Only 45 minutes after deliberating, a Columbus, Georgia jury came back with what is believed to be the single largest judgment against a trucking company in the United States. The trucking company, Schnitzer Southeast and Schnitzer Steel, was hauling steel along the I-80 when the accident occurred. All told, five were left dead when the truck collided with a commuter vehicle head-on.
Schnitzer is a Georgia-based company, which is why the lawsuit was filed in Georgia. The accident took place in Alabama. Below, we’ll discuss the verdict and why the trucking company was penalized so harshly in this case.
Several Lawsuits Filed
In Georgia, wrongful death lawsuits are filed on behalf of victims that cannot file lawsuits themselves. These are filed by family members of the deceased. In this case, there were several lawsuits filed on behalf of the five victims. These included three that were settled out of court for the children and the mother and another that is still pending.
The $280M judgment against Schnitzer was filed on behalf of the grandmother of the two children killed in the accident.
Schnitzer Southeast is a scrap metal company and a subsidiary of Schnitzel Steel, a publicly-traded steel manufacturing company. The driver of the transport truck, Kenneth Cathey, is believed to have fallen asleep at the wheel. The plaintiffs presented evidence that there were skid marks where the SUV attempted to stop and none for the truck.
The plaintiffs argued that the driver fell asleep at the wheel, veered across the median and into oncoming traffic. As a result, the driver was charged with five counts of criminally negligent homicide for operating a motor vehicle while fatigued. However, those charges are still pending.
Cathey Says He Was Swerving Away from a Dog
In a deposition, Cathey, the truck driver involved in the fatal accident, told attorneys that he was attempting to swerve away from a dog. According to Cathey, the dog appeared out of a ditch and Cathey swerved to the right to attempt to avoid it. He then tried to compensate by swerving back to the left when he lost control of the vehicle and struck the SUV of the family. However, there was no evidence that a dog was there at the scene.
Truck Driver Fatigue Lawsuits
In a lawsuit like this, you have federal regulations that require drivers to get a certain amount of rest before taking the road, limit the number of hours they can work, and prevent accidents such as this. It is the job of the trucking company to prevent drivers from overworking themselves. In cases where the trucking company is negligent, they can be sued directly above and beyond what their commercial driver’s liability policy offers.
This is due in large part to the fact that the trucking company was itself negligent above and beyond the accident itself. When a truck driver is involved in an accident, a claim is made against the trucking company’s liability policy. However, if the truck driver was driving fatigued, under the influence, or the trucking company’s negligence can be assumed either by act or omission, then the trucking company is also liable.
When Trucking Companies are Responsible
The National Transportation Safety Board reports that truck driver fatigue is implicated in 30-40 percent of accidents.
Recently, more regulations have been passed limiting how long a truck driver can drive and when they are required to take breaks. Truck drivers require an extraordinary reaction time. Unlike small commuter vehicles, trucks don’t stop simply because you slam on the gas. They’re generally hauling loads over 80,000 pounds. Trucks need to slow down before they can come to a complete stop. A driver who slams on the brakes risks jackknifing his big rig. So the reaction time of a truck driver must be far superior to that of your ordinary driver.
- Rest break rules – Drivers are limited to 60 hours a week. They are required to drive no more than 14 hours in a single shift. Every eight hours, they are required to take a rest break. Drivers who do not follow these regulations are negligent by default.
- Logbooks – All truck drivers are required to keep logbooks of every 24-hour period. Trucking companies are required to look at these logbooks and are expected to be able to make determinations on whether the logs have been falsified.
- Negligent hiring and supervision – Since the law puts certain duties on truck drivers and their employers, when these duties aren’t adhered to, the trucking company itself is liable for any accident caused by the failure to exercise a duty of care. In these cases, a plaintiff can allege that either trucking company negligently hired an unskilled or dangerous driver or that they failed to supervise them properly. These claims are filed directly against the trucking company as opposed to the driver or the company’s insurance policy.
- Negligent maintenance on a vehicle – Sometimes, it’s not the truck driver’s fault at all that an accident occurred. Trucking companies are also responsible for ensuring that their trucks are road-worthy before they leave for delivery. If a failure to perform routine diagnostics on the trucks results in a preventable accident, the trucking company is liable for any injuries they cause.
When driver fatigue is to blame for an accident, the trucking company incurs vicarious liability. That means that the company is responsible for any actions of its driver. Trucking companies are expected to ensure that their drivers obey the law and are fit to be out on the road. In this case, the company failed, five people are now dead, and they’ve been hit with a $280M verdict to remind them that they owe everyone out on the road a duty of care.
Talk to a Kennesaw, GA Truck Accident Lawyer
If you’ve been injured in an accident involving a fatigued truck driver or an otherwise-negligent trucking company, the attorneys at the Roger Ghai Law Offices can help you recover damages related to your injuries. Talk to us today for a free consultation.