Atlanta Injury Lawyer Blog

Articles Posted in Truck Accident

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Tractor trailer wheelsAnyone who drives in Atlanta knows that Interstate 75 is a busy highway and that accidents along this stretch of road are far from unusual. Among the sorts of motor vehicle accidents that are particularly common are those involving tractor-trailers traveling to or through the metropolitan area. Given their size, tractor-trailers pose unique risks to other motorists and require particular care in their operation. In fact, in a recent case, Dogan v. Buff, the Georgia Court of Appeals addressed whether it was appropriate for a trial court to grant summary judgment in favor of a tractor-trailer driver and his employer following a multi-vehicle accident on I-75.

The accident at issue in this case occurred on February 18, 2009. One driver was heading north on I-75 near Roswell Road in a van owned by his employer, Royalty Transportation. The driver had just taken a patient at Emory Hospital and was heading back to retrieve a different patient. It had just rained, and the road was wet. At the same time, a second driver was hauling various dialysis supplies to Chattanooga in a tractor-trailer owned by his employer, Rockwell Transportation. The trailer was loaded with 80,000 pounds of goods, and Rockwell’s trucking manual required that its drivers maintain one truck length between the tractor-trailer and the vehicle in front of it for every 10 mph the trailer is traveling. The tractor-trailer was following the van operated by the first driver when two other vehicles traveling along the road collided as a result of an errant merging of lanes. The driver of the van changed lanes and slammed the brakes to avoid hitting the cars that collided, and the driver of the tractor-trailer, which was only traveling behind the van by three passenger car lengths, did the same but rear-ended the van. Both vehicles sustained moderate damage, and the driver of the van was taken from the scene to receive medical care. Following the accident, the first driver sued the tractor-trailer driver and Rockwell, alleging that his injuries were a result of the tractor-trailer driver’s negligent and reckless operation of the vehicle. Following the conclusion of discovery, the defendants moved for summary judgment, and the trial court granted the motion.

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photo_9359_20090128Most cases of negligence feature only a single defendant whose conduct is at issue. However, there are instances when the independent negligent conduct of multiple third parties leads to a single injury, and such cases can create confusion for assigning liability. This type of predicament is featured in a recent case from the Georgia Court of Appeals, Granger v. MST Transportation, LLC. In this case, a driver’s car was errantly struck by a negligent driver and, as a result, was sent careening into a tractor-trailer that had been negligently left on the side of the road by a different driver who ran out of fuel.

Prior to the accident, the driver of the trailer, who is employed by MST Transportation, had returned from a trip to Florida and deposited his trailer at the employer’s depot. As he was driving the trailer to the storage site in Atlanta, the driver ran out of gas while driving along the right lane of Mooreland Avenue. The driver turned off the trailer’s flashers, placed three reflective cones near the trailer, called the employer to let it know of the situation, and set off to retrieve fuel. He returned to the trailer several times with fuel before the accident but was unable to start it. While the truck driver was away on his third trip for fuel, the plaintiffs were headed down Mooreland Avenue with their 10-month-old son. The car was in the middle lane as they approached the trailer and were suddenly struck in the rear by another driver and propelled into the trailer, which was only 30 to 40 feet away at the time they were rear-ended. The two plaintiffs and their son were injured in the crash.

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SONY DSCAlthough accidents often lead to injury beyond physical harm, courts have historically been adverse to permitting damages for non-physical injuries, in particular emotional injury. For instance, courts in Georgia have often adhered to the “impact rule,” which permits “recovery for emotional distress [only if] there is some impact on the plaintiff, and that impact must be a physical injury.” Ryckeley v. Callaway, 261 Ga. 828 (412 S.E.2d 826) (1992). However, in its recent decision in Oliver v. McDade, the court took another step away from the harsh outcomes associated with application of the impact rule and held that a person may obtain recovery for emotional injury, as long as the emotional distress is recoverable pursuant to the pecuniary loss rule. The facts behind McDade are particularly sad.

The plaintiff in this case was in the passenger seat of his truck while his friend drove along a stretch of I-16. They were returning from a dirt car race event in which the friend had competed and were hauling the race car in a friend’s trailer, which was hitched to the truck. After merging onto the interstate, the friend noticed that something on the trailer may not have been properly secured and pulled over to the shoulder to correct the error. While the friend was fixing the problem, a tractor-trailer swerved onto the shoulder and struck both the plaintiff’s truck and the friend’s trailer. The friend’s body was crushed between the trailer and truck, and he died instantly. In addition, the plaintiff, who remained in the truck, was thrown against the side. The rear window of the truck cracked as a result of impact, and the friend’s blood and body tissue was propelled onto the plaintiff’s body. The plaintiff got out of the truck to inspect and discovered his friend’s mangled body laying partially in the road. As a result of the accident, the plaintiff suffered physical injury to his neck, back, and knees. In addition, the plaintiff suffers from headaches, insomnia, flashbacks, anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation. The plaintiff sought help for these issues and was diagnosed with major depression, for which he was prescribed medication.

Typically, the impact rule precludes recovery for emotional injury unless there is:  “(1) a physical impact to the plaintiff; (2) the physical impact causes physical injury to the plaintiff;  and (3) the physical injury to the plaintiff causes the plaintiff’s mental suffering or emotional distress.” Lee v. State Farm Mut. Ins. Co., 533 S.E.2d 82, 85 (2000). In this case, the defendants sought summary judgment for any of the plaintiff’s claims based on emotional distress arising from witnessing his friend’s death, since such emotional harm would not satisfy prong three of the impact rule test and would thus not be recoverable. Continue reading →