Trucking is essential to the national economy. Virtually every product sold is transported by truck. But with its economic importance comes accountability, as trucking is also a major highway safety hazard.
Truck drivers, overworked and underpaid, are the heroes of country music ballads. Popular culture holds them up as rough-hewn “knights of the road,” and many are. However, many are the overworked serfs of the road, and as with any occupation – including lawyers – a small percentage are rogues of the road. With the trucking industry facing both a shortage of qualified drivers and mounting fuel prices, the problems of trucking safety may increase over the next few years.
As a hub of transportation in the Southeast, Georgia ranks among the top five states in the nation in the number of fatalities due to crashes of large trucks, ranking just behind California, Texas and Florida. In 2004, the most recent year for which data are available, there were 233 fatalities in large truck crashes in Georgia, accounting for 14.25 percent of the 1,634 traffic fatalities in our state. The Georgia experience is fairly typical. In the same year, one out of nine traffic fatalities in the United States involved large trucks, as 457,000 large trucks were involved in traffic crashes in the United States and 4,669 were involved in fatal crashes. A total of 4,986 people died (12 percent of all the traffic fatalities) and an additional 122,000 were injured. Certainly many of these were not the fault of truckers or trucking companies, but many were.
Any lawyer who assumes that a large truck wreck is just a bigger car wreck is dangerously naive. Investigation, discovery, technology and law involved in the crashes of large commercial trucks are substantially different from other motor vehicle accident cases. Counsel must be familiar with a national body of trucking law based primarily on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, technology in the trucking industry, trucking insurance coverage issues, multistate discovery practice, and other aspects of investigation and discovery peculiar to trucking litigation. Lawyers who are not prepared to invest the time required to master the intricacies involved should consider the ethical duty to associate other counsel.
The danger of large trucks on the highways was recognized in the enactment of the Motor Carrier Act in 1935, creating the Interstate Commerce Commission which in turn developed the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR), which are designed to protect public safety. The purpose of the FMCSR is to “help reduce or prevent truck and bus accidents, fatalities, and injuries by requiring drivers to have a single commercial motor vehicle driver’s license and by disqualifying drivers who operate commercial motor vehicles in an unsafe manner.”
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).