Yesterday’s Massive Pileup on I-81 in Pottsville (Schuylkill County, PA) had an Unfortunately Common Ring to It.
For truck accident lawyers, there are parts of the story that are all too familiar. Here are some of the things that come to mind, and some lessons that can be learned.
Truck Accidents | Truck Drivers Must Drive Safely
Trucking accidents kill thousands of Americans every year and injure hundreds of thousands, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which is the federal agency responsible for making our highways safe.
Virtually all of these accidents are preventable. This crash never would have happened if the truck drivers had followed some basic safety rules. Yesterday’s I-81 crash provides some clear and direct examples.
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The first safety rule is obvious. It’s in every trucking safety manual and in every basic driver’s education manual. It’s something that we all learned riding our bikes in the rain and walking on snowy sidewalks. When the conditions get bad, or slippery, or foggy, slow down. If you look at the videos of the I-81 crash, you see tractor trailer rigs (and some passenger cars) heading down the highway at a high rate of speed in horrible weather conditions, only to predictably smash into other vehicles in the pile-up. When you are driving too fast for conditions, a horrendous crash becomes almost inevitable. It’s the proverbial accident looking for a place to happen.
The second safety rule is equally obvious. In bad weather, stopping distances become much longer, and any moves that are too sharp or sudden can make the vehicle spin out of control. Drivers need to keep their distance from one another. As a general rule of thumb, when the weather gets bad, truck drivers should stay at least ten seconds behind the vehicle in front of them. That will give them time to perceive any hazards ahead and react. A driver who does not allow enough distance to the driver ahead is literally an accident waiting to happen.
If you can stand it, take a look at one of the videos from yesterday’s tractor trailer pile-up. You will see an impact, and then see another vehicle come onto the scene and crash less than ten seconds later. That right there shows what can happen, if the basic ten-second rule is not followed.
And when things get really bad – when visibility is so bad that safe travel is not possible – drivers must get off the road. This is a basic truth that is set forth in writing in every responsible training manual. It’s there in the manual that we all had to master before we got driver’s licenses, and it’s there in the instruction manuals of companies which train truck drivers and train company safety directors. This does not always mean you should take the next exit; sometimes, it means you immediately need to pull onto the shoulder or even, depending on circumstances, off the shoulder onto the median. If you look at the grassy medians that are common on Pennsylvania interstates, there is more than enough space to accommodate multiple vehicles, and they are graded gently enough that even a large tractor trailer can safely maneuver there. It’s clear from the I-81 accident videos that the striking truck drivers failed to take that simple, basic, step. There is no evidence that any of them were trying to find a way off the roadway; rather, they seem determined to barrel forward regardless of the conditions.
Big Companies Like Amazon and FedEx Created These 25-Ton Snow Monsters
Drivers need to drive more safely. Of course.
But leading truck accident lawyers who have experience in these cases also know a deeper truth: the safety violations that we see on film were not just created by bad drivers making bad decisions. Rather, they were created by a corporate system that lets America’s largest companies outsource safety to the lowest bidder.
Look at the videos from the wreck (or almost any large truck pile-up), and you will see that the trailer sections of the tractor-trailers are owned by large companies like Amazon, which is of course one of the most profitable companies the world has ever seen. The catchy logos on their trailers are impossible to miss.
But if you could really zoom into the photographs and look at the trucks that are actually pulling those trailers (as they go too fast and follow too close), they are actually owned by a separate company, often a small trucking company with only a handful of trucks and drivers. The large companies have more than enough money to hire, train, and retain skilled drivers; to keep them current with their training; and to make sure they have all the tools they need to safely carry out their jobs. But instead these companies–in pursuit of ever-greater profits–choose to use the cheapest independent contractor they can find.
The only requirement imposed and enforced by companies like Amazon is a requirement that the contractor check a box saying its drivers are properly trained and qualified. The Amazons of the world don’t have to do a single thing to train drivers or make sure they are qualified, and all too often they literally don’t lift a finger to promote safety with their contracted drivers.
