Today, a senior producer from a regional television station contacted me about Truck Safety in North Carolina. She started the conversation off by noting how many recent tractor-trailer accidents appear to be the result of either truck driver fatigue or unsafe truck equipment.
The producer told me that she was working on an upcoming program that will focus on truck safety and how some truck driver’s and truck company’s failure to be safe have seriously injured or killed North Carolina citizens. She wanted to know if I had any former clients whom I thought would be willing to be interviewed for her news article. One case immediately popped into my mind. The case was against a motor carrier called the Pate-Dawson Company.
One evening a few years ago on a dark rural highway outside of Goldsboro, NC, a tractor-trailer truck owned by restaurant food distributor Pate-Dawson Company ran over a young boy on a bicycle. At the time, the boy was riding his bicycle on the side of a two lane road outside of Goldsboro. The tractor-trailer came up from behind and ran him over.
After the wreck, the truck driver lied and told the police that the bike had darted-out from a side road into the highway, and that he had no time to react. The truck driver also lied and told the Trooper that he had only been on duty for 11 hours at the time of the wreck. The truck driver lied again telling the Trooper that his on-board electronic computer (black box) was not working and contained no electronic data about the crash. This information was confirmed to the Trooper by several company executives (including the owner) who rushed to the scene trying to perform damage control.
When the investigating State Trooper looked inside the cab of the big rig, he found two separate driver’s daily log books. In the truck business, this conclusively shows that a truck driver is trying to beat the system and driver more hours than the law allows. The Trooper charged the driver with falsifying his logs.The Trooper did not charge the driver with anything else at the time because all he had to go on was the trucker’s and company executives’ word. Little did the Trooper know that everything he had been told was a bald-faced lie.
We were extremely lucky in this case in that after the crash, a cousin of the young boy who had worked in the trucking business applied for and took a job as a dispatcher at the company that owned the tractor-trailer – Pate Dawson Company (PDC). His sole goal was to find out what happened to his younger cousin. As a dispatcher, the cousin secretly investigated the crash and discovered the hidden electronic evidence proving the truck driver had been on duty and driving for 23.5 hours at the time of the wreck. When the family showed the Trooper what the cousin had found, the Trooper re-opened the investigation and did a reconstruction of the crash – concluding that the truck driver could have seen the young as far back as 1200 feet from the point of impact – significantly more than enough distance to stop a tractor-trailer that’s going 55 mph.
The parents of the boy hired us approximately 2 years after the truck accident. Our team of experts thoroughly investigated the case and conclusively proved that the boy did not dart-out from a side road, that the collision actually took place just outside of the truck’s lane of travel – on the shoulder, that the truck driver was speeding (73 in a 55 mph zone) when he struck the bicycle, and that the trucker had been on duty for 23.5 hours when the fatal collision occurred. Most importantly, we were able to show that the truck driver’s employer not only knew about his numerous safety violations, but it encouraged, endorsed and at times demanded it.
During litigation, we uncovered unbelievable information about how this motor carrier had thumbed its nose at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration by not adhering to the hours of service regulations. We discovered internal company memos that showed this particular driver had been found to be “habitually driving more hours that the law allowed,” and one manager at the company tried to persuade the President of PDC, Matt Sullivan, Jr., to put a stop to the illegal driving, but Matt Sullivan refused and knowingly kept putting this and other illegal drivers back on the road. A significant number of this company’s tractor-trailer drivers were driving over the legal hours limit and had been for years. Unfortunately, this boy’s death was the result of their refusal to operate safely and within the law.
Not surprisingly, the case settled as it neared the courtroom. At the time of the settlement conference, the owner of the company told the boy’s father that his company had been doing some things it should have not been doing, and that they had changed their (evil) ways. It is just horrible that someone had to die and a family had to be torn apart for the truck company to understand why these safety laws are in place. Sadly, if the cousin had not gone undercover and discovered the damning evidence, the truck company would have completely gotten away with reckless homicide.
After confirming the television producer’s credentials, I contacted the young boy’s parents and they agreed to participate in the news report and tell their story. The senior TV producer says the parents’ story is compelling and the news article will air in a few weeks. I will try to post an update as to the program’s date and time. It should be interesting….
Brian Davis is recognized as one of the nation’s top experts in serious truck accident injury cases. He serves as a national adviser for the Association of Plaintiffs Interstate Trucking Lawyers of America and is a member of the Interstate Truck Litigation Group of the American Association for Justice. Attorney Davis’ goal is to help reduce the number of preventable truck accident cases in North Carolina.