The family of Dr. Anita Kurmann, who was tragically hit and killed by a truck last summer in Back Bay, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the truck driver and the trucking company. Attorney Ronald E. Gluck of Breakstone, White & Gluck filed the lawsuit on behalf of the family in Suffolk Superior Court. The Boston Globe reported on the case on May 19, 2016.
A lawsuit over tired truck driving may eliminate an embattled rule that concerns safety advocates about the risk of truck accidents, motor vehicle accidents and wrongful deaths on the nation’s roadways.
Since 2004, advocacy groups have been battling an hours-of-service rule passed by the Bush administration that increased the maximum number of consecutive hours a trucker could work from ten to eleven and decreased the rest and recovery time from fifty hours to thirty-four. Safety advocates claim that the changes are likely to lead to more motor vehicle accidents, serious personal injuries and wrongful deaths.
Twice, advocacy groups have successfully challenged the rule in court just to have the administration reissue the same rule. In 2004, the court vacated the hours-of-service rule on the grounds that the government did not adequately consider the effects of longer driving hours on individual truck driver welfare and public safety. In 2007, the court vacated the rule again because the agency did not allow public notice and comment on the new crash risk analysis used as justification to reissue the same rule.
Advocacy groups brought a third lawsuit in 2009 and will finally see an outcome. As part of a legal settlement, the Department of Transportation and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) have agreed to redraft the existing hours-of-service rule. In January, the agencies held several sessions around the country to gather public comment.
As they start work, safety advocates hope that the new rule will reflect the dangerous reality of tired truckers. The deaths and personal injuries caused by drivers falling asleep in the cab can be catastrophic for truck drivers and people on the road.
The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board points to driver fatigue as a likely factor in twenty to forty percent of truck crashes. Safety advocates, including members of Parents Against Tired Truckers and Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways, applaud the settlement as a step in the right direction towards safe roads.
There are typically over 1,000 Massachusetts truck accidents every year, nearly half of which involve out-of-state motor carriers. In 2006, 34 people were killed in Massachusetts trucking accidents.
For more information on the regulations, see the FMCSA website. For an overview of what information FMSCA is considering in formulating a new rule, see this presentation. The Truck Safety Coalition has a collection of stories and press releases on the hours-of-service rule and trucker fatigue.
Lawmakers and individuals are calling for change after seven deadly Big Dig crashes have been linked to handrails in the tunnels. State Senate President Therese Murphy has requested that the Department of Transportation, which overseas the tunnel system, review the handrails’s design and safety. Between 2004 and 2008, seven of the nine fatal accidents in the Big Dig were the result of vehicles hitting the handrails. Most crash victims were dismembered. The handrails line about six miles of the Big Dig on elevated walkways and are designed to prevent workers from tumbling into traffic.
The handrails are also the subject of litigation in Suffolk Superior Court. The widow of State Trooper Vincent Cila, who was killed after hitting a handrail post while on a motorcycle in 2005, has filed a wrongful death suit against multiple parties, including the state Turnpike Authority. The defendants assert that the handrails meet all applicable safety standards and regulations.
Despite assertions to the handrails’ safety, relatives and friends of crash victims are calling for the handrail design to be changed. Experts consulted by the Boston Globe said that the handrails are flawed. The horizontal rails are spaced far apart, allowing motorists to become entangled, and the rails are only three feet above the road, at head level. However, handrail design may not be solely to blame for the grisly crashes. Many of the drivers killed were speeding or not wearing seatbelts.
For more information on this story, see the Boston Globe.
The Federal Government is taking a firm stand against the dangers caused by texting drivers. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced Tuesday that, effective immediately, commercial bus and truck drivers are prohibited from texting while driving. Texting truck and bus drivers face civil or criminal penalties of up to $2,750.
The goal of the new law is to reduce truck accidents and motor vehicle accidents caused by distracted driving. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, drivers take their eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds out of every six seconds while texting. This means drivers who text are more than 20 times more likely to get in an accident than nondistracted drivers.
This is not the first move that the government has made to reduce the dangers of texting drivers. Nineteen states have passed laws banning texting while driving. President Obama has also signed an executive order requiring federal employees not to text while driving government-owned vehicles or with government-owned equipment.
The attention on texting comes after several high profile accidents caused by texting motor vehicle operators. In September 2008, a California commuter train engineer missed a stop signal while trading text messages with a friend, leading to a train accident resulting in the wrongful death of 25 people. In May 2009, 62 people suffered personal injury after a Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority trolley driver collided with another trolley while texting.
For more information about the dangers of distracted driving, see the Transportation Department’s website www.distraction.gov.
As if plummeting temperatures and shoveling aren’t reason enough to dislike winter in Massachusetts, snowy and icy weather creates hazardous road conditions. Car accidents, truck accidents, and pedestrian accidents are more likely as slippery roads increase both the distance required to stop a vehicle and the chance of sliding. Taking certain precautions against winter hazards can reduce drivers’ and pedestrians’ risk of personal injury or wrongful death.
