Articles Posted in Truck Accidents

In Maryland and across the United States, there is a system in place of appellate courts that are able to review the decisions of the lower courts. In most states, Maryland included, there are three levels of courts, starting with the trial court, then the intermediate appellate court, and finally the state supreme court. Above all of these is the United States Supreme Court, which intervenes only in select cases. Most cases are resolved within the state judicial system.

Garbage TruckJudges are human and can make mistakes. Thus, the system is set up to allow for appellate and supreme courts to review the decisions of lower courts in order to make sure that the lower court applied the law correctly. If a higher court decides that a lower court was wrong in its application of the law, the higher court can reverse, or overturn, the lower court. That is exactly what happened in a recent case brought by a woman who rear-ended a garbage truck and sued the driver as well as the truck’s owner for damages.

Torres v. Pabon:  The Facts

Torres was driving her Nissan early in the morning along a New Jersey highway before the sun had come up. She approached what she described as a “dark silhouette,” but she did not realize that what she saw was a truck until it was too late. She applied her brakes but was unable to stop in time and struck the back of the truck.

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Last year, actor and comedian Tracy Morgan was involved in an accident when a Wal-Mart truck rear-ended the limo Morgan and friends were riding in, seriously injuring Morgan and fatally wounding one of his friends, fellow comedian James McNair. According to one news source covering the issue, the National Transportation Safety Bureau will meet next week in Washington D.C. to conduct a hearing investigating the cause of the fatal accident.

truck-on-hwy-1615510Allegations of Drowsy Driving

While the NTSB is still conducting its investigation into what occurred in the moments leading up to the fatal accident, a preliminary report issued just weeks after the accident showed that the driver was traveling 65 miles per hour in an area with a designated speed limit of 45 or 55 miles per hour due to ongoing construction. Additionally, there have been claims that the driver was awake and on the road for almost all of the preceding 24 hours, which is in violation of state and federal laws. In New Jersey, where the accident occurred, causing an accident after having not slept for 24 hours can result in an “assault by auto” charge.

Morgan was seriously injured with a broken leg, serious head trauma, and several broken ribs. James McNair was pronounced dead shortly after emergency responders arrived on the scene. Several others in the limo at the time of the accident also suffered varying injuries.

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Earlier this month in northwest Washington, D.C., a 79-year-old woman was killed while she was struck by a delivery truck. According to one local news source, the accident occurred at the intersection of 37th Street NW and Calvert Street NW.

truck-delivery-1042539-mEvidently, the grocery delivery truck was at the intersection facing southbound on 37th Street, waiting to make a right turn. As the truck made its turn, it struck the woman as she was crossing Calvert Street. The driver of the truck remained on the scene until police arrived. Sadly, the elderly woman was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident by emergency workers.

Peapod, the company that owned the grocery delivery truck, released the following statement:  “On behalf of all of us at Peapod, we offer our deepest sympathy to the family and friends of the person involved in the tragic accident in Glover Park this evening. We will cooperate with the investigation into this matter.”

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Earlier last year, actor and comedian Tracy Morgan was involved in a serious accident when the vehicle he was riding in with his entourage was struck by a semi-truck on a New Jersey highway. One of Morgan’s good friends, comedian James McNair, was killed in the accident. Tracy Morgan sustained serious injuries, from which he is still recovering.limo-accident-457157-m Back in June of last year, Morgan and his entourage were returning from a trip to Atlantic City. They were on a section of the New Jersey Turnpike that has a speed limit of 55 under normal conditions, but the limit was lowered because of road construction. Evidence obtained thus far shows that the driver of the truck was traveling at 65 miles per hour in the 60 seconds immediately proceeding the accident.

In a recent report by Huffington Post, the family of Mr. McNair has accepted a settlement offer from Wal-Mart, the owner of the truck that caused the accident. As it turns out, the driver of the truck had been on the road for over 24 hours without rest. The driver of the truck faces criminal charges as well.

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After a rash of several tragic accidents involving trailers popping off their hitches, Maryland lawmakers decided to pass a new law that regulates trailers more strictly, hoping to decrease these tragic incidents.

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According to a report by NBC Washington, more people use trailers in the summer months, whether it be to tow boats, motorcycles, or yard waste. These trailers—some of which are “home made”—have the potential to be extremely dangerous to other motorists on the highway, especially on roads with higher speed limits and bridges.

