Although most motor vehicle collisions involving distracted drivers can cause catastrophic injuries, fatalities, and vehicle destruction, people would be hard pressed to imagine a more horrific scenario than a collision between a large truck and an Amtrak passenger train. Unfortunately, this nightmare scenario was the subject of a lawsuit heard by a U.S. District Court jury in 2014. Although a jury returned a verdict against the trucking company ordering it to pay in excess of $4.5 million in compensation to Amtrak after the big-rig crashed into the passenger train and caused the death of six people, including both the train conductor and the driver of the large truck. The trucking company recently had its request for a new trial denied. Our semi-truck accident attorneys highlight this tragedy as a vivid reminder of the risk to the public posed by commercial drivers who multitask behind the wheel of a large truck and engage in other unsafe driving practices.
Miami Tractor-Trailer Accident Lawyers Review Facts and NTSB Findings
During the original trial in federal court, the jury concluded that the trucking company’s driver was primarily responsible for the collision between the tractor-trailer and the westbound California Zephyr. Evidence from a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation figured prominently in the jury trial. The NTSB report indicated that the truck driver was inattentive because he was distracted by his cell phone and fatigued. The horrific crash occurred when the tractor-trailer slammed into the left side of the Amtrak train passing through a grade crossing. The carnage included the destruction of the truck-trailer, multiple passenger railcars, and a fire that engulfed two railcars and parts of a third.
Because the driver of the big-rig was distracted and fatigued, he failed to notice the grade crossing signal, which activated when the tractor-trailer was at least 2,300 feet from the crossing according to the NTSB report. The truck was traveling at 58 mph when the crossing signal activated, but the driver did not reduce his speed until the truck was a mere 300 feet from the track. Sadly, the agency reported there were many warning signs associated with this commercial driver because he had an “erratic employment history with as many as thirty jobs over the ten years before the crash. He also had been previously cited for over a dozen moving violations while being involved in three accidents. Before the incident, his driver’s license had been either revoked or suspended on three separate occasions.
While the warning signs and conduct of the driver are disturbing, the unsafe practices identified by the NTSB went further. The agency determined that the tractor-trailer had not been properly maintained. The NTSB investigation revealed that nine of the sixteen brakes on the truck were either inoperative or out-of-adjustment. Additionally, the anti-lock brake system (ABS) was not functional at the time of the crash. Investigation of the brakes further revealed the disconnecting of wires to malfunction indicator lights and the cutting of wires to sensors. When the investigators conducted a series accident reconstruction tests, the results showed that properly functioning brakes would have enabled the vehicle to stop 15-67 feet before reaching the tracks.
Despite Overwhelming Evidence of Fault Trucking Company Seeks New Trial
Based on evidence from the NTSB investigation, the jury found the commercial carrier liable and awarded Amtrak $4.5 million. The trucking company filed a motion for a new trial, but the judge denied the request reasoning that no arguments have been raised that were not previously decided by the court. The court also found that the jury’s verdict was supported by the facts and applicable law.
While the degree of carelessness and indifference to public safety evidenced by the trucking company might be disturbing, stories like this are far from unprecedented. Despite a litany of safety violations by the truck driver, brake maintenance issues, and the questionable record of the driver, trucking companies that engage in similar unsafe practices with unqualified or irresponsible drivers cause many accidents across the U.S. annually. Although the case seemed to be based on overwhelming evidence of the negligence of the trucking company, the decision to file for a new jury trial demonstrates the degree to which commercial carriers and their insurance companies tenaciously oppose judgments and settlements.
If you have been injured because of the careless or inattentive actions of a trucker or commercial carrier, our South Florida semi-truck accident attorneys at Greenberg, Stone & Urbano offer the assistance you need to obtain the results you desire. With over 130 collective years of experience representing policyholders across South Florida, our firm provides legal representation of unmatched excellence. Contact our firm as soon as possible to start on the road to protecting your legal rights. Our firm received an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell and was ranked as a top firm in South Florida by the Miami Herald. Put our Miami tractor-trailer accident lawyers to work on your case. Call us at (888) 499-9700 or (305) 595-2400 or you can visit our website to schedule your initial consultation.