First, try to avoid driving in bad winter conditions. If driving is necessary, try to drive during daylight hours only, plan ahead to avoid rushing, and wait until snow removal crews have eased road conditions. Check wiper blades and tires and make sure they are suited for winter driving conditions. Also, if you are traveling far from home, equip vehicles with a winter emergency kit including blankets, food, water, matches, candles, flares, sand for traction, and jumper cables.
Seat belts can save lives but only if they are worn properly. A properly fitting seat belt will fit tightly across the lap, snugly across the chest, and will cross at the shoulder. A seat belt should never cross at the neck or back Seat belts with lap restraints only are ineffective and should be avoided. An improperly fitting belt can actually make personal injuries worse. Heavy jackets will intefere with proper seat belt operation and should be avoided or removed once the car is warmed up.
Pedestrians face special problems since sidewalks are not always plowed and it may be necessary to walk in the street. One should walk facing the traffic in order to be able to observe the approaching traffic–and to take evasive action if necessary. At night, lightly colored clothing is important. Motorists need to be especially aware of pedestrians and even bicyclists during the winter months. Massachusetts General Laws c. 89, Section 14 requires motorists to slow when approaching pedestrians or bicyclists, and to pass only when it is safe to do so.
Finally, focus on safe and strategic driving. Stay at least nine car lengths behind the vehicle ahead to allow plenty of room to stop. Unless you have anti-lock brakes, If brakes begin a lock, ease off the brake. Be aware that bridges and overpasses freeze before the road. To regain control of a vehicle if rear wheels begin to skid, ease off the gas and steer in the direction the car should go. If the car starts to go too far in one direction, keep steering opposite ways until the vehicle is under control. If the front wheels are skidding, ease off the gas and let the vehicle slow down until traction is regained. If stuck in the snow, do not hit the gas. Try to remove snow and ice from around the wheels, and use sand for traction. Some vehicles can also be “rocked” by alternating between drive and reverse, while gently pressing the gas.
For more information on winter safety, please see the following articles:
Many of the over 9 million trucks on the roads in this country are operating with serious safety problems, according to a recent study performed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation. Twenty-eight motor carrier companies, representing more than 200,000 trucks, were found to have trucks in violation of federal safety laws. These violations include defective brakes, overly worn tires, excessive loads, and undertrained or impaired drivers. All of these factors contribute to the likelihood of a serious truck accident.
While the public is largely unaware of the problems with the nation’s large truck fleet, it is at significant risk due to these safety violations. Although trucks make up fewer than 4 percent of vehicles on the road, they are involved in 12 percent of motor vehicles fatalities, with over 4,000 deaths and 80,000 serious injuries occurring every year. Government data shows that many trucking accidents are not reported, suggesting the numbers above are underestimates. Citizens of Massachusetts, with its older highway system, are left at risk.
Many of these deaths and injuries are preventable, and would be avoided if trucking companies fully complied with safety laws. Unfortunately, many companies fail to perform critical maintenance and repairs in order to save money. As the government’s inspection and enforcement resources are limited, the chances of being caught are small, and the companies that are forced to take its trucks off the road simply change their name and continue operations as before.
Compounding this unsafe situation is the fact that many trucking companies carry insurance in amounts that are inadequate to compensate the victims of trucking accidents, especially when someone is seriously injured or there are multiple victims. Congress set the minimum level of insurance for tractor trailers at $750,000 in 1980, and has not changed it since. Although many companies carry higher amounts, carrying the minimum insurance is common in small trucking companies, which is of great concern, as 87 percent of the companies in violation of safety standards had fleets of ten trucks or fewer.
Massachusetts drivers now have another law to obey: Drivers need to slow down and move over when approaching stationary police, emergency response, and construction vehicles that have their lights flashing. The penalty: $100, and your insurance rates will probably also go up.
This well intentioned bill was enacted to prevent injuries caused by car accidents. First responders to accident scenes and work crews have suffered serious injuries as the result of negligent drivers who fail to slow and move over, and the legislation is designed to make their work safer.
But can you legislate this kind of safety? The bill itself is quite vague. A driver is required to change lanes “if practicable.” A driver is required to reduce his or her speed to a “reasonable and safe speed for road conditions.” How will that be judged? And will emergency vehicles leave the scene to chase down violators of this new law?
Saving lives and preventing injuries are, of course, important goals. But real safety comes from a broader awareness of our duty to ensure the safety of emergency and construction personnel, and that awareness begins with proper driving training. It also begins with simple common sense and courtesy.
After the September fatal Metrolink
train crash in Los Angeles, California, which was clearly linked to text messaging by
the engineer, a new focus is being brought on the many distractions which are
causing increasing numbers of car and truck accidents.
