringent Hours of Service Regulations, which aim to reduce the impact of fatigued truckers (sleep deprivation is known to be as dangerous as alcohol impairment on the road, per the National Sleep Foundation);
- Drivers are properly-trained and credentialed to operate the type of commercial vehicle with which they’re entrusted;
- Truckers are medically-fit to drive (i.e., don’t suffer from seizure disorders, visual impairments, diabetes, etc.).
- Commercial trucks are in good working order, with properly-functioning brakes, tires, fluids, fog lamps, horns, radios and other key safety parts;
- Trucks are not overloaded or improperly loaded, as an overweight or unevenly-packed truck can be unstable and more likely to crash;
- Commercial vehicles hauling hazardous material use extra caution to avoid a collision or aggravating factors that could cause mass casualties or environmental/property damage;
- All trucks and drivers are properly insured per FMCSA rules with public liability and general liability insurance.
This may seem like a lot, but it’s not even an exhaustive list. Unfortunately, many truckers, carriers and owners fall short of these obligations. Every year, the FMCSA places thousands of large trucks, their drivers and motor carriers out-of-service for violating those rules. Sometimes, violations aren’t caught until it’s too late.
Trucking Companies, Insurers, Will Fight on Liability
The doctrine of respondeat superior (Latin for “let the master answer”) is well-established in Georgia law, allowing employers to be held vicariously liable for the negligence of employees when on-the-job. Many truckers – and their insurers – know how expensive these cases are, and thus try to sidestep liability by wrongly classifying truck drivers as “independent contractors.” Companies generally aren’t responsible for the negligence of independent contractors.
But there are numerous ways our Atlanta, Georgia trucking accident attorneys can help you fight back and hold trucking companies responsible for truck crashes. In some cases, it involves arguing direct liability based on a lapse of one of the aforementioned statutory duties.
In other cases, we can argue that the truck driver was misclassified as a contractor when in fact, upon examination of Georgia labor laws, they are employees – and thus the trucking company can be held vicariously liable for the driver’s negligence. Determining proper truck driver employee/contractor designation often has to do with the amount of control a company has over a driver’s daily duties, how integral the driver’s contributions were to the company’s daily operations and the freedom that driver had to pursue other jobs.
Bolstering this position was the U.S Supreme Court’s recent decision not to review an appeal by the California Trucking Association’s to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, whose justices held federal law did not pre-empt the state labor commissioner’s use of the “Borello standard” (so named for the California Supreme Court’s 1989 ruling in S.G. Borello & Sons, Inc. v. Dept. of Industrial Relations) for determining whether a worker was an independent contractor or employee. The main factor in that standard was the “economic realities test” which involves the degree of control a company has over the work performed. The ruling doesn’t directly impact Georgia truckers, but it does set a precedent improving not only truck drivers’ right to certain employment benefits, but also potentially a third-party’s argument to weaken the “independent contractor” designation for truckers.
The fact that a trucking accident attorney would have to delve into the minutiae of employment litigation just to hold a motor carrier accountable further underscores the complex nature of Georgia trucking accident lawsuits.
Trust the Atlanta personal injury attorneys at Apolinsky & Associates to answer your questions regarding Georgia trucking accident claims.
The foregoing answers are not legal advice and are merely a general overview. You are advised to consult a lawyer to address your specific situation regarding your situation. For more information or to inquire about a free consultation, contact Stephen D. Apolinsky, an experienced Atlanta spinal cord injury attorney, at Apolinsky & Associates at (404) 377-9191 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.