FMCSA Considers Increasing Insurance Minimum For Commercial Motor Vehicles

Insurance premiums have not been increased since 1980

how much for equivalent care

WASHINGTON D.C.–The FMCSA has just concluded its advanced notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM), in which it gathers information. As part of this process, attorney Michael Leizerman submitted comments on behalf of AAJ’s Trucking Litigation Group. 

Leizerman has been working on this issued for years, including appearing before the Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee (MCSAC) in May 2014, urging members to adjust the minimum federal trucking insurance limits so that they keep up with the cost of inflation.

The current minimum insurance requirement of $750,000 for most tractor trailers and large trucks on the road has not been adjusted for inflation since it was proposed nearly 35 years ago. Representing the American Association for Justice, Leizerman and other truck safety advocates want to see the minimum insurance requirement adjusted to $4,422,000.

“This inflationary adjustment will help pay lost wages to a widow. It will allow for victims to pay for life care plans when there is brain damage or paralysis, instead of relying on Medicaid or other government programs to pay the tab,” stated Leizerman.

In 1980, when a person was killed in a large truck crash, $750,000 of insurance coverage would pay for 60 years of salary, using the national average wage index of an average salary of $12,513. Today, the same minimum limits will only pay for 16 years of salary to the family of the deceased, Leizerman reported.

“If ultimately adopted by the FMCSA, I know that this regulation will make a difference to the thousands of people and their families who are catastrophically injured or killed in large truck crashes every year and whose medical bills and losses exceed the current minimums,” stated Leizerman.

According to Leizerman, the next step is for the FMCSA to consider the comments and decide whether to advance rulemaking, and if so, how much the proposed increase should be.

“It is our hope that FMCSA will look at the information before them and ultimately begin drafting new insurance rules for commercial drivers,” explained Leizerman.

Leizerman authored the nine-page document addressing why the higher limits are needed, citing real life examples of people who’ve suffered debilitating injuries at the hands of a commercial vehicle. The document was originally presented to FMCSA last week.

“In the coming months and years, I predict that we will see advanced notice of rulemaking on this issue from the FMCSA, with a public commentary period, then the rulemaking process along with public commentary period,” explained Leizerman. “While I’d like it to be sooner, I foresee phased-in inflationary-adjusted limits going into effect in 2017.”

To read Leizerman’s public comment submission on behalf of the Trucking Litigation Group in its entirety, click here.

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  AAJ Trucking Litigation Group

Submitted by: Michael Jay Leizerman, Public Affairs Chair

michael@leizerman.com

Response to FMSCA’s Questions Concerning Increasing the Minimum Levels of Financial Responsibility Required for Motor Carriers

Docket FMCSA-2014-0211

The American Association for Justice Trucking Litigation Group includes approximately 400 lawyers who litigate collisions involving commercial motor vehicles. Our members see the devastation that occurs in many truck crashes. The current minimum insurance limits are inadequate in thousands of cases each year. Between 70%-100% of fatal and catastrophic liability truck crash cases exceed the current minimum insurance limits.

The current minimum insurance requirement of $750,000 for most tractor trailers and large trucks on the road has not been adjusted for inflation since it was proposed nearly 35 years ago. The time is now to adjust the limits, taking into account inflation, to help insure that truck companies—and not already overtaxed programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Tricare—are held accountable to pay for future medical care, lost salary and other losses experienced by victims of truck collisions. These victims include car drivers, bus riders, pedestrians and often other truck drivers.

One of the original purposes of federally-mandated insurance minimums was increased safety entry standards for motor carriers who wish to transport people and goods. This continues to be a goal of insurance. The motor carrier or driver who can’t afford insurance also can’t afford routine maintenance of brakes, tires and other equipment. Such drivers can best serve the public safely by either raising capital to afford insurance and other expenses necessary for safety, or to seek employment with a motor carrier with the financial capital to operate safely. With the reported driver shortage, there are motor carriers with trucks sitting idle who are looking for safe drivers with starting salaries of $60,000 and more.

Driving a tractor trailer or other commercial motor vehicle (CMV) is a privilege; not a right. Up until deregulation in the 1980s, it was illegal to drive a CMV unless a motor carrier had legal rights to a particular route. Even then, the carrier could only drive authorized routes. Deregulation opened the field so that nearly any driver could become a motor carrier by meeting minimal filing, regulatory and insurance requirements. To allay concerns about putting potentially unsafe drivers behind the wheel of a CMV, increased insurance limits were proposed so that insurance companies would have an incentive to offer safety training programs and not insure carriers that posed an unacceptable risk.

