Hundreds of thousands of large trucks thunder across Georgia roads daily, a critical wheel in our state and national economy. With the rise of e-commerce, trucking companies, licensed motor carriers, third-party logistics firms, manufacturers, and sole proprietor drivers/independent contractors are expanding operational fleets to meet consumer demand – meaning there are more big trucks on the road than ever before. At 20 to 30 percent larger than the average passenger vehicle, they can do real damage when they crash – a fact our Atlanta truck accident attorneys have seen firsthand.
There has been a 30 percent uptick in truck crash deaths nationally from 2009 to 2017. Passenger vehicle occupants account for 97 percent of large truck crash deaths, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
When there is a case of negligent driving causing death in Georgia, litigation can quickly get complicated because:
- Trucks cause a lot of damage;
- Wrongful death cases are more complex than injury lawsuits;
- Truck cases are more complex than most other torts because they often involve numerous defendant drivers, companies, insurers, and sometimes victims.
The Georgia Governors Highway Safety Office reports dozens of deadly large truck crashes a year, costing millions in taxpayer resources – not to mention the devastation of the human toll. It’s become such a problem in recent years that Georgia lawmakers have made a few attempts to curb the danger, including a bill for truck-only lanes along 75 miles of Georgia highway outside Atlanta.
While lawmakers continue to search for big-picture solutions, grieving families are left reeling not just emotionally, but financially too. That’s why anytime there’s a case involving a trucker’s negligent driving causing death in Georgia, it’s in your best interest to talk to an attorney as soon as possible.
When Is a Truck Driver Negligent for a Georgia Truck Crash?
Negligence is the failure to exercise reasonable care resulting in compensable injury to another. It’s a legal term used to describe a person’s degree of responsibility for someone else’s losses.
As Atlanta trucking accident lawyers can explain, it’s not necessary to prove that a truck driver or anyone else broke the law in order to establish negligence. However, many crashes do involve truck drivers who violated traffic laws or federal/ state safety regulations. Some examples include:
- Failure of motor carrier/ employer to have drivers medically cleared, properly licensed, and drug- and alcohol-tested.
- Failure of the driver/ carrier/ employer to abide federal hours-of-service rules designed to reduce truck driver fatigue.
- Failure of the driver/ carrier/ employer to have the truck regularly inspected/maintained.
- Failure to make sure the truck is properly/safely loaded (so it’s not at risk of tipping over).
Trucks that transport hazardous materials are held to even higher standards.
Truck driver employers may be held vicariously liable for his/her negligence on-the-job under a legal doctrine known as respondeat superior (Latin for, “let the master answer”). However, many truck drivers are independent contractors. They may be required to carry their own insurance up to a certain amount, or their contract with the carrier or logistics firm to assume a degree of liability as well.
Both Georgia and U.S. law mandate a minimum amount of insurance coverage, but it often depends on the size of the truck and sometimes the materials it’s hauling. Both require most commercial trucks to have somewhere between $300,000 and $5 million in coverage (with general freight trucks required to carry at least $750,000 in coverage).
But that’s not necessarily how much you’ll receive. Many factors can influence the occurrence of a crash/ severity of injuries, and a common defense theory is that the decedent shouldered at least half or more of the blame. The estate’s damages are proportionately reduced for comparative fault up to half. If it exceeds that, however, the claimant gets nothing. If you’re awarded $1 million in damages but decedent was 25 percent at fault, the most the estate could receive is $750,000.
Georgia Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations
Georgia law allows just 24 months to file most claims for personal injury and wrongful death, with some exceptions (i.e., a criminal case connected to your claim is pending, per O.C.G.A. 9-3-99). That seems like an eternity when you’ve just lost your loved one, but the truth is:
- Fatal trucking accidents are very costly to trucking companies and insurers;
- Truck crash claims are inherently more complex than the average car accident lawsuit because of the numerous defendants involved and sometimes more than one claimant;
- Your loved one, a key witness to what really happened, is no longer here to tell the story;
- The trucking companies and their insurers are already working to reduce their liability to pay you as little as possible;
If you are filing a claim for loss of consortium (love, companionship, etc.) then technically you have four years to do so. But there is no reason to wait anywhere near that long.
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 injury attorney, at Apolinsky & Associates at (404) 377-9191 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.