Driver Fatigue is a Real Problem



by J.J. Burns

The June 7, 2014, tractor-trailer crash involving Wal-Mart truck driver Kevin Roper and comedian Tracy Morgan resulted in multiple significant injuries to Morgan, Jeffrey Millea and Ardie Fuqua Jr., as well as the death of comedian James McNair (known as Jimmy Mack). McNair’s family and Morgan allege that the trucker had not slept in more than 24 hours when he got behind the wheel.

The crash was highly publicized when it occurred, and the initial story and follow-up coverage have brought increased attention to the issue of truck driver fatigue. While the publicity of this public safety issue is a positive development, it seems as if most of the news coverage revolves around the story’s “celebrity” angle. The reality is that life-ending crashes caused by tired truckers are occurring with alarming frequency.

According to recent analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), “3,514 people died in large truck crashes in 2012.” The number seriously injured in such crashes is far greater. Thousands of mothers, fathers, children, neighbors and friends are injured or killed in the estimated 500,000 large truck and trailer truck crashes that occur every year, according to the United States Department of Transportation.

Two potential federal trucking regulations moved a step closer to becoming law last month. The first would require the use of speed limiters on particular trucks. The second would increase the minimum liability insurance that trucking companies must carry.

In addition to the death and destruction caused by these crashes, severely injured victims and family members of those killed routinely discover that many truck companies have only the minimum level of insurance required by federal law. This means that, even when a father is paralyzed and requires lifelong medical treatment and care, or when a child sustains a serious and debilitating brain injury, or when an entire family is destroyed, it is very likely that the most they can recover from the truck company is $750,000.

The current minimum amount was established in 1980 and might have covered a typical truck crash victim’s medical costs at that point in time. The amount was supposed to be increased over time but that hasn’t happened. Inflation, and specifically, inflation relating to medical expenses, has increased astronomically. Today, the cost of an extended hospital stay can cost a family millions. Opponents of the increase in liability coverage don’t believe the amount should change, but they aren’t the ones who have to live without their family members or sell their homes to pay medical bills.

Tracy Morgan’s story is important, but we shouldn’t let coverage of the relevant issues fade as his story resolves. The bigger and ongoing story is about three things: the hundreds of thousands who have been seriously injured or killed or lost loved ones in truck crashes; an industry that has a poor track record when it comes to safety; and the people who work to make America’s highways safer.

At Dollar, Burns & Becker, we don’t just work cases; we are advocates for victims, their families, and the motoring public. We support and work to promote laws, regulations, and industry practices that increase safety, lead to fewer accidents, and ensure that those who are injured or killed in a truck crash can demand something more than bare-minimum compensation for their incredible losses. Our assistance doesn’t stop after the case is over.

If you’d like more information about how you can help, or if you want to work with a law firm that demands the most for its clients and advocates for safer highways, give us a call.