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Mark Bello
Mark Bello
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Lawsuit In Buckman Bridge Fatality Hopes to Bring Awareness To The Need For Collision Avoidance Systems In Tractor Trailers

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A $10 million lawsuit has been filed in the aftermath of a fatal crash that killed four people. The accident happened on Interstate 295 in Jacksonville, Florida when a tractor trailer failed to stop and crushed a Chevrolet Tahoe causing fire to engulf the SUV. The tractor trailer also struck a smaller SUV sending the three occupants in that vehicle to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. The driver of the tractor trailer was not injured.

The driver of the Tahoe was stuck in traffic on the Buckman Bridge after her vehicle broke down. A Nissan Murano was stopped behind the Tahoe, when it was rear-ended by a tractor trailer. As the Murano spun and hit the median, the truck slammed into the Tahoe, pushing the vehicle into the concrete barrier. The Tahoe instantly caught fire with the four people trapped inside.

A report by the Florida Highway Patrol confirmed that the Tahoe’s driveshaft broke about 800 feet from the point of collision. It also states that the truck driver “failed to slow” and operated the truck in a “careless or negligent manner.” It was determined that the truck driver was an unqualified commercial driver since he had previously tested positive for a controlled substance. He was required to attend a substance-abuse program but failed to complete that requirement, the Highway Patrol said.

The lawsuit names the truck driver, his employer, Hobit Express, Sunteck Transport Group, Sunteck Transport Co. The suit alleges that:

  • The driver was distracted, speeding, using cruise control, and using a “wireless communication device, texting and/or using a hand-held mobile phone in violation of Florida Statute.”
  • Suntek hired the driver and put him behind the wheel before completing a required background and safety check to verify that he was “a safe and qualified commercial driver.” Had the company done so, it would have known that the driver had “subpar safety records and driving experience.”
  • General Motors was negligent “by selling and/or servicing defective vehicles.
  • North Florida Lubes mechanics should have seen that the Tahoe’s drivetrain was in a condition where “that failure was imminent,” including u-joints that showed signs of wear when the vehicle was serviced weeks prior to the crash.

The widow of the Tahoe driver also hopes the lawsuit will improve safety and wants to see collision-avoidance systems added to all vehicles, particularly tractor-trailers. A collision avoidance system monitors the road ahead of the vehicle. Radars and sensors detect if a collision is imminent. Drivers are typically then prompted to react to the object via an alert within the vehicle. If the driver does not apply the brakes, and the system detects an imminent crash, the collision avoidance system takes over the brakes and engine to avoid a crash, or at least make it less severe.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), more than 80 percent of deaths and injuries from rear-end crashes “might have been mitigated had the vehicles been equipped with a collision avoidance system.” In a safety report released in May of 2015, the NTSB revealed that 78 percent of all crashes involved some level of driver inattention, and the number rose to 87 percent in regards to rear-end collisions. The results showed that the common reason tractor trailers cause rear-end collisions, including:

  • Driver inattention
  • Unsafe speeds
  • Fatigue
  • Reduced visibility
  • Road conditions

With this technology readily available, why is not already being used or mandated? We all know the answer – trucking companies are very powerful and influential. They consistently fight new regulations and federal and state agencies are often slow in making new rules that may negatively affect the trucking industry. Sadly, it is only after innocent people are seriously in are seriously injured or killed that something is usually done on an industry-wide scale.

There is no guarantee that a crash avoidance system would have prevented the Buckman Bridge crash that took four lives, but it is clear that this technology is likely to give drivers of both cars and trucks a powerful tool to potentially reduce accident fatalities and serious injuries in the near future. Even then, there is no substitute for proper training and conscientious driving habits; drivers are still the number one safety control.

Mark Bello is the CEO and General Counsel of Lawsuit Financial Corporation, a pro-justice lawsuit funding company.