Motor Carrier Enforcement agents do the best they can with available resources. Less than 2% of carriers receive safety audits because there simply aren’t enough government resources. That was part of the goal of deregulation: insurance companies would actively participate in a safety role so that free market forces would encourage safety training for drivers and carriers and would increase premiums or refuse to insure carriers when they represented an unacceptable risk.

The trucking industry was deregulated at a time when $750,000 was considered a lot of money. Now, $750,000 or $1 million (which is most common) is just not that much money when compared to the cost of medical care for the catastrophically injured and average lifetime salaries of victims killed in large truck crashes. With less relative risk now than existed in 1980, insurance companies do not have the same financial incentive to screen and train.

The legislative history of creating minimum insurance levels in 1980 included the recognition that minimum levels were set to “assure the public safety is not jeopardized”. Another part of that history was setting insurance minimums to achieve a level “sufficient to require on site inspection by the insurance company with minimums to be updated regularly.” (H.R. Rep. No. 96-1069 at 43, emphasis added.)

It is basic economics that all prices must eventually be adjusted for inflation. The time has passed to adjust the minimum insurance limits.

We believe that most drivers and carriers want to do the right thing and be able to compensate for any catastrophic loss they cause. While all carriers wish to be profitable, it is only a small minority that will act unsafely to save a buck, including skimping on safety, insurance and maintenance. Once passed, small and large carriers will comply with any new regulation and purchase insurance more appropriate for 2015 than 1980.

Questions 1-4 Premium Rates

There have been comments by truck drivers submitted to the FMCSA in which they describe the fact that they have driven for many decades and have never had an accident. We applaud those drivers. The purpose of insurance is to spread risk for catastrophic loss. Good drivers and companies pay lower premiums, as they should. Drivers and companies with a history of violations and crashes pay more. When insurance companies determine the risk of any driver or carrier is too great — that is, their likelihood of causing a collision and therefore costing the insurance company money is highly certain — then the insurance company refuses to insure that driver or carrier, or insists on additional training. By doing this, the insurance company performs an important safety function.

When insurance companies write larger policies, they help ensure safety by reviewing driver history, CSA and other safety scores, drug and alcohol compliance and other safety measurements. The insurance company has a financial interest in keeping people safe; the motor carrier has a financial interest in safety compliance to help prevent premium increases.

John Burtch, President of Dawson Transportation Services, a transportation insurance provider, estimates the following costs for purchasing insurance in excess of the $1 million for which most carriers are currently insured:

Fleet size                                     Price per power unit

(Additional Limit purchased or required)

1-10

$1,000,000                                                       $   800

$2,000,000                                                       $1,200

$3,000,000                                                       $1,500

$4,000,000                                                       $1,750

11-50

$1,000,000                                                       $   650

$2,000,000                                                       $   950

$3,000,000                                                       $1,200

$4,000,000                                                       $1,500

51-250

$1,000,000                                                         $   550

$2,000,000                                                        $   850

$3,000,000                                                        $1,050

$4,000,000                                                        $1,250

(Comments given at the May 19, 2014 Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee and provided by Dawson Transportation Services.) These estimates are for non-hazardous material carriers. Dawson Transportation Services writes a majority of insurance contracts in the Midwest, so regional factors could result in slightly different premiums. The estimates above have a margin of error of ± 10% for 90% of the motor carriers. Of course, depending on safety record and other market forces, the increase could be less or more, especially for the top 10% of carriers with the worst safety histories.

Current Minimum Levels of Financial Responsibility

Question 5. How often is the minimum level of financial responsibility insufficient to meet the actual costs associated with a crash, specifically for lifelong medical support?

Current minimums are insufficient to meet actual costs associated with a crash in 70-100% of fatal and catastrophic liability collisions.

how much for equivalent care

Adjusted for Medical Consumer Price Index (United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1980-2014 Medical CPI, www.BLS.gov), $750,000 as originally proposed in 1980 is equivalent to $4,838,206 in 2015 dollars.
National Average Wage Index

In 1980, when a person was killed in a large truck crash, $750,000 of insurance coverage would pay for 60 years of salary, using the national average wage index of an average salary of $12,513. Today, the same minimum limits will only pay for 16 years of salary to the family of the deceased.

2013 MCMIS

Reviewing large truck crash fatalities by age, it is clear that the current minimum insurance limits are not sufficient to replace lost income to the household to compensate the family of the person killed. According the chart above, more than 70% of people killed in truck crashes are between the ages of 18-55. Assuming an average salary of $44,888, the current minimum limits are insufficient to replace the lost income experienced by people in this age range. This does not include last medical expenses before death or other compensable losses.

