Jeff Burns didn’t set out to be arguably the most respected truck crash litigator in the nation. He says he became involved in truck safety “literally, by accident.” “Many years ago,” Burns recalls, “in my first truck crash case I represented a client who had lost his wife and two daughters, ages 6 and 9, in a crash caused by a fatigued truck driver. I had a daughter about the age of the younger girl at the time,” he notes, “and the more I learned about the trucking industry by working on that case, the more I was afraid of putting my family on the highway. I was shocked to learn that 1 in every 5 truck drivers admits to have fallen asleep at the wheel in the last 30 days.”
“That first case was a life-changing event for me,” states Burns. “Standing in the weeds next to the highway at the scene of the crash, I promised the girls’ father their deaths would not be in vain; that I would make sure that their loss would make a difference.” He spent much of the next twenty years in Washington, D.C. working on the issues, trying to improve safety rules, and advocating for more enforcement and more public awareness of the problem in fulfillment of that promise. “No one had heard of truck driver fatigue back then and the issue still doesn’t have the public awareness it needs,” he notes.
“Between four and five thousand people are killed most years in truck crashes,” says Burns, “and many of those are due to truck driver fatigue. When I handle a truck crash case, I assume fatigue played a role until I can rule it out.”
Burns wants to make sure everyone understands that his firm is not anti-trucking, but pro safe trucking. In fact, Dollar, Burns & Becker works with major truck lines and industry leaders to improve safety. “Drivers are generally good people,” he says emphatically, “they’re trying to put food on the table, but the industry is ultra-competitive and can put huge economic pressure on drivers to drive faster and longer than they can do safely. Ultimately, the drivers and the companies must be held accountable for those risky decisions, and we all need to work to change the culture of the industry.
But his job includes more than litigating cases, educating the public and working for rule changes, stronger laws and stricter enforcement. “We view our job as helping people through the worst time in their lives,” Burns notes. “That’s the bottom line. We care about our clients and we spend a great deal of time late at night talking and sometimes even crying with our clients.”
He says his goal is to help trucking companies see the light and realize there can actually be a remarkable return on investment when they institute or strengthen safety programs. Burns says there is less litigation and drivers actually stay with companies longer when they see stronger safety rules as a genuine commitment that helps protect them.
Burns thinks we need a quantum shift in the way trucking companies, their customers and consumers look at the industry. “We need to get big shippers to include a good safety record as part of their service expectation,” he says, “and consumers need to hold companies accountable for the carriers they choose in the same way they now hold retailers accountable for the working conditions of people who make the products they sell.”
“Our firm tries to do the right thing,” Burns points out, “we cannot sit back and work on these tragic cases and not try to do something about the problem. Burns’ commitment to making a difference is recognized by executives at some of the country’s largest truck lines. The Senior V.P. of Safety and Security for Schneider National says, “Jeff Burns’ motivations to improve safety are genuine and deeply held, when he says he’s cried with too many families, he means it. He has the ability to translate that negative energy into a passion that is compelling and contagious. He has been the catalyst for collaboration between traditional adversaries.”
Burns stays at the forefront of developments in the trucking industry. He was appointed as a member of the National Academy of Sciences’ Transportation Research Board’s Truck and Bus Safety Committee (ANB70), and the Secretary of Transportation has appointed him as a member of the National Freight Advisory Committee.
The impact on people’s lives is always at the forefront of Burns’ mind. To help remind him of what his practice is all about and the promise he made years ago to a bereaved father, he keeps a broken pair of a child’s white roller skates with pink wheels in his office, recovered from the scene of that first truck crash case.
Burns graduated first in his class at the University of Missouri – Columbia School of Law in 1983. He received his undergraduate degree from Truman State in 1978. He also pursued studies at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid in 1978-79 and at the University of Leicester Facility of Law in England in 1980-81.
