Earlier this week, I was reading an article about a horrible Interstate crash involving a distracted trucker. The article packs several issues — Distracted driving. Bad driving record. Commercial truck crash. Potential punitive damages.
What happened? A car became disabled on the Interstate. Its driver put on her hazard lights, called authorities and waited patiently for help. While waiting, many other vehicles saw the disabled car, slowed and safely passed. The disabled car was clearly visible. Several minutes later, our trucker came down the Interstate. The trucker hit the disabled car without slowing at all. The trucker never even saw the car with its flashers right in plain view. He was not paying attention.
The crash caused terrible injuries. You can only imagine the impact of a full speed eighteen wheeler on a small, stationary car. At our office, we see many distracted driving crashes here in northern Alabama as well. Yet, there’s more to this truck crash. The truck driver in the article had a bad driving record. Why was he allowed to continue driving? The trucker had several prior accidents, including one where he even hit an overpass. And, he had also been cited multiple times for exceeding allowed driving hours. He had a history of being a careless and reckless driver. The trucking company clearly should NOT have allowed him to continue driving its trucks. But, it did. That company knew his record. Because the company knowingly allowed a dangerous driver to continue operating its trucks, it faces potential punitive damages.
This leads me to my issue today. Do you know the driving record of the trucker in the lane next to you? Of course not. But, the trucking company does. The trucking company is responsible for hiring safe drivers, training safe drivers and supervising safe drivers. That company knows his record. They can check that driving record at any time. If the trucker has a bad driving history, then the trucking company put you at risk. They put your family at risk.
Most truckers are very safe and observant drivers. A very few reckless ones (and the companies that put them behind the wheel) cause almost all the harm. Several years ago, I had a case almost identical to the one discussed in this article. In my prior case, a car became disabled on Interstate 20 in east Alabama. In that area, the Interstate is flat. You can see far down the road with no obstructions. Several cars slowed and drove safely around the disabled vehicle. Several eighteen wheelers also slowed and drove safely past it. Yet, a single truck driver drove right into the visible vehicle without even slowing! What did the truck driver do after the crash? Rather than help our client who was now bleeding in the roadway, he called the trucking company’s safety manager. That safety manager told him to stay in the truck until the company’s rapid response team arrived.
What’s a rapid response team? It’s the trucking company team of professionals who work the scene to minimize any liability or cost to the company. The trucking company’s team is not on the scene to help save lives. They work to help the trucking company avoid its responsibility for causing harm. Our client only survived the crash because a Good Samaritan in a passing car stopped to help. That passer-by saved our client’s life while the trucker refused to help. We later learned the trucker in our case had a very bad driving history, including multiple prior accidents. His company knew about the past accidents. His company failed to discipline or train him following the past accidents. After each one, the company fixed his truck and put him back behind the wheel with instructions to never be late with a delivery. Safety was NOT a concern.
While none of us know the driving record of the trucker in the lane next to us, we must trust he or she is a safe driver. Most are. We should insist that all trucking companies insure the drivers of their trucks are healthy, observant and safe drivers. The lives of our families and friends depend upon it.
From its office in Huntsville, the Blackwell Law Firm helps injured people across Alabama. Every day, we work hard for safer roadways, safer workplaces and safer products.