That is exactly what happened to one man and his son, both of whom died on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. The person in front of them was driving a home made trailer that had a 2” ball hitch receiver. However, the truck they were in had only a 1-7/8” ball hitch, so when the truck went over a bump, the locking mechanism wasn’t adequate to hold the trailer on the hitch, sending it flying. Both the man and his son, as well as another driver, lost their lives in that tragic accident.

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In a city that is occupied by drivers from several surrounding states, the question often arises, “who causes most of the accidents in Washington DC?” An article by the Washington Post takes a look at a recent study released that analyzes some of the traffic and accident data in the nation’s capitol.

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Although Washington DC shares a border with Maryland and Virginia, and is a popular tourist destination, the number one group involved in accidents in DC is, in fact, DC residents. In second place are Marylanders, causing about one-third of the accidents in the nation’s capitol.

Tourists and drivers from Virginia are actually responsible for very few accidents, given the high prevalence of both populations.

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We previously discussed a Nebraska lawsuit that invoked a statute allowing wrongful death claims on behalf of unborn children. The case involved a truck accident that took the lives of a family and their unborn child. The lawsuit, Baumann v. Slezak, et al, also invoked Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations governing the length of time truck drivers may operate a vehicle or be “on-duty.” The driver who allegedly collided with the family’s car had, according to the complaint, been driving longer than the maximum time period allowed by the regulations.

The accident occurred in the early morning of September 9, 2012. The family, which was traveling cross-country in two cars, was stopped at the rear of a traffic jam on westbound Interstate 80 in western Nebraska. A semi-truck driven by the defendant Josef Slezak approached the line of traffic at about seventy-five miles per hour. The driver allegedly failed to slow or stop the vehicle, hitting the family’s rear car at full speed. This propelled the car into the family’s other car and into another vehicle, killing the occupants of both cars.

The lawsuit names Slezak and his employer as defendants, asserting causes of action for negligence per se, violations of FMCSA regulations, and vicarious liability. The complaint accuses Slezak of violating two FMCSA regulations: a prohibition on operating a commercial motor vehicle while impaired by fatigue or some other cause, and hours-of-service (HOS) rules. Slezak had allegedly been driving for almost nineteen hours. He arrived at a terminal in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, according to the complaint, at 10:49 a.m. on September 8, 2012, and departed at 1:49 p.m. The accident occurred at about 5:19 a.m. on September 9, approximately 920 miles from Milwaukee.

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113679_6300.jpgA wrongful death lawsuit arising from a Nebraska automobile accident invokes that state’s fetal death statute, reportedly for the first time since the Nebraska Legislature enacted it in 2003. The plaintiffs in Baumann v. Slezak, et al are asserting multiple causes of action in relation to the deaths of a Maryland couple, their two children, and their unborn child. The unborn child was a viable fetus at the time, which is an important distinction in some jurisdictions. The right to recover damages for the wrongful death of a person requires that the law recognize the decedent as a “person.” Nebraska’s statute explicitly applies to unborn children “at any stage of gestation,” while the District of Columbia’s statute does not mention unborn children or fetuses. Case law from DC, however has established that the law may apply to a “viable” fetus.

The accident in Nebraska occurred during the early morning of September 9, 2012. A family of four, consisting of a father, a pregnant mother, and two children, were driving through western Nebraska on their way to California. Each parent was driving a separate vehicle, and the children were riding with the mother. Traffic on westbound Interstate 80 was at a standstill because of an accident between two semi-trailers about one mile further up the road. While the family’s two cars were stopped, one behind the other, at the rear of the line of traffic, another semi-trailer approached from behind at about seventy-five miles per hour. The driver allegedly did not slow before colliding with the father’s car. This caused his car to collide with the mother’s car, propelling it under the trailer in front of her, and killing the four family members and the unborn child.

The legal representatives of the two parents filed suit on behalf of the parents, the children, and the unborn child, asserting causes of action for negligence and violations of federal trucking safety regulations. They sued the truck driver, his employer, and the driver and truck companies allegedly responsible for the accident that caused the traffic jam, asserting causes of action for negligence and violations of federal safety regulations.