Driver distractions have always
included adjustments to
the radio and temperature controls, other occupants in
the car or truck, eating, roadside distractions, and for some, putting on
make-up and reading the morning paper. The proliferation of new devices, such as
GPS units, DVD players, iPods, cell phones, mobile e-mail, and text messaging,
have only compounded the likelihood of an accident being caused by a
iPods mounted for the vehicle’s
sound system are very likely to distract a driver. Recent studies have shown
that almost every driver with an iPod took his or her eyes off the road for two
seconds or more. Two seconds is the “magic number” because the probability of an
accident goes up by factor of three after that time. (These tests were run on a
The results of the study were even
more dramatic for young drivers, ages 16-18, who were much more likely to keep
their eyes off the road for a distraction, such an iPod or changing a CD.
The Metrolink train crash, which
killed 25 people and injured 140 others, starkly illustrated the potential
dangers of text messaging. The engineer failed to stop at a red track signal,
and then struck a freight train head-on.
So far, Washington, Alaska, the
District of Columbia, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Jersey and California have
banned text messaging while driving. Massachusetts is considering a similar ban,
but no action was taken in the 2008 legislative session. A similar bill is
expected to be brought to the legislature in 2008.
Investigation of driver
distraction is a standard part of the investigation of
car accident and truck
accident cases. Evidence of driver distraction, which can be from cell
phones, entertainment equipment, GPS units, or other distractions, is important
evidence in cases of
personal injuries or wrongful death.
At the personal injury law firm of
Breakstone, White & Gluck, P.C., we are aggressive in the investigation of
facts, such as driver distractions, which may have caused the accident. We have
experience retrieving relevant cell phone records and other accident data which
can help prove liability in our clients’ cases.
points to hazards of driver iPods,” Boston Globe.
team sorting out what happened in Metrolink crash,” Los Angeles Times.
Hasta La Vista To Texting While Driving,” Information Week.
leads ban on texting while driving,” Seattle Post Intelligencer
There are about 6.5 million residents of Massachusetts, and about 4.6 million drivers. The number of miles driven each year for the last three years has been in the range of roughly 55 million miles per year. And despite efforts to improve vehicle safety, enforce traffic laws, and improve highway design, death rates have dropped only slightly, primarily as a result of fewer pedestrian accidents.
Here is a summary of some of the statistics. The statistics for 2007 are not yet available.
Fatal Accidents in
Statistics for the same period are not completely available concerning disabling injuries. However, for 2004 and 2005 the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security reports over 5,000 people suffered incapacitating injuries from some sort of motor vehicle crash. In the same two years, 138,465 and 158,802 motor vehicle crashes were reported.
Drunk driving continues to play a major role in fatal car accidents, though the last three years have seen a slight drop in the role of alcohol in fatal accidents.
These data include not just deaths to the drunk drivers, but to passengers, other motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists. It also includes deaths related to alcohol consumed by pedestrians and bicyclists.
In addition to the wrongful deaths of so many individuals caused by drunk drivers, there are also thousands of personal injuries caused by drunk driving accidents.
If you or a loved one has suffered personal injury or if a loved one has suffered wrongful death as a result of a drunk driving accident or other motor vehicle accident, please contact the lawyers at Breakstone, White & Gluck today for a free consultation. Our toll free number is 800-379-1244. Learn more about Hiring an Attorney for a Car Accident Case.
A series of tractor-trailer accidents in Massachusetts reminds us of just how serious truck accidents can be. The latest, on March 20th, caused injuries to the driver himself and another motorist. For thousands of others it was traffic-snarling nightmare, when the tractor-trailer carrying paint flipped on the Mass Turnpike during the morning commute. Rush hour traffic was backed up for ten miles.
Other recent crashes have been much more serious. On March 17th, a college student was killed when he was struck while crossing the street in a crosswalk in Cambridge after he was hit by a tractor-trailer. News reports indicate that the truck was operated by Shaws supermarkets. In Massachusetts, under G.L. c.89, Sec. 11, pedestrians have the right of way when crossing in a crosswalk.
The most spectacular crash, thankfully one that only caused property damage and not injury, occurred in Everett in the early morning hours of December 6, 2007, when a loaded fuel tanker rolled over in a rotary. The contents spilled and ignited, then flowed down the street setting cars and homes on fires. Dozens of cars were destroyed, along with several buildings. Thirteen families were left homeless, and a hundred elderly residents were evacuated from their homes. The area “looked like a war zone.”
Defensive driving techniques are one way you can help avoid injury to yourself. A common winter hazard is the collection of ice and snow on the top trucks traveling on the highways. These accumulations can become missiles when they lift off at high speeds, easily crashing through windshields causing serious physical injuries and head injuries. Report any such violations to the police. Watch out for loads that might shift or which are loose, and do not follow loaded trucks closely. Remember, trucks have large turning and long stopping distances, and can weigh over fifty tons.
For more information, visit the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration safety website.
If you need a lawyer to handle your truck accident case, please contact us toll free at 1-800-379-1244, or use the contact form on this page. For more information on choosing a truck accident attorney, visit our page on Hiring a Lawyer for Personal Injuries Caused by Trucking Accidents.