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Truck companies escaping sanctions by renaming themselves

August 11, 2012 by Steven M. Gursten

“Chameleon carriers”  – dangerous trucking companies operating under new names – are also a huge problem in Michigan

I’ve written before about the most dangerous trucking companies – the ones that cut safety corners to save money, cause deadly accidents, hire unfit truck drivers and then when they’ve racked up too many safety violations, simply reopen under a new name. These companies then go onto repeat the same deadly cycle over and over again. We call these trucking companies “chameleon carriers.”

Well, a recent story about Georgia trucking companies doing this in the Insurance Journal, caught my attention. It’s called How Georgia Trucking Companies Escape Safety Scrutiny:

“The barriers to starting a trucking company are low, according to a review by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that found problems with industry oversight. Carriers that stay within Georgia’s boundaries face no minimum insurance requirements. Interstate trucking companies can be dispatching rigs for up to 18 months before getting a safety review, while those that don’t cross state lines may never face one.”

The article references a 2008 case, where a Georgia truck company called Devasko Lewis was involved in an Alabama truck accident that killed seven people. The company was put out of business by transportation officials and instructed not to start another truck company. But three years later, it registered again, and inspectors found a whopping 129 violations in only five roadside inspections.

Not surprisingly, Georgia was one of the states that was highlighted in a May 2012 study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office for having the problem of rampant chameleon carriers.

Cases like this equate to trucking companies with long records of killing people and threatening the public easily opening up for business under new names. This is putting the public at risk, because these truck companies are not held accountable and have no reason to become safer. They get a pass for safety mistakes and the lives that are wrecked in avoidable truck accidents that they egregiously cause.

What could be the remedy for this? Of course better enforcement. But a commitment from the trucking industry to do business the right way and stop this dangerous practice would be important. And a commitment by commercial motor vehicle carriers to hire safe drivers, train them properly and test them for drugs and dangerous medical conditions like sleep apnea.

How many chameleon carriers are there in Michigan?

In Michigan, there are no figures regarding how many trucking companies are chameleon carriers, but as past-president of the American Association for Justice Truck Litigation Group, I can tell you, the numbers here are likely much higher than in Georgia or even throughout the entire country.

The main reason is because Michigan does not have punitive damages. And without punitives, there is no “big stick” to deter this behavior from trucking companies.

Unfortunately, the worst truck drivers in the country actually come to Michigan from other states after they’ve received too many tickets or caused too many accidents. Because Michigan does not have punitive damages, a trucking company will only be liable for the specific accident it causes up to the insurance policy limits — not for causing deadly crashes, lying on log books or disregarding pre-trip truck inspections.

– Steven Gursten is  past president of the American Association for Justice Truck Accident Litigation Group. He was named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly Leader in the Law for his work promoting  national truck safety, and a Lawyer of the Year for a record truck accident injury settlement in Michigan.

 – Photo courtesy of Creative Commons, by imke.stahlmann

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. Call (248) 353-7575 to speak with one of our attorneys today.

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