HOST: We’re here speaking with Attorney Howard Spiva, one of the pre-eminent truck accident injury attorneys in the South East, in fact even in the entire nation, with some commentary on the recent tragedy and fatal accident with Tracy Morgan and the Walmart truck driver. Howard, you shared some things with me on break. Could you maybe repeat that for our listeners?
Atty. Howard: The wreck is clearly a tragedy. Sadly, every day in America people are killed by these very heavy trucks. And it’s all preventable. You’ve got driver fatigue, you have loads that are overloaded, you have equipment that is not properly taken care of. But the main failure is driver failure. They’ve driven too many hours. That’s why a lot of truckers keep two logbooks because they go outside the federal safety regulations.
HOST: Wait a second, I’m sorry to interrupt. Are you telling me they keep two sets of books like an accounting that would be not only unethical, that would be a crime. Are you saying they keep two sets of logbooks for the same purpose?
Atty. Howard: Absolutely, that’s a common practice. Truckers are limited to so many hours that they can drive at one time with a certain amount of breaks, and there’s federal Motor carrier regulations. A truck accident is not a big car that wrecked into you. A truck driver is a professional driver just like an airplane pilot. When they come out to their vehicle, they don’t just get in the truck and crank it up. They have to walk around it, they have to inspect it and adjust the breaks. They have to check all the different safety systems that are in place. You can’t stop a truck in a short distance. They weigh a lot more. You can’t have a vehicle that has overload on it. They have to weigh and make sure that they weigh properly. There’s all kinds of standards that apply. There are national standards that are completely different from a car wreck. Plus, they weigh 80,000 pounds. That makes it much, much, much more dangerous.
A truck vs a car well It’s kind of like this: are you more careful when you walk in carrying a green garden snake, or are you more careful walk in carrying a rattlesnake. The damage that the truck can do is so many more times worse than what a car can do. They have to be a professional driver. They have to maintain the safety.
Every one of us has set in traffic before, or have been driving down the road, and having these big trucks pass us, we feel the pressure from the wind, we get nervous because we look over and there’s this big vehicle. They’re scary. And here’s the statistic: over 5,000 people a year die from truck wrecks. Year after year after year after year. That’s more deaths than happened in 9/11. Trucks are dangerous. They have to be more careful. They have to maintain a higher standard of care.
There’s a big myth out there that truck drivers from stuff like Snooky and the Bandit and all these movies that have been out over the years, that the trucker is a good old boy, and he’s an American hero. You know what, they are hardworking blue-collar people, and they’re good people. The problem is a lot of the companies that are out there that profit ahead of safety. Many companies cut corners, They don’t maintain their equipment. They don’t keep their drivers within certain driving time periods. And the drivers are motivated: they’re paid by the mile. They’re motivated to get more mileage behind them to make more money. Like the pizza drivers 30 minutes or free…
HOST: Okay I got you. Hey maybe you can answer this. I keep getting this question over and over from our listeners. What is the deal with a guy staying up for 24 hours? Who does that? And if this is a Walmart truck driver, and now you’re explaining it like it’s a Walmart airline pilot, I mean it’s that level of professionalism, what’s this 24 hours, especially in New Jersey where they’ve got additional criminal charges if you have been up for more than 24 hours, and run into somebody with your car, there’s additional criminal penalties, and that’s what this guy faces. But knowing all that, what’s the deal with Walmart and having this happen? Did they not know?
Atty. Howard: A national company like Walmart that has thousands of drivers and has much better equipment to monitor their drivers than most companies, they have resources. They have on-board at least one, if not two or three ways, to know where that truck’s at, how fast it’s travelling, how long it’s been travelling. I’m not just talking about the black box that can be downloaded when it comes back to the shop. I’m talking about just like the navigational system that maintains the location, the time of driving, the speed of driving, usually by satellite. They know when their trucks are rolling, and that has to be monitored and supervised. There’s no way I can understand that how Walmart couldn’t know that this guy was rolling for 24 hours. Even if he was driving as a partner, and they were rotating, he’s still likely violating the driving rules of how long he can be on the road, and how long a person can drive versus sleeping.