So when you look at the behavior of the truck drivers in the I-81 pileup, keep in mind that the explosively dangerous drivers shown there were created by an industry that has chosen to outsource safety, and has done so in a way that puts many thousands of under-trained and unsafe tractor trailer drivers on the road.
What to Do After Involvement in a Major Multi-Vehicle Accident
The Pennsylvania State Police investigative unit carrying out an analysis of the crash will take countless photographs and will interview witnesses. They will also obtain data from the “black box” recorders that all modern truck tractors have.
But any experienced truck accident litigator knows that police investigators simply do not have the resources to track down every possible information source. The cell phones of every driver in the collision will contain important data about acceleration and deceleration. The phones will tell us who was talking on their phone or looking at an app. They will tell us who checked a weather app or received a notification of a snow squall ahead. By federal law, truck drivers who are on the phone are required to use a hands-free setup that can be dialed with a single button push; those phones will tell us whether or not that law was violated. There are also other types and sources of information that will likely not be gathered or imaged by state police investigators. It is doubtful, for example, that the black box data will be obtained from every passenger vehicle in the collision.
It is also important to bear in mind that the state troopers and local police officers who investigate these accidents have many, many other responsibilities, and they sometimes simply do not have the time, the staff, or the resources to accurately recreate every aspect of a complicated, multi-vehicle accident. In a case with catastrophic injuries, a privately retained truck accident lawyer can obtain this important information, with the kind of painstaking attention to detail that is necessary to achieve a full measure of justice.
Back in the day (and some of us have been handling truck accident cases for decades), we would sometimes counsel potential clients injured in vehicle accidents to sit tight and focus their energies on repairing their minds and bodies and adjusting to the new reality that a catastrophic injury imposes on a family. But today, we often need the family’s input right away because there is so much information that must be obtained and preserved immediately: for example, vehicle black boxes must be obtained and damage photographs taken before a vehicle is totaled and sold for salvage. (One of us tracked down a vehicle on another continent after it was sold for salvage, but we would rather not repeat that experience.) If the case calls for it, forensic images of cell phone data must be obtained before phones are sold or replaced, and before data is erased. Affirmative steps to prevent the destruction or spoliation of evidence need to be taken.
This information can sometimes make the difference between winning or losing a case, or between a fair settlement and an inadequate compromise. And most crucially, it can make the difference between a disappointing verdict and a “nuclear” verdict that sends a message to the community, loud and clear, that sacrificing lives and limbs in the pursuit of outrageous profits is not okay.
Another reason why it is so important to consult with a lawyer promptly is that insurance companies now contact injured accident victims very soon after an accident happens. Perhaps you are still a little foggy from a traumatic brain injury. Perhaps you are distracted from the millions of disruptions that a serious injury brings to any life. Or perhaps you are simply not clear in your own mind about a lightning-fast sequence of events.
For all these reasons and a thousand more like them, it is never a good idea to talk directly to an insurance company before you speak with a lawyer.
You can rest assured that the insurance company representative trying to reach you is not making the call to help you; they are making the call to help the insurance company that pays their salary. Keeping the size of your claim down is literally their job, and we can assure you they are very good at it. It doesn’t matter how smart and honest you are; the insurance company representative on the phone is highly trained and has been down this road 1,000 times before. At the time we are writing this, the I-81 snow squall pileup happened yesterday, and we can assure you that the trucking companies and insurance companies involved are already hard at work on a strategy designed to minimize the amounts they have to pay to injured victims. That fact alone should tell you all you need to know about bringing on a team of experienced tractor trailer accident lawyers, a team that knows how to fight back.
If you are Looking for an Experienced Truck Accident Lawyer, Consider the Team at McLaughlin & Lauricella. we can Help.
If you or someone you love has been injured in a truck or car accident in Pennsylvania, we can help. The car accident attorneys at McLaughlin & Lauricella, P.C., have more than 100 years of experience representing injured accident victims and their families across the State of Pennsylvania including Schuylkill, Berks, Bucks, Dauphin, Delaware, Lackawanna, Lehigh, Luzerne, Montgomery, Northampton and Philadelphia Counties. Contact us today, toll-free, at 1-855-633-6251 or fill out our confidential contact form to learn more about your legal options.