On Monday, I wrote about my debate on Siruis radio against a trucking industry lobbyist. The interview was in response to my report on dangerous truck companies in Michigan. As a lawyer who handles trucking crash cases, the reason I wanted to know the number of unsafe trucking companies in the state is simple: I got tired of completely preventable truck accidents seriously injuring and killing my clients.
This year, for example, I’m handling a case where the truck driver who caused very serious injuries to my client had had his license suspended 11 times – that’s 11 times – before causing his latest truck crash. Last year, I helped the family of Patrick Nunez, a wonderful man, husband and father, who was senselessly killed by a truck driver who admitted he had no training, who was driving a truck that was dangerously out-of-service five different ways, and who was on a powerful epilepsy medication that causes drowsiness. The year before, I helped Chris Norris, who lost both his legs in a truck accident with an unfit truck driver who actually fled to Mexico afterward, and who was driving for a truck company with an extensive history of violations and accidents.
I had enough. So I sent a FOIA request to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to see how many dangerous trucking companies there were in Michigan.
The numbers surprised even me, and I help people in truck accidents for a living. The report showed that there are 1,072 trucking companies in Michigan with less than satisfactory safety ratings.
And that number, as high as it is, is probably the tip of the iceberg. As a 2009 US GAO report found, hundreds of dangerous trucking companies that have been ordered to be shut down are still operating, but under new names. And there are currently 1,000 companies that have received substantial safety fines and violations that are also operating, but under new names. So my FOIA results obviously do not include these new “reincarnation” or “chameleon” trucking companies.
As a truck accident lawyer, I see trends before they become trends. In the financial world, I’d probably be called a “lead indicator.” And I see things getting far worse.
I see, as the economy continues to suffer in Michigan, more trucking companies cutting corners as money gets tight. The first things that many trucking companies will cut are maintenance and safety. They’re already pushing their drivers to travel hours past the legal limits, and increasing shipping and delivery routes to maximize profits in a tougher economic environment.
Last year in Michigan, there were 123 people killed in completely preventable truck accidents, and thousands more seriously injured. I’ve had enough, but with the state essentially bankrupt, and regulatory and enforcement efforts being curtailed, help will not arrive from the federal government at this time. Already, only 1 percent of all trucks on the road are inspected, which is a paltry number that doesn’t begin to tackle this problem seriously.
All of these concerns are what make my recent radio interview with the American Trucking Association’s public relations lobbyist such a disappointment. As long as the trucking lobby is trying to “spin” these bad facts and attack lawyers, instead of working together to improve safety, a real opportunity to engage in meaningful change to make the roads safer for all of us is lost.
And more needless and preventable truck accidents will occur.
And more people will be killed and seriously injured.
Contact your representative and tell them you want safer trucks on the roads we all drive. Tell them you want better enforcement of bad trucking companies that fail to comply with mandatory safety rules that are meant to protect us all.
– Steve Gursten is recognized as one of the nation’s top attorneys handling serious truck accident injury cases. He is on the executive board of governors representing Michigan for the Association of Plaintiff Interstate Trucking Lawyers of America. Steve has received the largest jury verdict for an automobile accident case in Michigan in four of the last seven years, including 2008, according to Michigan Lawyers Weekly.
– Photo courtesy of Creative Commons, by iBjorn
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