Settlement following tractor trailer crash in winter conditions.

Jaime Jackson recently settled a case involving a tractor trailer crash which resulted in the death of our client. The tractor trailer was traveling too fast for winter conditions. The driver was overtaking vehicles in the right-hand lane and hit our client’s vehicle when it hit black ice and spun out into the roadway.

Our client was on his way home for Christmas. It had been snowing and the roads were snow covered and icy in spots. Traffic was traveling at a reduced speed due to the weather conditions. Our client was traveling on the Interstate in the right lane, driving with the flow of traffic below the speed limit. Suddenly, the vehicle hit a patch of black ice and spun out in the roadway.

At the same time, a tractor trailer was traveling in the left passing lane, above the speed limit, passing vehicles. As our client’s vehicle hit the patch of black ice and spun out, the tractor trailer struck our client’s vehicle. Our client was propelled into the median causing his vehicle to roll over and kill him.

Our key arguments

We argued that the tractor trailer:

1) was traveling too fast for the weather conditions;

2) should not have been in the left passing lane; and

3) should have reduced its speed, stayed in the right lane, and left a safe distance between other vehicles.

We also argued that the tractor trailer diver was in violation of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Regulations (“FMCSAR”) and the mandates of the Commercial Driver’s License Manual (“CDL Manual”).

Tractor trailer safety regulations

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (“FMCSA”) regulates the operations of tractor trailer companies and licensed tractor trailer drivers. The FMCSA provides specific guidance for different road conditions. It requires that licensed tractor trailer drivers exercise “extreme caution in hazardous conditions such as snow, ice, and rain that adversely affect visibility or traction of the tractor-trailer.”  Speed must be reduced when such conditions exist.

The FMCSA safety regulation specifically states:

§392.14 Hazardous conditions; extreme caution.

Extreme caution in the operation of a commercial motor vehicle shall be exercised when hazardous conditions, such as those cause by snow, ice, sleet, fog, mist, rain, dust, or smoke, adversely affect visibility or traction. Speed shall be reduced when such conditions exist. If conditions become sufficiently dangerous, the operation of the commercial motor vehicle shall be discontinued and shall not be resumed until the commercial motor vehicle can be safely operated. Whenever compliance with the foregoing provisions of this rule increases hazard to passengers, the commercial motor vehicle may be operated to the nearest point at which the safety of the passengers is assured.

[33 FR 19732, Dec. 25, 1968, as amended at 60 FR 38747, July 28, 1995]

The CDL Manual at Section 2.6.2 states:

“Because some road conditions can reduce traction, the CDL manual states that to drive as safely as possible, a commercial driver must reduce speed by about one-third on a wet road; must reduce speed by a half on packed snow; and must reduce speed to a crawl and stop driving if the road surface is icy.”

How we built our case

We obtained the data from the tractor trailer’s engine control module (“ECM”). This revealed that the tractor trailer had been traveling at speeds of up to 70 mph in the moments leading up to the crash.

Testimony under oath revealed that both the driver and the trucking company responsible for training the driver were completely unaware of the trucking safety rules and regulations. They were unaware that the regulations require the exercise of extreme caution in hazardous conditions. In addition, tractor trailers must reduce speeds by one-third on wet roads, by half on packed snow, and reduce speed to a crawl if the road surface is icy.

Lack of driver training

Because the tractor trailer driver was not properly trained and was unaware of the trucking safety rules, he continued to drive above the speed limit on wet, snowy, and icy roadways, passing vehicles in the left lane. There are many reasons why tractor trailer drivers are required to reduce speed in hazardous conditions and not pass other vehicles. One of those reasons is to allow a safety buffer zone around the tractor trailer in case other vehicles  lose control on snow and ice. Tractor trailer drivers need more time to react to other vehicles.

Had the tractor trailer driver complied with the FMCSR and CDL trucking safety rules, he would have been traveling at speeds below 50 mph. In addition, he would have been driving in the right-hand lane and not have passed our client’s vehicle when it spun on black ice. The impact between the tractor trailer and our client’s vehicle would have been avoided and his death prevented.

The crash could have been avoided

The trucking company argued the crash was  our client’s fault. They argued that because our client lost control of his vehicle, he started the chain of events that caused the crash. Our client was traveling below the speed limit and hit a patch of black ice and spun out. It was the tractor trailer traveling too fast for conditions in the passing lane that immediately struck our client’s vehicle. The impact could have been avoided if the tractor trailer had been following the safety rules. It would not have been in the position it was to crash into our client’s vehicle.

Tractor trailer crashes are unique and complex

The trucking industry has its own set of regulations. Therefore, tractor trailer crashes are handled differently by the legal system from other vehicle crashes. Truck crashes are complex, and it is important to work with a leading tractor trailer crash lawyer.

Jaime Jackson Law has extensive, successful experience with tractor trailer crash cases. You can contact us here or by calling 717-519-7254.

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