From 1983 to 1985, Burns served as a law clerk to the Honorable Elmo B. Hunter, United States district judge for the Western District of Missouri in Kansas City, Mo. In 1985, he joined the law firm of Shook, Hardy & Bacon, P.C. in Kansas City where he served in the tort litigation section.
In 2005, Burns joined The Law Offices of Tim Dollar, L.C., now known as Dollar, Burns & Becker, L.C., in Kansas City. He continues to focus on truck accident litigation and highway safety.
Burns is very active in the national movement for increased safety in the trucking industry. He serves on the Boards of Directors of Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH) and Parents Against Tired Truckers (P.A.T.T.), both grassroots safety advocacy organizations. He is a former director for the Center for Truck Safety (C.T.S.) and also served in the Alliance for Safe Highways. Burns has served as National Transportation Counsel for P.A.T.T. since shortly after the organization was founded in 1994. He has also served on the Board of Directors of the Brain Injury Association of Kansas and Greater Kansas City.
Burns has written extensively for the legal and trucking communities.
Truck Driver Fatigue – A Primer, American Bar Association, Truck Accident Litigation, 2nd Edition, 2012.
Handling a Plaintiff's Truck Crash Case – What You Don't Know Can Hurt You and Your Client, American Bar Association, Truck Accident Litigation, 2nd Edition, 2012.
Debunking Truck Industry Myths: The Status of Truck Safety, Sorrow to Strength Truck Victims Conference, Washington, D.C., October, 2005.
Asleep at the Wheel? Trial Magazine, November, 2002.
Missouri Practice – Litigation Guide (Volumes 2 and 2A Missouri Practice Series), West Publications, 1992, 2002, 204, 2015, 2016 editions; (Updates/pocket parts also prepared by J. Burns).
Missouri Bar Annual Update of the Law – Civil Procedure – June 1992 - 2007.
He is a frequent speaker at conferences in the legal and trucking communities.
USLAW – Perspectives From the Plaintiff’s Lawyer’s Playbook – Tucson, Arizona, April 2013.
OHIO ASSOCIATION FOR JUSTICE EDUCATION FOUNDATION – Maximizing the Impact in a Truck Accident Case – Dayton, Ohio, September 2012.
AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF JUSTICE – Essentials for Proving Spoliation in Trucking Cases – Chicago, July 2012.
APITLA - National Interstate Trucking Super Summit: Driver Fatigue: the Company’s Responsibility – St. Louis, MO, September 16, 2011.
360 ADVOCACY INSTITUTE – Trucking Litigation Exposed – Bad Weather Collision Cases; Presenting Driver Training/Safe Driving Experts; Understanding Fatigue Cases - Beyond Hours of Service – New Orleans, LA, June 12, 2011.
AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF JUSTICE - Using Investigation, Regulations and Discovery to Disprove Defenses – Atlanta, May 20 – 22, 2011.
AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF JUSTICE - Regulatory and Statutory Update: CSA, EOBRs, HOS, Insurance, Size & Weight– Atlanta, May 20 – 22, 2011.
AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF JUSTICE - CSA 2010: Not Your Father’s Safe-Stat – Las Vegas, Nevada, October 8-9, 2010.
AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF JUSTICE - CSA 2010: Comprehensive Safety Analysis – An Eye Opener – Las Vegas, Nevada, October 8-9, 2010.
TRIAL ADVOCACY COLLEGE - Developing the Rules in a Trucking Case; Selection, Preparation & Direct Examination of the Accident Reconstruction Expert; Punitive Damages & Vicarious Liability – Atlanta, Georgia, October 9-12, 2009.
SAFETY PRESENTATION FOR EARP DISTRIBUTION - Last Chance for Safety: The Truck Driver, Kansas City, Kansas, October 3, 2009.
BEYOND AUDITING LOGS - THE TRUCKING COMPANY’S OBLIGATION TO PROVIDE FATIGUE TRAINING – FATIGUED TRUCKERS: FROM CRASH TO CLOSING ARGUMENT – Las Vegas, Nevada, September 13, 2009.