Confidentiality is why some people can make wildly low estimates of the number of annual claims that exceed $750,000. Insurance companies routinely insist on confidentiality of dollar amount in exchange for settling cases. We estimate 7,500 to 10,000 people per year are killed or catastrophically injured in truck crashes where the value of the loss—including salary replacement for the family and future medical care—exceeds the current $750,000 minimum insurance levels. Adjusted for liability, assuming a conservative estimate that only 25% of truck crashes are the fault of the truck driver, this still leaves at least 1,875-2,500 victims undercompensated annually.

These numbers or higher are supported by the first data known to be publically disclosed by the trucking industry. Motor carriers who belong to The Trucking Alliance tracked 8,692 commercial motor vehicle settlements between 2005 and 2011 and found the 42% of monetary exposure represented in these settlements exceeded the current minimum insurance levels of $750,000. (Trucking Alliance Study)

Based on an average nursing home cost of $77,000 annually for a semi-private room in a nursing home and $42,000 annually for an assisted care facility (Source: Genworth 2014 Cost of Care Survey of 10,000 assisted living facilities and nursing homes), a catastrophically injured 20 year old requires $4,400,000 for semi-private nursing home care or $2,400,000 for an assisted living facility, assuming she will live to a life expectancy age of 77. This does not include the cost of any doctor’s care, hospital visits, surgeries or durable medical equipment. It has also not been increased for future health care cost inflation. Many life care plans for a person catastrophically injured in a commercial motor vehicle collision are $2 million to $5 million or higher.

Here are some examples of what is involved in a life care plan and how it affects just a few real people whose lives—and the lives of their family members—have changed due to a collision with a large truck. Their life care plans include expenses for medication, skilled care, therapy services, surgeries, home modifications, household replacement services and medical equipment and supplies. Due to the graphic nature of the injuries in these crashes, the following photos only show victims before the crash.

Life care plan Wisconsin

The life care plan above is from a 2010 Wisconsin collision. A truck lost control on I-94 coming to rest blocking all lanes of traffic. The injured person is a 28 year old female working as an account manager for a large lender. She suffered severe brain trauma resulting in a coma. She still remains in a semi-vegetative state. Past medical bills are $1,046,790.07.  Her future medical costs range from $5,508,492.00 for institutional care to $13,537,200 for home care.

in 2012 Tony

 

In 2012, Tony was hit by a tractor-trailer that crossed the median and hit him head on in the opposite lane and continued into the woods. The truck driver claimed he was reaching for an apple.  Tony suffered severe orthopedic injuries and mild traumatic brain damage.  The life care plan estimates that continued care would range between $3.1 million to $4.7 million.

In Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania in 2009, a family minivan carrying 10 year-old Davanna was stopped at a red light. The truck driver had never driven a tractor trailer in snow before. The truck skidded through the red light and slammed into the minivan, striking it, and catapulting it almost 50 feet.

Davanna was airlifted to Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh as a level one trauma patient. Her body temperature had to be lowered in an attempt to preserve her brain tissue. A hole was drilled into her skull reduce pressure on her brain. She was sedated, paralyzed, and needed mechanical ventilation to live.

Her slow process to recovery included regular and intense physical rehabilitation therapy every day. Davanna now attends a school for children with special needs.

The accident altered Davanna’s and her family’s lives drastically. Investigations after the crash revealed that this truck needed more than five different kinds of brake safety improvements – putting it in direct violation of federal laws.

The motor carrier only had a $1 million insurance policy. Her life care plan is over $9 million. Since her father was in the Army, Tricare has paid some of her bills, but not all.

Impacts of Increasing the Minimum Level of Financial Responsibility

Question 7. Would an increase in financial responsibility requirements affect small and large motor carriers differently? If so, how?

Some small and many larger carriers already have $5 million or more coverage. Some carriers have $100 million or more. For carriers choosing limits in excess of the current minimum, there would likely be no change or a small decrease in premiums since they would no longer have to absorb the cost of excess claims when smaller carriers are involved in fatal and catastrophic collisions.

Question 8. How would increasing the minimum financial responsibility requirements affect the ability of a carrier to obtain insurance?

Increasing the minimum should have no effect on a carrier’s ability to obtain insurance. A motor carrier that is financially unable to afford a $1250-$1750 increase in insurance premiums is running on such a tight budget that it is also the carrier likely unable to afford safety-critical preventative maintenance.

