Personal injury attorney Ken Shigley recently wrote a great post on “chameleon” trucking companies. In the industry, a “chameleon” is an unsafe trucking company that changes its name or re-registers to avoid liability or problems with its safety rating. The owners, equipment, drivers, and even address, usually stay the same. While the name on the side of the truck may be new, our families are still being endangered by the same careless drivers or the same defective equipment.
Ken’s post reminded me of a recent truck driver deposition. In the case, a lady suffered life-altering and disabling injuries on an Alabama highway. Following the crash, the truck driver refused to even exit his rig and help. The lady survived only because a passerby stopped and helped until emergency responders could arrive. Although the truck driver refused to help, he had time to make multiple cell phone calls. These included calls to a “rapid response” team which rushed to the scene – not to help the victims but to protect the trucking company.
In deposition, the truck driver admitted having at least three collisions in the three years preceding the crash in Alabama. Each prior collision was clearly his fault. In one, he rear-ended an innocent driver on another Interstate highway. In another, he crashed into a loading dock causing substantial damage to a factory. In the third, he continued to drive his truck after the roadway had become too dangerous due to ice, crashing and knocking out local electrical utilities. In addition to the prior crashes, the medical examiner had cautioned the company about allowing this driver to stay on the road due to serious health issues. When I simply asked in deposition if he must follow basic safety rules while driving his rig, the driver refused to say yes. Instead, he responded to questions asking whether he must follow safety rules by saying, “theoretically” and “in a perfect world.” The safety of our families on the roadway was not important to this driver. Did the trucking company remove this driver from our highways, even temporarily, after any of these past events? No. Did the trucking company try to retrain the driver after any of these past events? No. The trucking company simply put him back on our highways with instructions to deliver the merchandise on time.
The trucking company did closely monitor this driver – just not for safety. A month prior to the terrible crash in my case, the driver was reprimanded and threatened with termination. The trucking company threatened termination because the driver had been late with several deliveries. Here, speed was valued over safety.
Many trucking companies take safety seriously. Yet, some do not. As Ken notes, the government does not adequately screen companies for important safety issues. Too many dangerous and unsafe truck drivers are allowed needlessly and continuously to endanger our families on the roadway.