Tractor Trailer Crashes and Legal Issues

The tractor trailer accident attorneys at Christopher Simon Attorney at Law have extensive experience in handling trucking cases. The owner, Christopher Simon, spent ten years working as the defense attorney for several major national trucking companies and their insurance carriers. Chris brings his particular expertise to the aid of his clients. In the years since leaving the trucking companies, he has refined his approach to maximize the client's recovery.

In cases where clients have been injured in a crash with a Georgia tractor trailer, the firm strongly recommends that his clients allow him to file suit. Without litigation, it is impossible to depose the safety director of the tractor trailer company and to subpoena the driver's qualification file. These depositions frequently turn up evidence showing that the truck driver was unqualified and had a poor safety record.

Trucking accidents tend to cause far greater physical harm and even Congress is considering raising the insurance requirements.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has issued a report that concludes it is time to raise the minimum insurance requirements for tractor-trailers. 

Under both federal and Georgia law, tractor-trailers are currently required to have at least $750,000 in insurance.  The federal regulation was last updated in 1985 and is nearly 30 years old.  The report found that while $750,000 in insurance was adequate in 1985, it is simply not enough today due to inflation and increased medical costs.  The report analyzed how inflation and medical costs have increased since 1985.  It found that the $750,000 minimum insurance requirement would have to be raised to $1,623,711 to keep pace with the increase in the consumer price index and $3,188,250 to keep pace with the increase in the medical consumer price index.

For victims of tractor-trailer accidents who suffer serious or catastrophic injuries, the costs of medical bills, lifetime medical care and lost wages can easily exceed $750,000.  In situations where there are multiple people hurt or killed in a tractor-trailer accident, the current minimum insurance requirement is woefully inadequate as the damages from these wrecks can be in the millions of dollars.

Our firm has experienced this first hand.  We’ve litigated cases where tractor-trailers cause wrecks seriously injuring several people, the trucking company has only the $750,000 in minimum insurance and medical bills exceed this by many times over.  In these situations there is little recourse for our clients.  Most trucking companies that operate with the minimum insurance limits have little to no assets and few clients have enough underinsured motorist coverage to make up the difference.  In these situations, the bill for the victim’s medical bills and lifetime medical care often winds up being paid by the taxpayers through Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security Disability and the doctors and hospitals who go unpaid rather than by the trucking company who caused the wreck.

The FMCSA is currently considering passing new rules that would raise the minimum insurance limits and bills have been introduced in Congress to do so as well.  Unfortunately, the trucking industry is fighting these bills and it may be some time before we see an increase in the minimum insurance limits.

Georgia Tractor Trailer injury law

Important Tractor Trailer Appellate Decisions


Plaintiff's Can File and Win a Motion for Summary Judgment on Liability Against Trucking Companies

Almost invariably before a trial, a litigant, the defendant in most cases, will bring a motion for summary judgment. At this stage, a court looks at the record amassed after discovery and determines whether there is a genuine issue of material fact that requires resolution by a jury. In the absence of such a dispute, the court grants judgment as a matter of law. Although summary judgment is most often used by defendants to eliminate a case before trial, plaintiffs too can use summary judgment. Indeed, when the record in the case shows that there is no issue of material fact related to an issue favorable to a plaintiff, such as liability, it can behoove the plaintiff to make a motion and get a victory before a jury is ever assembled. 

For instance, the Georgia Court of Appeal recently affirmed a trial court’s grant of a plaintiff's partial motion for summary judgment in Whole Foods Market Grp., Inc. v. Shepard, which arose from an auto accident involving a Whole Foods truck on I-75.The plaintiff in Shepard was driving south along I-75 on January 30, 2010 near a truck being driven by an employee of Whole Foods. 

While the employee was changing lanes, the front wheels of the truck hit the rear left wheel of the plaintiff’s car. The impact caused the car to spin and, as a result of the loss of control, strike the truck twice. Neither driver testified that he saw the other before impact. The plaintiff testified that he was completely within his lane at the time of impact, and the employee testified that he was had just started changing lanes when he felt the impact. The employee further testified that he checked his mirrors for other vehicles prior to starting to change lanes. 