An increase will make it more difficult for “chameleon” carriers with unsafe histories to obtain insurance. The FMCSA has established higher vetting standards in recent years for new entrants. An increased insurance minimum will complement the agency’s efforts to keep unsafe operators off the roads. According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), 18% percent of chameleon carriers are involved in severe crashes, triple the rate for non-chameleon carriers. In 2010, the GAO estimates that the FMCSA was only able to check 2% of new carriers to identify if they were chameleon carriers. With significantly higher limits comes higher risk for insurance companies. Accordingly, they will be incentivized to screen new insurance applicants that have repeatedly refused to give drug tests, ignored hours of service regulations and violated other safety rules that puts them at an unfair competitive advantage compared to carriers who follow the rules.

Question 9. How would increasing minimum levels of financial responsibility affect safety , e.g., would carriers put off “optional costs” such as safety programs, preventive maintenance and investments in new technology, to cover the high cost of premiums?

Increasing the minimums will make the roads safer.

Small carriers will not choose to pay increased insurance premiums instead of safely maintaining their trucks. A carrier either has a safety culture or it does not. When faced with pocketing an extra $1250-$1750 or reinvesting it in capital, safety programs or insurance premiums, a company that cares about safety will make sure it is doing what it reasonably can to run safely. Carriers that are operating on a profit of less than $1750 and have to choose between new brakes or insurance premiums, are carriers that are not adequately capitalized to operate safely in the first place.

Question 10. What are the current State insurance requirements and how do they vary from the Federal requirements?

State limits are much different from federal requirements because they do not affect interstate commercial vehicles up to 80,000 pound vehicles.

Question 12. What percentage of insurance-related cases settles before trial at the current minimum levels of financial responsibility? If the minimum levels are increased, would the same percentage of cases settle before trial?

This information is kept strictly confidential by insurance companies. Motor carriers who belong to The Trucking Alliance tracked 8,692 commercial motor vehicle settlements between 2005 and 2011 and found the 42% of monetary exposure represented in these settlements exceeded the current minimum insurance levels of $750,000. (Trucking Alliance Study)

Settlements occur when the two sides agree on a settlement value. There will not likely be a difference in the percentage of cases settled before trial with increased minimum insurance limits. There will be a dramatic decrease in litigation against trucking brokers and shippers when the motor carrier’s liability limits are increased.

Compensation

Question 13. What minimum levels of financial responsibility are needed to adequately protect against uncompensated losses associated with crashes?

$4.8 million would account for inflation as adjusted by the Medical Consumer Price Index, calculating from 1980 to the beginning of 2015. Given the time inherent in agency rulemaking, we recommend a minimum limit of $5 million.

Question 14. What other mechanisms, besides increased minimum levels of financial responsibility, are available to more fully compensate persons who suffer catastrophic loss?

Insurance is how Americans protects against risk. Increased insurance limits in the 1980s were an important safety mechanism and integral part of deregulation. Compensation funds and other experiments are not sustainable and will not work. Insurance is designed to spread risk based on safety. It is an important part of our free market system.

Question 15. How would increasing the minimum financial responsibility requirements affect out-of-court crash damage settlement agreements?

Increasing minimums should not affect settlements at all. Those who are at fault will still be at fault. Insurance companies are experts at evaluating claims; the value of each truck accident claims will not change based on the amount of available insurance. Insurance companies will not pay a single dollar more than it values a claim given its risk. That is, if an insurance company values a claim at $2 million, it is not going to pay more if there is $3 million insurance versus $5 million.

With an increased minimum limit, motor carriers that currently carry minimum insurance will have decreased risk and exposure of their assets. Insurance companies will be able to make settlement decisions based more on value of loss than concerns about excess exposure of the motor carrier.

Increasing the insurance minimum levels will cause a dramatic decrease in the increasing litigation against brokers and shippers.

On behalf of the thousands of victims who are undercompensated or have become increasing financial burdens on Medicaid, Medicare, Tricare and state workers compensation programs, we urge the FMCSA to adjust the minimum insurance limits to 2015 dollars as originally promised and anticipated.

Respectfully submitted,

American Association for Justice, Trucking Litigation Group

Michael Jay Leizerman, Public Affairs Chair

1-800-628-4500

michael@leizerman.com

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Safety Groups Urge NHTSA To Mandate Collision Avoidance Technology For Large Trucks

Courtesy: Flickr

Courtesy: Flickr

Every year, approximately 4,000 people are killed and nearly 100,000 are injured in crashes involving large trucks.

Research shows that many of these collisions actually occur from the rear. NHTSA data backs this. From 2003-2008, it revealed that there were 32,000 crashes involving a truck striking the rear of a vehicle resulting in at least 300 fatalities and injuring over 15,000 people annually.

Because of those numbers, several safety groups and individuals are on a mission to change that. They recently petitioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to mandate collision avoidance and mitigation braking systems for new heavy trucks and buses.