HOST: Wow. Well Howard listen, I know you’re busy and you’ve got to prep for trial so thank you for taking a minute with me today. Listen, as this case rolls along, do you mind if I reach out to you again?
Atty. Howard: Absolutely, I’d be happy to talk to you. I’d be happy to share other things with you. One example is there are different rules for truck drivers as far as insurance.
For example, if a intrastate versus interstate, it has to do with whether or not a truck stays within a state, or whether or not it travels multiple states. Right now, the insurance requirement, example, for Georgia’s minimum required insurance is $25,000 for a vehicle, for a big truck or tractor trailer or 18wheeler that stays within the state, It’s only required to have $750,000 worth of insurance. And if it travels multiple states, it’s required to have a million dollars’ worth of insurance. There are attempts by the legislature to get that changed because that has not been increased in three decades!!!. And $750,000 or a million dollars, (some places like if you come into the Georgia ports, they require you to have at least a million dollars’ worth of coverage); Oftentimes that doesn’t even cover one person’s hospital bills.
Another thing to tell you that is just as shocking to the mind is in Georgia, transportation of agricultural vehicles are often exempt from the trucking laws, which means that if a farmer’s taking something to market, he only has to have the $25,000 worth of insurance, not the $750,000. Here’s some really terrifying news: transporting logs in Georgia is agricultural.
We have a case right now where a guy has over a million dollars’ worth of medical bills. He’s a quadriplegic and in a spinal treatment center, and the truck that he had the wreck with, the logging truck, only has to have only $25,000 dollars’ worth of insurance. Sad.
HOST: No way.
Atty. Howard: Many of these logging companies that are mom and pop, and littleso some will build their own logging lowboys that carry the logs. They’re homemade. They don’t even have lights. They don’t have a tag, and they have no insurance. I have seen disaster after disaster after disaster, with people colliding out in these rural areas with these logging trucks. They’re either under-insured, or not insured at all.
HOST: Man, that’s terrible. I just have to share this with you. My uncle was behind a log truck coming from Washington warehouse country. Log bounced off, came right through his windshield, just missed his head, went right through the entire vehicle. He drove home with a log right through his entire car. That’s scary stuff, Howard.
Atty. Howard: I’ve had two cases of that happening where the log went through the radiator through the dashboard, and through my client. They both survived but they have big holes right in the middle of them. One of them had a $100,000 worth of insurance and the other one had a million. And I can tell you that the million was not enough.
Okay well we’ve encouraged your listeners to check out the trucking myth article that I wrote. It contains a lot of this and a lot more information that I think they’ll find very informative. We’ve handled a lot of trucking cases, not just in Georgia, but all around the country. We would be glad to answer any questions at any time. http://www.avvo.com/legal-guides/ugc/the-trucker-myth
HOST: Great, always a pleasure. One last quick thing. You seem to know more than anyone I’ve ever visited about these topics. How long did it take you to develop your expertise? How long have you been good at this in handling these types of cases?
Atty. Howard: I’m in my 29th year as the Spiva Law group. I was sworn in as a lawyer at a very young age of 24, 30 years ago, and I’ve litigated a lot of these cases. I’ve litigated them against big national companies and that’s why I’ve got a lot of experience with trucking cases. I have learned “ the tricks of the trade”. Oftentimes the wreck teams, the advance teams that are sent out by the trucking company arrive at the wreck scene on the same day, and sometimes they even beat first responders there. They get there, gather up all of the logbooks, they video, take pictures, interview witnesses. They start building their case oftentimes even before the person’s even transported to the hospital.
HOST: Wow. That’s a topic for another day. I’m gonna let you go. Howard, thank you, thank you again.
Atty. Howard: Alright. Make it a great day.
HOST: Okay hey folks. What do you think of that guy. Howard Spiva. Amazing attorney. Brilliant. And he really loves the people that he works with.