ABCO Transportation’s record of unsafe driving violations culminates in deaths of two AutoTrader.com employees, injuries to four others
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 AutoTrader.com employees and injured four others.
I was in Chattanooga, at the office of another trucking trial attorney, when I got a message to return a call from the family of two of the injury victims who had been referred by their family’s attorney in another state.
ABCO’s record with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration shows unsafe driving violations with a 74.3 percentile score. Anything over 60th percentile is unsatisfactory. In the past two years, ABCO had 81 reported unsafe driving violations, and has rated unsatisfactory for unsafe driving violations for every reporting period since December 2010. That is probably the tip of the iceberg, as it only indicates the times they got caught.
Specific reported violations include:
– Failure to obey traffic control device, 8 violations
– Following too close, 11 violations
– Improper lane change, 3 violations
– Lane Restriction violation, 5 violations
– Improper passing , 1 violation
– Reckless driving, 1 violation
– Speeding, 14 violations
– Speeding 15 or more miles per hour over the speed limit, 4 violations
– Speeding work/construction zone, 4 violations
In 2011 and 2012, ABCO has had 18 reported crashes, 8 of which involved injuries, with a total of 17 people injured. These include:
– 6/22/12, Pennsylvania, 2 injured
– 12/9/11, New York
– 12/2/11, Ohio
– 11/29/11, Colorado
– 11/2/11, New York, 1 injured
– 10/11/11, Virginia
– 9/9/11, Missouri
– 4/27/11, Kentucky
– 4/7/11, Florida, 1 injured
– 3/5/11, Alabama
– 2/10/11, Virginia, 7 injured
– 1/20/11, Ohio
– 11/23/10, Florida, 1 injured
– 11/3/10, Indiana, 1 injured
– 10/25/10, Ohio
– 8/29/10, Texas, 1 injured
– 7/31/10, Virginia, 3 injured
– 7/9/10, Connecticut
Regarding fatigued driving, one of the most common underlying causes of truck crashes, ABCO is right at the threshold for an unsatisfactory rating — 59.8 percentile when anything over 60 percentile is considered unsatisfactory. ABCO was over the 60 percentile threshold for unsatisfactory driver fatigue rating for 4 of the past 6 reporting periods. Reported violations only indicate when they got caught, so they are normally the tip of the iceberg. Violations include:
– False report of driver’s record of duty status, 8 (lying about driver logs)
– Requiring or permitting driver to drive more than 11 hours, 8 violations
– Requiring or permitting driver to drive after 14 hours on duty, 20 violations
It was with that background that an ABCO Transportation tractor-trailer operated by 64-year-old Robert John Sansom, of Colorado ran a red light on Thornton Road in Douglas County, Georgia, on Wednesday, July 11th. Two women on their lunch break were killed — Tracy Downer and Michelle Chinnis, both of whom worked in sales for AutoTrader.com, a website owned by Cox Enterprises. Four other people were injured in the crash . According to an article by Alexis Stevens in the AJC, Downer previously worked in advertising at the AJC from 1993 to 2010, was married with a son and a daughter, and Chinnis is survived by a 16-year-old daughter.
Victims and their families may choose separate attorneys or joint representation in such instances of serious personal injury or wrongful death, as this is a potential conflict that may be waived in writing after informed consent pursuant to Georgia Rule of Professional Conduct 1.7.
Whenever there are multiple victims of a crash such as this one, it is important to coordinate representation. Most recently, we were involved in the joint prosecution group coordinating representation of member of the Bluffton University baseball team arising from a bus crash in Atlanta in 2007. Where there are no substantial indications of fault on the part of any of the victims, the only potential conflict among them is generally concern about adequacy of insurance coverage and assets to cover all claims.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration website only shows for ABCO a $1,000,000 liability policy with Protective Insurance Company. However, an interstate motor carrier with 174 trucks is likely to carry an excess liability insurance policy with considerably higher limits, perhaps an additional $5,000,000 to $20,000,000. That information is not public and generally is reliably documented only in litigation.
Ken Shigley is past president of the State Bar of Georgia (2011-12), double board certified in Civil Trial Advocacy and Civil Pretrial Advocacy by the National Board of Legal Specialty Certification, and lead author of Georgia Law of Torts: Trial Preparation and Practice. His Atlanta-based civil trial practice is focused on representation of plaintiffs in cases of castastrophic personal injury and wrongful death.