ABCO Transportation, Inc., a refrigerated freight haulder based in Dade City, Florida, has had for several years an unsatisfactory record of unsafe driving violations with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. When a trucking company has a record as bad as ABCO, often there are issues of management turning a blind eye to safety, in my experience as a trucking trial attorney.

ABCO’s poor safety record culminated July 2012 when an ABCO truck driver ran a red light on Thornton Road in Douglas County, Georgia, causing a tragic crash that took the lives of two employees and injured

As an Atlanta trial attorney representing people seriously injured in traffic crashes, I seldom advise procrastination in filing suit as cases seldom improve with age. However, there are exceptions.

Yesterday, the Georgia Supreme Court held that the two years statute of limitation for personal injury is ("tolled") until the traffic court case against the person at fault is concluded.

That means that the two year clock doesn’t start running until the traffic charge arising from an auto accident is disposed of, one way or another, in court. I have seen cases where the traffic charges languished on court dockets for as much as four years. In those instances, the injury victim could have up to six years to file suit rather than only two.

And defendants who manage to stall resolution of their prosecutions for serious traffic offenses do so at the risk of extending the time in which they can be sued.

A Georgia statute, O.C.G.A. § 9-3-99, says the statute of limitations for any tort action a victim brings over an alleged crime is tolled from the date of the alleged crime until the prosecution of the crime becomes final or is terminated, as long as that time does not exceed six years.

The Supreme Court held that “the plain language of OCGA § 9-3-99 would encompass a violation of a Uniform Rule of the Road. To impose a more stringent definition of ‘crime’ within the context of the statute would render superfluous its language that the statute of limitation is tolled from the date of the alleged crime ‘or the act giving rise to such action in tort’ until the prosecution or other termination of such crime ‘or act.’”

Chief Justice Hunstein wrote that the court had to reach the result it did notwithstanding the significant impact the decision will have. “If the Legislature had intended to limit the application of OCGA § 9-3-99 to tort actions arising from only certain types of crimes, e.g., felonies or specific intent crimes, it certainly could have done so. It did not, and any undesirable result is a matter properly addressed by the General Assembly rather than the courts.”

I would not generally advise such delay in filing suit or taking a case to trial. If a felony traffic charge is pending against the defendant, it can be a tactical advantage for the plaintiff if the defendant repeatedly invokes the fifth amendment right against self-incrimination in front of the jury in the civil trial, and the judge then instructs the jury that they may infer that a truthful answer would not have helped the defendant.

And delay can often result in loss of evidence and witnesses’ loss of memory.

More and more, I’m inclined to file suit promptly when the injury is clearly catastrophic, and move aggressively to complete necessary investigation and discovery.

However, when people do wander in late, or where it is essential to compel answers to questions in disvoery, yesterday’s court decision allows us one more arrow in the quiver.

Following is a copy of the Georgia Supreme Court unanimous decision

As a trucking safety trial attorney in Atlanta, Georgia, I’ve worked with quite a number of spinal cord injury survivors, and have had some good results. But not as good as the verdict a Chicago jury awarded last week.

In the Cook County case of Chraca v. Miles, an Illinois DOT vehicle collided with another vehicle in an intersection. Both drivers claimed that the other ran the red light, and the local police reconstruction was inconclusive. The private citizen, who was rendered an  incomplete paraplegic unable to walk without leg braces and the use of canes or a walker, was represented by Chicago lawyer Martin Healy, Jr. Last week a jury returned a verdict of $25 million.

Paraplegia is a horrific injury. Most people have little idea of the complications that accompany it, including  muscle spasticity, pressure sores and  autonomic dysreflexia.

This paraplegic’s tragedy would have been compounded if the crash had been in Georgia. In a similar case based on the negligence of a Georgia DOT employee in the course of his employment, recovery would have been limited to one million dollars under our State Tort Claims Act, which limits payments to $1 million per person and $3 million per accident. We would have been forced to search for other sources of compensation as the recovery from GA DOT would have been grossly inadequate.

As an injury lawyer in Atlanta, I have dealt with probably thousands of cases of back injuries involving ruptured or bulging intervertebral discs pressing on nerves and causing pain in the back as well as pain, numbness and tingling radiating down arms and legs. This is probably the single most common injury we see resulting from motor vehicle collisions.

Now an Australian biotech company has announced successful preclinical trial results of its adult stem cells in the treatment of degenerative intervertebral disc disease, the leading cause of low back pain. Note that they are using adult stem cells, not the controversial embryonic stem cells.

It’s a long road from preclinical trials in Australia to FDA approval in the US.  But if this turns out to be a practical treatment for damaged discs, it could be a major breakthrough for treatment of millions of people with injured and/or degenerative disc problems.

My personal injury litigation law practice in Atlanta has included a number of serious defective product cases. Among them have been tire defect cases.

Last week, a Texas jury returned a verdict of nearly $12 million against a tire maker after determining that a defective tire caused a wreck that killed six people and left a 12-year-old boy paralyzed.

The jury found that a manufacturing flaw in a Goodrich tire made by  Michelin North America contributed to the New Year’s Eve 2006 crash outside Matamoros, Mexico. A tire on a pickup truck separated from its tread, causing the vehicle to swerve into oncoming traffic, where it collided with another vehicle killing all six passengers inside the SUV.

One of our cases here in Georgia involves a tread separation of a tire from another manufacturer. Our experts concluded that the layers of the tire never properly adhered due to a defect in the manufacturing process. The tread separated on a college van loaded with a dozen cheerleaders, causing three deaths and one serious brain injury, as well as several lesser injuries. Our team of lawyers representing all the cheerleaders ultimately resolved the case for a total of $9.3 million before trial.

As a trucking accident trial attorney in Atlanta, I find myself speaking at continuing legal education seminars around the country pretty often. This year I’ve spoken on various aspects of trucking litigation at CLE programs in Chicago, St. Louis and New Orleans, and have been asked to speak at upcoming seminars in California and Pennsylvania. That’s doesn’t mean I’m all that good, just that I never learned to say no and do better than average Power Point.

Today I got word of appointment to the Board of Trustees of the Institute of Continuing Legal Education in Georgia. My thoughts trailed back 15 years to the first ICLE program I chaired, "Insurance Law for the General Practitioner," in the fall of 1993.

It is impossible to overstate the vital importance of continuing legal education to maintain the competence of any member of the legal profession in any practice area.  The minimum required CLE for all Georgia lawyers is pretty basic.  I never cease to be amazed at the lawyers who resent and resist attending continuing legal education programs and wind up getting their hours in a video replay on some topic irrelevant to their practice the week before the final deadline for the year.

A Florida truck driver admitted that he was on his cell phone yesterday when he slammed into a school bus, killing a 13-year-old student. According to a report by Austin Miller of the Ocala Star-Banner, the school bus, which had stopped to let children off , had its warning lights on and stop signs out. The truck driver said he never saw the bus. He  failed to stop for it and rammed the school bus forward 294 feet. The bus was fully engulfed in flames. 

See our recent posts on cell phone distractions and the absence of seat belts on busses.