The trucker who killed 5 students and injured 4 when he crashed into a Taylor University van in Indiana last April was grossly over the legal hours of service. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations limit interstate commercial truck drivers operators to no more than 11 hours of driving time following 10 hours off duty and prohibit driving after the 14th hour since starting work. At the time of the collision he was found by investigators to be more than 9 hours in excess of the 11-hour rule and 10 hours in excess of the 14-hour rule.
He was also talking on his cell phone and driving with the windows open and air conditioning on full blast in cool weather, presumably to try to stay awake. He now faces criminal prosecution on five counts of reckless homicide and four counts of criminal recklessness resulting in bodily injury.
Most trucking companies and truck drivers are reasonably conscientious about safety. However, too many are not. We are litigating a case right now in which a truck driver had destroyed log pages for previous days, substituted those with pages falsely showing that he was off duty, and back up the times on the log for the trip he was on in order to "accommodate" the return trip, and eventually confessed to me that he had been driving 20 of the previous 24 hours. We found that the owners of the trucking company had personally decided to dispatch him to drive from northeastern Ohio to Atlanta as soon as he returned from the same trek, and he began the return trip after sleeping only an hour in a shipper’s parking lot. However, the company owners who cared so little about safety that they would dispatch a virtually brain dead truck driver across the country to drive an 80,000 pound tractor trailer through the night also chose to cancel their company’s excess liability insurance policy. There will never be true justice in that case, as we will not be able to reach reach the personal assets of the men who made those deliberate choices.
However, there is a legal theory, which unfortunately the judge in that case did not accept, for personal liability of those who dispatch truckers who cannot possibly make their trips legally.
I have heard from trucking company safety directors that while their bosses have little concern for safety per se, the possibility of personal liability may inhibit reckless dispatching decisions.
Perhaps if the Indiana prosecutor would also prosecute the trucking company officials who chose to put the truck driver in the position of driving nine hours past the legal limit, it would have a salutory effect on public safety throughout the United States. That’s what they do in Japan.
The Shigley Law Firm represents plaintiffs in wrongful death and catastrophic injury cases statewide in Georgia, and in other states subject to the multijurisdictional practice and pro hac vice rules in each state. Ken Shigley was designated as a "SuperLawyer" in Atlanta Magazine and one of the "Legal Elite" in Georgia Trend Magazine. He is a Certified Civil Trial Advocate of the National Board of Trial Advocacy, Chair of the Southeastern Motor Carrier Liability Institute and former chair of the Georgia Insurance Law Institute. He particularly focuses on cases arising from truck wrecks and accidents (tractor trailers truck wrecks, semi truck wrecks,18 wheeler truck wrecks, big rig truck wrecks, log truck wrecks, dump truck wrecks.