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232051_7893_02152012.jpgA trucking accident on September 20, 1994 on the Capital Beltway in Prince George’s County, Maryland killed one person and left construction worker Brian Buber paralyzed. The subsequent fight over payment of damages shows how difficult it can be to enforce judgments against corporations and other business entities.

On that day in 1994, a tractor-trailer owned by Gunther’s Leasing Transport crashed into a small rental truck. The two vehicles then hit an asphalt-rolling machine in the construction area where Buber was working. The tractor-trailer jackknifed and caught fire. The truck’s passenger, Keith Briscoe, Jr., died in the crash, while the driver was injured. Buber was thrown through the air and suffered head injuries. He reportedly spent hours in surgery as doctors tried to remove fragments of skull from his brain.

Buber still suffers from brain damage, remains confined to a wheelchair and spends twenty hours a day in bed at a nursing home in Harford County. According to the Baltimore Sun, he cannot speak. He communicates by pointing to letters on a laminated card to spell out words. He relies on Social Security and workers’ compensation for support. His mother took care of him until her death in 2009, and now his sister looks after him when she can. Buber’s medical costs exceeded $1 million, and Gunther’s Leasing Transport reportedly had at least $1 million in liability coverage. Buber never saw any money from Gunther, though.

Buber , the family of Keith Brsicoe, Jr., and others brought a lawsuit against Gunther’s Leasing Transport. A jury rendered a verdict for the plaintiffs in 1997, awarding almost $16 million to the plaintiffs. Of that amount, the jury earmarked $13 million for Buber’s medical expenses and ongoing care. The company’s insurance paid the $1 million policy limits amount, but that was divided between the six plaintiffs and did not offer much help towards Buber’s mounting expenses.

Within weeks, Gunther’s Leasing Transport filed for bankruptcy reorganization. It reportedly listed $9 million in assets and $17.5 million in liabilities, most of which was the court judgment. At the time, it also faced an FBI investigation. Mark David Gunther, owner of Gunther’s Leasing Transport, was sentenced to thirty months in prison by a Baltimore federal jury for forging drivers’ logs. A bankruptcy judge approved a reorganization plan for the company that included payments to Buber and the other plaintiffs, but by 2001 the company was so far behind on payments that the IRS had the case converted to a liquidation.

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The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has spent two years considering modifications to hours-of-service regulations for commercial truck drivers, but any proposed increase in regulation could inspire opposition in Congress. The agency has delayed the release of new rules until October, requesting further comment during the summer of 2011. While the agency cites its own research to argue that revisions to the existing regulations are needed to improve safety, members of Congress have vowed to fight any changes.

Four Republican Representatives led by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) wrote to President Obama regarding the proposed changes, stating that “we are very concerned the proposed changes will result in additional trucks and drivers on the road to deliver the same amount of freight, adding to the final product costs and increasing congestion on our already overburdened roads.” Industry groups have expressed similar concerns about new regulations. Since the FMCSA has not released new rules, the situation is still simmering. It pits concerns over driver safety against concerns over the impact of new rules on the trucking industry.

Under current rules, commercial truck drivers who do not carry passengers can drive for a maximum of 11 consecutive hours after at least 10 consecutive hours off duty, and they can be on duty for a maximum of 14 consecutive hours. Drivers are also limited to 60 to 70 hours total driving in a 7- to 8-day time period. Proposed new regulations would limit the total number of 14-hour shifts to two per week, with driving time limited to 10 or 11 hours. The FMCSA issued the current rules in 2003, in the first major revision of hours-of-service rules since 1939.

As an agency of the United States Department of Transportation, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulates the U.S. trucking industry, enacting and enforcing safety regulations covering commercial motor vehicles and drivers. It is tasked with monitoring highway safety data, researching existing safety concerns, promulgating rules and regulations enforcing safety policies, and developing technological solutions supporting safety. The agency was established January 1, 2000.

The FMCSA issued a report in May 2011 analyzing driving performance of commercial truck drivers and considering all activities expected of drivers in addition to driving. Aside from driving, drivers may spend time during shifts performing “heavy work” like loading and unloading their trailers and “light work” like paperwork and other administrative tasks. Drivers also take breaks during shifts to eat, sleep, and relax. The report identified driver drowsiness as a major concern, but also the variety and range of tasks performed by drivers during a shift. All of these factors can negatively affect driver safety.

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