“The safety technology is available to reduce the carnage on America’s roads resulting from rear-end crashes by large trucks,” said Henry Jasny, Senior Vice President of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. “The NHTSA can take action to improve safety and reduce preventable losses by requiring F-CAM technology on all large commercial motor vehicles.”

The Truck Safety Coalition, the Center for Auto Safety and Road Safe America has also joined forces with Highway and Auto Safety to demand these new safety measures.

Steve Owings, Road Safe America Co-Founder and past Chairman of the Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee, lost his son, Cullum, when the car Cullum was driving was barreled into from behind, in stopped traffic, by a tractor-trailer.

That big-rig’s driver was speeding 8 mph over the posted speed limit using cruise control and didn’t touch his brakes until his truck was within 100 feet of the stopped traffic.

“There is little doubt that Cullum would still be alive today if only that truck had F-CAM technology,” Owings said.

The basic technology that these safety groups want utilized is something called ‘Forward Collision Warning (FCW).” It’s a vehicle-based safety system that generates a visual, audible, or haptic (vibration) warning for the driver in the event the driver’s vehicle comes within a predefined distance and closing rate with a vehicle traveling in front of it, known as the target vehicle.

In situations where the driver does not respond to the FCW alert signals, Collision Mitigation Braking (CMB) automatically applies the foundation brakes through the electronic stability control (ESC) system to reduce the impact speed or entirely prevent the collision with the target vehicle.

“Many hundreds of lives could be saved each year if trucks are equipped with automatic braking systems,” said Clarence Ditlow, Executive Director of the Center for Auto Safety. “The NHTSA should move quickly to require this safety technology on all trucks.”

NHTSA reportedly recently completed an evaluation of F-CAM systems in medium and heavy commercial vehicles that “provides substantial support for this petition.”

To view the petition in its entirety, click here.

The truck accident attorneys at E.J. Leizerman & Associates LLC support the efforts of these safety groups to keep America’s roadways safer, and we hope that in the future the FMCSC makes this technology mandatory for all commercial motor vehicles.

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FMCSA Shuts Down Colorado Trucking Company

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration takes recently forced Aurora, Colorado-based trucking company, Sorbon Transport, to shut down after deeming it an imminent hazard to public safety.

According to the department, a recent federal investigation revealed major safety and maintenance violations at the trucking company. The FMCSA found that Sorbon has “no effective maintenance program” and that it placed a tractor trailer auto hauler on the road that was “in such disrepair that the vehicle was inoperable with the brakes connected.”

“Safety is our highest priority and companies that knowingly put the motoring public at risk will be immediately shut down,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.  “We will continue to aggressively enforce federal safety regulations and block unsafe commercial drivers, trucks and buses from operating on our roadways.

Earlier this month and without prior notice, FMCSA safety investigators launched an investigation into Sorbon Transport and found that it:

  • Failed to systematically inspect, repair, and maintain its commercial vehicles:  Sorbon Transport reportedly failed to provide vehicle inspection reports or evidence of a maintenance program for the company.  During a roadside inspection of one of the company’s vehicles in early February, eight separate out-of-service violations, and six other maintenance-related violations, were identified.  Days later, a different company vehicle was subjected to a roadside inspection in which two out-of-service violations, and 12 other maintenance-related violations, were identified.
  • Failed to ensure that its drivers complied with hours-of-service regulations designed to prevent fatigue, including limitations on daily driving and maximum on-duty hours:  FMSCA officials stated that Sorbon Transport could only provide limited driver duty records covering a single trip; those records for that single trip reflected multiple hours-of-service violations.
  • Failed to ensure drivers were qualified to operate a commercial motor vehicle:  FMSCA officials stated that Sorbon Transport was unable to provide records related to controlled substances and alcohol testing requirements.

Sorbon Transport must cease all commercial motor vehicle operations, including all interstate and intrastate transportation, from all dispatching locations or terminals.  FMCSA also simultaneously revoked the carrier’s federal operating authority and suspended its USDOT number.

Violating an imminent hazard out-of-service order and operating without operating authority and a USDOT number may result in civil penalties up to $60,000 as well as a criminal penalty including a fine of up to $25,000 and imprisonment not to exceed one year.

“Companies that ignore basic safety maintenance of their equipment, disregard hours of service requirements, and use unqualified drivers have no place on our highways and roads,” said FMCSA Acting Administrator Scott Darling.  “FMCSA staff across the country are dedicated to protecting innocent lives by preventing crashes involving large commercial motor vehicles from ever occurring.”

Transport Topics reporter contacted the trucking company after the story broke. Amazingly, the owner reportedly stated that he was unaware that his company had been placed out of service, which begs the question whether the company still has trucks on the road.

