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Trucking Companies’ Obligation to Drive Safe Vehicles

Tragedy struck on I-20 near Martin Luther King Boulevard when a piece of semi-truck's transmission broke off and slammed into passing SUV. According to investigators, the piece crashed through the SUV's windshield, killing an eight-year-old boy and injuring his mother and sister. The truck was owned by CW Transport LLC, a small trash hauling company based in Atlanta. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), CW has a long record of safety and maintenance violations that have led to several administrative penalties.

Federal records show that CW is near the bottom of national safety rankings for companies its size. The Atlanta Journal Constitution also reported that in the past two years, safety inspectors found violations in 17 of 18 reviews. CW trucks were pulled off the road on six occasions due to safety violations.

No charges were filed against the driver of the truck, and there is considerable debate regarding whether the driver would have noticed a latent transmission defect. Nevertheless, the accident exemplifies the safety obligations trucking companies have in operating safe vehicles. In addition to safe driving, truckers (and trucking companies) owe a duty to the driving public to use reasonable care in maintaining safe rigs. This includes completing routine safety checks, making necessary repairs and keeping detailed maintenance records. Failing to do so could constitute a breach of that duty, and the company could be held liable for the injuries (and property damage) that may come about as a result of an accident. Drivers injured by unsafe trucks can seek compensation for pain and suffering, lost wages, medical costs as well as property damage.

In the CW case, shoddy safety and maintenance records could also be viewed as a breach of the company's duty, which could lead to liability for the injuries suffered in the accident.

Even with the numerous suspensions of CW trucks, the FMCSA is still dealing with the growing problem of "chameleon carriers"; rogue carriers that create new identities to avoid detection after having their authorizations revoked due to safety violations. A report released in April by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that found that 1,136 new motor carrier applicants in 2010 had chameleon characteristics (i.e. common addresses, phone numbers and company officers in their filings). More importantly, chameleon carriers had three times as many crashes than new carrier applicants. CW's filings indicate that the company was formed in September 2010, and that it had no previous crashes involving injuries or fatalities.

Suffice it to say, truck accidents can be caused by ignoring safety mandates. If you have been involved in a truck accident, an experienced personal injury attorney can investigate your case to determine if safety errors contributed to the accident.

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