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11-pound rock from truck debris kills driver in Walker, MI

November 9, 2016 by Steven M. Gursten

Grand Rapids motorist suffers a fatal head injury after 11-pound rock crashed through his windshield; why do these debris truck accidents keep happening?

Photo courtesy of Walker Police Department, WOOD TV and Detroit Free Press

One of the last things that Joseph Gibbons of Grand Rapids may have seen was this 11-pound boulder crashing through his windshield after it fell from a tractor-trailer truck on Turner Avenue in Walker, Michigan.

Less than two weeks after this preventable trucking disaster, Mr. Gibbons succumbed to his injuries. Our sympathies go out to Mr. Gibbons’s family. I’ve now sadly litigated three wrongful death cases and currently have a client who is profoundly brain damaged from a “tire-off” that fell off and bounced on the freeway, striking him in the car. When I’ve been interviewed by news media about these types of cases, I’ve said they’re always preventable.  Commercial vehicle rules and federal and state regulations, if not ignored, make these events almost impossible to occur without significant mandatory safety violations.

In its description of the crash, WOOD TV 8 reported:

“The Walker Police Department says the rock crashed through the windshield of a northbound vehicle, striking the driver in the head and knocking him unconscious. That caused him to crash into a power pole, snapping it in half. The car finally stopped when it hit some shrubs. The rock, which is about 8 inches by 7 inches and weighs about 11 pounds, fell off of a dump trailer being hauled by a southbound semi-truck. The rock was found in the back seat of the car.”

The danger of debris falling from semi-trucks and commercial trucks is all too real, too frequent and as this case shows, fatal.

WNEM TV interviewed me on the topic of trucking debris hazards and my client Patrick Nunez, who was killed in a preventable truck accident. As I told WNEM in its story, “Debris Dangers: Big Rig Trucks Unsafe?”:

“You’ve got thousands of people every year who are killed [in truck accidents caused by debris and unsafe truckers],” which are “completely preventable accidents. … When profits get squeezed and trucking companies start losing money, what’s the very first thing the skip on? Safety. Maintenance. … That means you see more bad brakes, bald tires and that causes the kind of debris and these kinds of accidents that you see when we drive down Michigan roads.”

Correct truck loading and cargo securement is vital for the safety of the trucker and other drivers on Michigan roads, and makes truck debris accidents caused by falling or loose cargo always preventable. The general rule is that a truck driver is responsible for the load that he or she is transporting, unless it is a sealed load. To avoid truck debris accidents and crashes caused by falling cargo, the truck driver must have knowledge of the cargo, the cargo weight, optimum placement of the load and proper securement.

Further, the cargo must be inspected by the truck driver during the pre-trip inspection and again after the first 25 miles of travel. More truck inspections are required after driving for a certain amount of time and distance, in addition to when the truck driver takes a break or has a change of duty. Here’s more information on truck loading and securement laws.

In light of my own experience as an attorney with the accident victims who have been injured – and/or killed – by falling debris and truck tires, it’s very telling what one of the witnesses to the Walker fatality told WOOD TV:

“[She] said it’s common to see trucks in the area carrying unsecured materials. ‘It’s scary for all of us. It’s scary. We drive through here constantly … It could have happened to any of us. … Hopefully this will bring some awareness to some of these companies to make sure that they have their vehicles covered.”

Hit and run semi-truck driver

To add insult to Mr. Gibbons’s deadly injury, the trucker driving the commercial vehicle from which the fatal rock fell left the scene.

WOOD TV reported the Walker Police suspected the truck involved was “a white semi without a sleeper cab hauling a black dump trailer …”

In a follow-up story, the Detroit Free Press said the truck driver “had not yet been identified.”

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