The truck accident attorneys at E.J. Leizerman & Associates LLC commend the FMSCA for shutting down this unsafe trucking company. Allowing it to continue to operate is not fair to the many motor carriers who follow the rules and have to compete with companies like Sorbon.

If you or someone you know have been injured by a commercial truck, call us today to learn how we possibly can help with your case. Consultations are free. You can reach us at 1-800-628-4500

.

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Big Rig Driver Cited In Fiery Interstate Wreck In Florida

Courtesy: My Fox Tampa

Courtesy: My Fox Tampa

According to a report WFTS-TV, a semi recently crashed into a barrier in Clearwater, Florida which caused a massive fire and then an explosion. The accident backed up traffic for hours. Cleanup took four hours.

Luckily, the driver of the 18-wheeler walked away from the scene unharmed and even turned down medical treatment. FDOT Spokesperson Kris Carson stated that there was minimal destruction and that incredibly no one lost their lives.

The semi driver reportedly told investigators that he got confused by the construction near the intersection of U.S. 19 and Gulf to Bay Boulevard. Carson told My Fox Tampa that he’s actually surprised the driver got confused.

“It’s really not [confusing] as long as you’re paying attention,” she told the station. We have construction going on but it’s been going on for many years and I don’t know how it would have happened in terms of the speeds or the barrier wall was right there,” she said. “We’re lucky that nobody was killed and the damage is actually minimal to the roadway.”

According to FDOT, the driver has been cited for careless driving and all of the repairs will be paid for by his company’s insurance. Under state law, the penalties vary. Depending on the speed, drivers could face up to a $250 fine.

Last year in Florida, there were 6,530 crashes and 238 fatalities involving large trucks. Unfortunately, those numbers have actually increased since 2012. While we would love to see those numbers go down, this serves as a reminder that we must always be vigilant when behind the wheel. Crashes can happen within the blink of an eye, changing lives forever.

Here at E.J. Leizerman & Associates LLC we don’t take careless driving lightly.  If you or someone you know have been the victim of a careless driver, call us today to learn how we possibly can help with your case. Consultations are free. You can reach us  at 1-800-628-4500.

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Four Children Injured After Commercial Truck Rams Into School Bus

Courtesy: WPXI-TV

Courtesy: WPXI-TV

Some students in western Pennsylvania got quite the scare on their way home from school recently after a coal truck slammed into the rear of their school bus. Fifteen students were on the bus. Four of them received minor injuries.

Public Safety Director Randall Brozenick told Philly.com that one student also had to be transported to the hospital after receiving a gash above her right eye. Neither the driver of the school bus or coal truck were injured.

According to TribLive.com, the accident happened after the school bus made a stop with its red lights flashing. However, police stated that the truck driver didn’t immediately see it “due to heavy snowfall.”  The truck ended up hitting the bus from behind, sliding over an embankment and struck a utility pole. The school bus blocked traffic in both directions.

During the time of the accident, witnesses described the snow as blinding, making it nearly impossible to see practically anything. No charges have been filed in the collision.

While we here at E.J. Leizerman & Associates are certainly relieved that no one was seriously injured during this accident, it serves as a reminder that both commercial and non-commercial drivers must be vigilant at all times during hazardous weather.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 25 percent of all traffic accidents in this country are weather-related and occur during conditions such as rain, sleet, snow, or fog. Annually, this equates to:

  • 6,250 fatal crashes
  • Over 480,000 injury crashes
  • Nearly 961,000 in property-damage only crashes

If weather conditions make it nearly impossible to see while driving, pull over and wait for the snow, rain or hail to pass. That goes for not only commercial drivers but for anyone who drives a car, SUV or any other small vehicle. It’s really just all about using common sense.

In addition, it’s the law. Federal regulation 49 CFR 392.14 requires drivers of commercial motor vehicles to reduce their speed during limited visibility and traction. It also requires them to stop when conditional are “sufficiently dangerous,” as they obviously were in this crash.

This rule covers visibility and traction. Even when visibility isn’t a problem, drivers must still practice caution and good judgment. Rain or snow can make the roadways rather slippery, increasing the odds of a driver losing control of his or her vehicle. It’s best to drive under the speed limit during adverse weather conditions.

Our law firm has handled many cases involving victims injured or killed by truck and bus drivers acting negligently when the weather conditions warranted extra caution on the roadways. If you would like to consult with us about a potential case, give us a call today at 1-800-628-4500 for a free consultation.

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NTSB Wants Bigger Emphasis Put On Truck Maintenance

mechanicAccidents involving tractor trailers happen much too often. In fact, for every 100 million miles driven on U.S. highways, there are 2.3 deaths and 60.5 injuries caused by semis. Sadly, about 98 percent of all big rig accidents result in at least one fatality.

