Chain Reaction Collisions

A recent case in New Jersey involved a truck driver failing to see a line of vehicles stopped ahead at a traffic signal along a two-lane state highway. The truck driver drove into the rear of a small pick-up truck, which started a serious chain-reaction crash. The police reported, and the post-accident photographs confirmed, that the impact caused the small pick-up truck to “fold like a sandwich.” Fortunately, the plaintiff survived the devastating impact.

The accident occurred in the late afternoon with clear weather along a dry and open roadway. There were no vision obstructions to the stopped vehicles; however, there had to be an explanation for the full-impact collision. The trucking company in this case was not a “Mom & Pop” organization; it operated and managed nearly 50 trucks. The drivers of these trucks specialized in delivering dairy products to markets and restaurants. Since the trucks were sufficiently sized and crossed state boundaries, their operations were governed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR). Even if the involved truck had remained solely within New Jersey, the state trucking regulations, which mirror the federal regulations, would have applied.

To determine the underlying causes of the collision, plaintiff retained a trucking/transportation expert to evaluate the incident. Upon review of the case materials, plaintiff’s expert noted:

  • Management’s failure to check the involved driver’s prior work references
  • Numerous safety violations by the company’s drivers from past roadside safety inspections
  • Significant regulatory violations by the company as noted in past FMCSA Compliance Reviews (audits)
  • Separate Hours of Service violations by the involved driver in the prior 120-day period
  • Numerous unrecognized Hours of Service violations for the involved truck driver
  • No discipline for the involved truck driver for driving in excess of the allowable number of hours
  • Purchased, but unused, technology that could have warned the management of the company that their involved driver was regularly driving over the allowable number of hours
  • The involved driver exceeded the allowable number of driving hours on the afternoon of the crash

It was clearly demonstrated in the plaintiff’s expert witness report that the management of the trucking company had the means and the resources to properly screen and monitor its drivers; yet, failed to do so. The case settled immediately following the discovery phase.

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