THE THREE RS: RULES, REGS & REPTILES - South Carolina Association for Justice 2009 Annual Convention – August 7, 2009.
DRIVER FATIGUE - ITLG MEMBERS ONLY TRUCKING LITIGATION SEMINAR – Chicago, Illinois, October 3-5, 2008.
DISCOVERY & PROOF OF DRIVER FATIGUE – Tennessee Trial Lawyers Association – Nashville, Tennessee, October 5, 2007.
FATIGUE AND THE LAW, Wake Up Michigan Symposium, Grand Rapids, Michigan, September 20, 2007.
DISCOVERY AND PROOF OF DRIVER FATIGUE, Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys, Osage Beach, Missouri, June 2007.
THE TRUCK SAFETY CRISIS – A National Outrage, Sorrow to Strength Conference, Washington, D.C., March 2007.
TRUCK LITIGATION AND D.O.T. REGULATIONS, Kansas City, Missouri, March 2006 and 2007.
WHY COMPREHENSIVE DISCOVERY IS REASONABLE AND NECESSARY IN A TRUCK CRASH CASE, ABA Transportation Megaconference VII, New Orleans, La., March 2005.
DEBUNKING INDUSTRY MYTHS – The Status of Truck Safety, Sorrow to Strength Truck Victims’ Conference, Washington, D.C., October 2005.
THE TRUCKING INDUSTRY'S CAPACITY CRISIS DRIVER SHORTAGE AND HOURS OF SERVICE - An Outside View, Freight Transportation Capacity Crisis Productivity Summit, The Logistics Institute at Georgia Tech, Atlanta, Georgia, October 2004.
LEGAL DEVELOPMENTS REGARDING DROWSY DRIVING, National Summit to Prevent Drowsy Driving, National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C., November 2002.
HOW TO PREPARE A TRUCK CRASH CASE FOR TRIAL – Phoenix, Arizona, June 2001.
ABC'S OF HIGHWAY SAFETY – Sorrow to Strength Truck Crash Victims' Conference – Washington, D.C., June 1999.
HOURS OF SERVICE REFORM AND POTENTIAL SHIPPER RESPONSIBILITY – Roundtable of the Counsel of Logistics Management – Des Moines, Iowa, May 1999.
CUTTING-EDGE TRUCK SAFETY ISSUES – Sorrow to Strength Truck Crash Victims' Conference, Washington, D.C., April 1998.
HOT TOPICS IN TRUCK CRASH LITIGATION – Fatigue and Blind Spots, Kansas City, Missouri, April 1997.
PROBLEM AREAS IN TRUCK CRASH LITIGATION – Sorrow to Strength Truck Crash Victims' Conference, Washington, D.C., May 1997.
OBTAINING JUSTICE: Criminal vs. Civil Legal Systems – Sorrow to Strength Truck Crash Victims' Conference, Washington, D.C., June 1996.
FATIGUE AS A CAUSE OF TRUCK CRASHES – Fatigue and Highway Safety Conference, Vancouver, Washington, September 1995.
SLEEP DEPRIVATION: America's Hidden Nightmare – Symposium on Fatigue, San Francisco, California, September 1994.
DEVELOPING AREAS IN PREMISES LIABILITY – June 1994.
Effective Motion Practice: Discovery Motions – May 1996, 1995 and 1994.
Practical Skills Course – Federal Court Practice, November, 1989.
Preparing Accurate Settlement Documentation Settlement of Minors' Claims, Richard E. McLeod and Jeffrey A. Burns, May 1987.
Slattery vs. Estes Express Lines - $40.8 Million Recovery
Zinmaster vs. Stanislaw Gil and Net Trucking - $10 Million Judgment
Jeff Becker vs. Oliver Mitchell and LTL Trucking - $7 Million Recovery