Just yesterday an accident shut down a highly-traveled Texas interstate for several hours after troopers say an 18-wheeler and pickup truck collided. The collision left one person dead and several others injuries. At this time, the crash remains under investigation.

Poor maintenance is one of the main reasons accidents involving semis occur. When an 18-wheeler’s brakes or tires aren’t regularly checked and replaced, the odds of an accident occurring increases significantly. Brake failure or a tire blowout can put many lives on the road in grave danger—including the driver of the semi.

That’s why the National Transportation Safety Board is urging drivers, government regulators and carriers to make routine maintenance a number one priority, paying extra attention to brake systems.

“We see issues regarding vehicles that aren’t well-maintained,” Acting NTSB chairman Christopher Hart told Transport Topics recently in an exclusive interview.

Hart stated that the uptick in truck-involved fatalities since 2009 caught NTSB members’ attention as they made up their annual “10 Most Wanted List” of critical transportation safety issues. The list was released last month.

While implementing additional safety measures won’t obviously happen overnight, Hart says he would like to see:

  • More advanced safety systems on heavy-duty trucks installed: NTSB authorities would like to see in-cab reporting of brake inspections done with sensors
  • Hands-free devices while driving banned: The NTSB consensus is that even though they are supposed to reduce distracted driving, they really don’t.
  • Commercial drivers educated on the dangers of taking prescription or over-the-counter drugs while behind the wheel: NTSB officials say there is still a lack of knowledge in this area in the trucking industry.
  • FMCSA act more quickly to place poorly performing carriers and drivers out of service: NTSB officials say FMCSA is often slow to take action against drivers and vehicles carriers with low ratings

The truck accident attorneys here at E.J. Leizerman & Associates stand by the NTSB’s efforts to promote safety on America’s highways. Over the years, we’ve represented far too many families in court who’ve experienced unimaginable tragedy due to a trucking crash.

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18-Wheeler Crashes Into Wisconsin House, Startles Homeowner From Nap

Wisconsin crash into home

Courtesy: The Journal Sentinel Online

A Wisconsin man may not have a place to currently call home, but he is definitely lucky to be alive.

The man, whose identity has not been released, was recently enjoying a nap inside his house when he was awakened by a loud noise. According to fire officials on scene, a semi crashed into the man’s bedroom, knocking the house off of its foundation. Fortunately, the homeowner was not injured.

According to WXOX-TV, the semi was headed east on I-94 when it crossed through a ditch and smashed into the home, spilling about 60-65 gallons of diesel fuel into the soil.

Authorities say the driver of the semi was able to get out of the cab following the crash and was transported to a nearby hospital for minor injuries.

Because the crash caused extensive structural damage to the house, officials say it can no longer be occupied. The Red Cross has been kind enough to provide the homeowner with shelter and financial assistance.

Currently, The Jackson County Sheriff’s Department and Wisconsin State Patrol are investigating the crash. The big question that remains is: What caused the semi to crash into the house to begin with? We can only speculate at this point.

Driving too fast for conditions, not fully paying attention to the roadways, a mechanical malfunction, etc.—these are all possibilities.

No matter what the actual cause may be, the incident has without a doubt impacted one man’s way of life at no fault of his own.

Similar cases have, in fact, ended up in civil court. In 2007, Frank Gasca, a retired Vietnam veteran was sitting on his front porch, when he told WOIA-TV a Schwan delivery truck crashed into his garage, causing a wall to collapse. The truck narrowly missed the war hero.

Even though Gasca escaped the crash without any injuries, he eventually filed a lawsuit against the truck driver, Samuel Ellis, claiming that he failed to put on the parking brake of his delivery truck which, in turn, caused the crash. The company and the driver were both sued for negligence.

If you have ever lost a loved one or have been the victim of a trucking accident, we offer our condolences. As lawyers who handle trucking negligence cases, we may be able to help. It is our job to ensure that truck drivers, trucking companies and any other liable party are held accountable for their actions. Call us today at 1-800-628-4500 for a free consultation.

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New Study Shows Americans Adamantly Oppose Bigger Trucks On The Road

long truckAs major trucking companies across the country continue to pressure lawmakers on Capitol Hill to allow longer and heavier semitrailers on America’s highways, a newly-released poll found that three out of four Americans are totally against it.

The Coalition Against Bigger Trucks, a nonprofit advocacy group opposing truck size and weight increases, surveyed 1,000 people across the country last month. The study found that a whopping 76 percent of respondents opposed longer and heavier semitrailer trucks on the highway, while 15 percent supported them and 9 percent were unsure. The survey was spearheaded by Harper Polling, a Harrisburg, Pennsylvania-based company.