Following the accident, the plaintiff brought a personal injury action against Whole Foods and the driver, alleging that the driver was negligent per se for failing to conform his conduct in accordance with O.C.G.A. § 40-6-48 (1). The plaintiff moved for partial summary judgment on the issues of negligence, proximate cause, and liability following the close of discovery. The trial court granted the plaintiff’s motion, and the defendants brought the current appeal. On appeal, the defendants argued that the trial judge improperly excluded from consideration part of the employee’s affidavit submitted in opposition to the motion for summary judgment and that there did exist an issue of material fact that should preclude summary judgment. The Court of Appeals found both arguments unavailing and affirmed the trial court’s judgment.First, the Court of Appeals needed to determine whether it was proper for the trial court to implicitly exclude from consideration allegations in the employee’s affidavit. 

The plaintiff contends that it was proper for the trial court to do so because the affidavit's allegations contradicted testimony provided by the employee during his deposition. Indeed, it is a common rule in both state and federal court that a party may not create an issue of material fact by submitting an affidavit that contradicts prior deposition testimony. See, e.g., Bradley v. Winn-Dixie Stores, 314 Ga. App. 556, 557-558 (2012) (“[W]hen a party has given contradictory testimony . . . [and] relies exclusively on that testimony in opposition to summary judgment, a court must construe the contradictory testimony against him.”). The employee originally testified at his deposition that he had to pull back into the lane when he felt the impact. However, in his affidavit, the employee averred that he felt the impact prior to having crossed into the other lane. Since the prior deposition testimony indicated that the employee had already crossed lanes, it necessarily contradicted the later affidavit averments asserting that, although the employee was changing lanes, he had not already crossed into the other lane at the time of impact. 

Therefore, the Court of Appeal determined it was proper to exclude such testimony.The importance of the conclusion to exclude the contradictory testimony is displayed in the Court of Appeals determination on whether there was an issue of material fact precluding summary judgment. The plaintiff argued for the application of negligence per se, which allows a party to establish liability by showing that the other party’s conduct violated a rule that was designed to prevent the type of harm caused by the other party’s conduct. Here, the plaintiff argued that the employee’s conduct violated O.C.G.A. § 40-6-48 (1), which provides that a “vehicle shall be driven as nearly as practicable entirely within a single lane and shall not be moved from [the] lane until the driver has first ascertained that [the] movement can be made [safely].” Excluding the contradictory statement, the evidence showed that the employee had begun to change lanes when he made the impact with the plaintiff’s car. Since negligence per se applied, the burden shifted to the defendant to show that the conduct was unintentional and an exercise of ordinary care under the circumstances.

Here, the uncontroverted evidence showed that the plaintiff’s car was in the adjacent lane and thus should’ve been seen by the employee prior to the lane change. Furthermore, there was no evidence indicating that the plaintiff had begun to change lanes or was not driving only in his own lane at the time of impact. Indeed, there was simply no issue of material fact that could controvert that the employee had not “first ascertained that the movement [could have been] made safely.” O.C.G.A. § 40-6-48 (1); see Hitchcock v. McPhail, 221 Ga. App. 299, 300 (1996) (“Speculation that [the driver’s] actions were . . . reasonable under the circumstances, which might have been a question for the jury, is a contradiction in terms for he was [indisputably] mistaken in ascertaining that he could [change lanes] safely.” (citation and emphasis omitted)). 

We should remember, however, that had the affidavit testimony been credited, there would have been an issue of fact, since the relative location of the vehicles at the time of impact would have been unresolved.Although motions for summary judgment often elicit fear in plaintiffs, this case aptly demonstrates that plaintiffs can indeed also benefit from their proactive use. Establishing liability prior to trial will likely save this plaintiff considerable time and energy at trial and, more importantly, increase settlement pressure for the defendants. 

When undertaking legal action to remedy a harm, one should make sure he or she is ready to make use of all the tools at his or her disposal, and having the assistance of experienced counsel can be tremendously useful in this endeavor. 

The Atlanta truck accident attorneys at Christopher Simon Attorney at Law have represented numerous injured drivers and are ready to provide the zealous and practical representation your possible case may require. If you’ve recently been injured in a motor vehicle accident and are curious about your options for recovery, feel free to contact us to arrange a free case consultation.