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Trucker Kills Young Mother While Watching Porn and Driving his Tractor-Trailer

Truck accident attorney explains why Michigan residents are put at such great risk

Yet another wrongful and completely senseless death has occurred at the hands of an extremely negligent truck driver. This trucker was watching streaming porn on a laptop over a period of several hours and while “distracted,” he crashed his tractor-trailer into the vehicle of a young mother named Julie Stratton – killing her.

This is one of those stories that’s very hard for some of us truck accident attorneys to grapple with. It shocks and amazes that someone could be so incredibly careless while driving an 80,000 pound truck. But the sad reality is that for the few attorneys in Michigan that handle truck accident cases, we are seeing more and more wrongful death and serious personal injury lawsuits like this one.

The reason is simple – trucking companies and truck drivers, especially in Michigan, keep ignoring the mandatory safety rules that are meant to protect us all.

After all, they can.

The trucker, who was working for Millis Transfer, also was driving with no more than four hours of sleep over a 27-hour period, another serious safety violation. He never should have been on the road in the first place.

State police determined by GPS tracking of the tractor-trailer, that the trucker had been sleep-deprived at the time of the crash. That violated federal hours of service regulations that limit the time commercial drivers can be behind the wheel. State police also found he kept fictitious log books (many truckers who regularly keep fraudulent books call these log books “lie books”) to mask his over-hours driving.

Unfortunately, this not one bit surprising. I’ve written extensively about the ways truck drivers can falsify records like log books and truck inspections in order to get more time on the road – often a requirement from truck company management to deliver loads quicker to make more profits. But as we can see here, cutting such drastic corners takes innocent lives.

The trucker who killed Julie was convicted of second-degree manslaughter and will be sentenced Sept. 1, facing a five- to 15-year prison term. But what about holding the trucking company accountable for Julie’s senseless death?

No Punitive Damages in Michigan Means More Preventable Deaths

This recent disaster got me thinking, “Such horrible truck accidents involving such egregious truck drivers seem to happen so much more in Michigan than in other states. Why?”

The answer is that Michigan does not have punitive damages like many other states. Punitive damages are additional monies awarded when a trucking company or trucker acts with recklessness, malice or gross negligence. Essentially, punitives are needed when the willful disregard or the consequences are so stupid that the dangerous conduct shocks the consciousness of a community. They are a way of penalizing the wrongdoer and making an example, so that other companies will not act that way in the future.

No puntives – no deterrent.

Michigan lawyers cannot legally recover punitive damages against trucking companies that knowingly hire unqualified, careless truck drivers who commit safety violations and cause many truck accidents. This absence of punitives allows bad trucking companies to continue to break the law and put profits over people, and to avoid being punished for egregious behavior that has resulted in serious injury or deaths – like killing a woman because streaming porn was the focus instead of safe driving.

And without punitive damages, trucking companies in Michigan have no deterrent from hiring clearly unfit drivers who grasshop from state to state killing people or causing too many truck crashes. I commonly see truck drivers who have caused a long list of accidents come to Michigan, because a truck company that hires this driver will only have to pay the insurance policy limits if he causes an accident. These are drivers who are so dangerous or so unfit that they cannot get jobs in other states with punitive damages. So they come here, to Michigan.

Being a truck accident attorney and past president for the American Association for Justice national truck litigation group, I’ve handled many horrible truck accident cases that clearly call for punitive damages. To name a few, there was Patrick Nunez, the young father who was killed by a truck with out-of-service brakes and steering, and who was driving with a seizure disorder and on epilepsy medication in Detroit! And Christopher Norris, who lost both of his legs when an unfit truck driver (who subsequently fled to Mexico) was playing with his cell phone and rear-ended his car in Macomb County, near St. Clair Shores. And Michael Mapes, who sustained a serious traumatic brain injury in addition to several other personal injuries when his vehicle was hit by a truck driver who had has license suspended 11 times!

I strongly believe that in states that award punitive damages, it’s far more likely dangerous drivers never get hired in the first place, and trucking companies are far more likely to enforce safety rules. To put it simply, if Michigan had punitive damages, many, many of these tragic truck accidents would be stopped. Maybe Julie Stratton could have lived to spend Mother’s Day with her two toddlers – who are now wondering where their mother has gone.

Steven M. Gursten is a partner of Michigan Auto Law. He is past president of the American Association for Justice Truck Litigation Group, and has received the top reported trial verdict in Michigan for truck accidents. Steve was named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly Leader in the Law for his efforts in promoting truck safety in Michigan and throughout the country.

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons, by chefranden

Related information about truck accidents:

Bad Trucking Companies in Michigan

Finding the Dirt on Unsafe Truck Companies in Michigan

Michigan Truck Accident Attorney Video: Punitive Damages

Michigan Auto Law exclusively handles car accident, truck accident and motorcycle accident cases throughout the entire state of Michigan. We have offices in Farmington Hills, Sterling Heights, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids and Detroit to better serve you. Call (800) 777-0028 for a free consultation from one of our attorneys.

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