Currently, some of the nation’s largest and most powerful trucking and shipping ‘big wigs’ are wanting Congress to lift the 1991 federal freeze on longer combination vehicles (LCVs)—triple-trailer trucks and long double-trailer trucks. Other proposals include heavier single-trailer trucks that are up to 97,000 pounds—more than 8 tons heavier than today’s 80,000-pound weight limit.

On top of that, large trucking companies like Con-Way Freight, Old Dominion Freight Line and FedEx are pushing for legislation that would require every state to permit even longer double trailer trucks. Their proposal would lengthen current double 28-foot trucks by 10 feet to double 33-foot trucks. Often referred to as “Twin 33s,” double 33-foot trucks are 17-feet longer than the standard 53-foot trucks on many roads today.

In 2013, the U.S. Department of Transportation reviewed 30 years of research and found that gross vehicle weight appeared to be associated with higher crash rates. The Department’s 2000 study also found that multi-trailer trucks are already more dangerous than single-trailer trucks, and have an 11 percent higher fatal crash rate.

Aware of the dangers, opponents of heavier and longer trucks, including law enforcement and first responder organizations, are asking voters to call their respective U.S. Representatives and Senators and urge them to vote against any increase in truck size or weight limits.

The truck accident attorneys here at E.J. Leizerman & Associates also encourage constituents to do the same. We believe heavier and longer trucks do, indeed, put drivers at risk and, therefore, have no business on the road.

Knowing this, for lawmakers to ever consider allowing bigger trucks on America’s roadways would just be plain irresponsible. 

Let lawmakers know exactly how you feel about this very important issue. We encourage you to call Congress at (202) 224-3121 and tell them to say “no” to bigger trucks. Remember. How they vote on this important issue could either save lives or cost them.

 

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FMCSA Finalizing New Rules To Target Bad Commercial Drivers, Fleets

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) recently released a detailed study involving large trucks and buses.

Courtesy: Wikimedia/Raunet

Courtesy: Wikimedia/Raunet

The latest data revealed that in 2012, there were 30,800 fatal crashes on the nation’s roadways. Of that number, 12 percent (3,702) involved at least one large truck or bus.

In addition, there were an estimated 5,584,000 nonfatal crashes with 6.6 percent (367,000) involving at least one large truck or bus.

The numbers revealed an alarming trend. Over a four-year period, the number of fatalities and accidents steadily increased.

In an effort to prevent those numbers from further climbing, FMCSA officials have announced several plans to beef up safety initiatives and outreach programs for 2015 by aggressively targeting commercial drivers who have no business on America’s roadways.

The plans include the following:

  • Drafting new rules for adopting safety fitness guidelines to help determine whether a carrier is fit to operate commercial motor vehicles. The revamped fitness-determination rule would include CSA data in fitness determinations.
  • Selecting a research firm to conduct a congressionally mandated study on the controversial hours-of-service restart rule. The firm awarded the contract will compare fatigue and performance levels of drivers who take a two-night rest period during a 34- hour restart with those who take less than a two-night period.
  • Making available $30 million for states looking to modernize their safety data technologies. The Commercial Vehicle Information Systems and Networks (CVISN) grant program focuses enforcement on high-risk operators, improves efficiency through electronic screening of commercial vehicles, and enables online application and issuance of registration and fuel tax credentials.
  • Projecting what the nation’s transportation system will look like for the next 30 years in order to better prepare for the future. Scheduled to be released in the coming weeks, the document, Beyond Traffic, will lay out trends in everything from population shifts and growth to infrastructure decline and technology.

As an attorney whose mission is to hold reckless drivers accountable for their actions when behind the wheel, I applaud FMCSA’s efforts to make our country’s highways safer by strengthening the guidelines for anyone operating a commercial motor vehicle such as an 18-wheeler, moving van, motor coach, etc.

While many of these commercial operators do, in fact, drive responsibly, for the few who choose to drive carelessly, the FMCSA must do everything in its power to weed out those “bad apples.” I believe the agency’s aggressive safety initiatives will help do just that.

Consider this. When innocent people are injured in a crash involving a commercial vehicle, such as a large truck or bus, obviously, lives are changed forever. But what many people may not realize is the hefty price tag that also comes with such accidents. Crashes or collisions with only injuries cost approximately $331,000.  That number jumps significantly to $7,200,000 for fatal wrecks. With so much at stake, no one can fault the FMSCA for doing everything possible to keep all drivers safe. You can only commend them for their actions.

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