Category Archives: Trucking

Georgia Chiropractor Alleged to Have Falsified Thousands of DOT Physical Exams for Truckers

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Truckers came by the thousands from all across the country, pulling into into the Petro Stopping Center, a 24-hour truck stop off Interstate 285 in Atlanta, where they could find coffee and CB radios, tires and a tattoo shop, and a chiropractor, known as “Dr. Tony.”  Dr. Anthony Lefteris got federally certified in 2014 to conduct the DOT medical exams that truckers must pass to get their commercial driver’s license (CDL). Lefteris is alleged to have completed nearly as many exams in an hour as a typical federally certified examiner did in a month. In less than three years, he issued more than 6,500 certificates of good health to truckers from 43 states!  But they appear to have been falsified.

An anonymous tip from a trucker led to Lefteris’s arrest in December and he now faces criminal charges of falsifying documents filed with a federal agency.  All his bogus DOT cards have been revoked by FMCSA, and this could have repercussions throughout the industry, as those drivers may have been operating commercial vehicles illegally.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) Issued the Following Public Notice December 28, 2016:

On December 1, 2016, a Criminal Complaint in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Georgia, was issued against Anthony Lefteris, Doctor of Chiropractic (D.C.), National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners (“National Registry”) No. 8343724872, of Atlanta, Georgia.  Dr. Lefteris was charged with Making False Statements, in violation of Title 18, U.S.C. § 1001; and Making a False Entry in U.S. Department of Transportation’s Records with the Intent to Impede and Influence the Proper Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation, in violation of Title 18, U.S.C. § 1519.

The investigation initiated by the U.S. Department of Transportation determined that while listed as a Certified Medical Examiner on the National Registry, Dr. Lefteris conducted a number of medical certification examinations that far exceeded a reasonable number of examinations.  An undercover investigation conducted by the Georgia Department of Public Safety revealed that the purported medical examinations conducted by Dr. Lefteris at a truck stop in Atlanta, Georgia, exhibited a pattern whereby the examination was incomplete, required tests were not performed and information on the medical examination form was falsified.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) removed Dr. Lefteris from the National Registry on December 2, 2016.

USDOT/FMCSA intends to revoke all certificates issued by Dr. Lefteris to commercial motor vehicle operators within the past two years.

FMCSA offices nationwide are presently working with State Driver’s Licensing Agencies to obtain the contact information for all affected drivers. FMCSA is contacting these drivers and informing them that they have THIRTY DAYS to obtain a Medical Examiner’s Certificate from a Medical Examiner with valid certification on the National Registry.

Drivers and carriers with further questions should contact USDOT/FMCSA via email at FMCSAMedical@dot.gov

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or by calling 1-202-366-4001.

Georgia Court of Appeals Adopts “Trip Specific” Approach to Determining Coverage Under MCS-90 Endorsement in Trucking Cases

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A motor carrier engaged in interstate commerce and subject to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) must have minimum liability coverage of $750,000. The insurer must provide a MCS-90 endorsement to the liability policy, and that endorsement is supposed to be filed with FMCSA.

In Grange Indemnity Insurance Company v. Burns, 2016 Ga. App. LEXIS 365, decided June 23rd, the Georgia Court of Appeals held that an MCS-90 endorsement attached to a commercial auto policy did not provide additional insurance coverage to the trucking company even though it was registered as an interstate motor carrier.

The trucking company, J. B. Trucking, was insured under a Grange Indemnity commercial auto insurance policy with limits of only $350,000.00. But the policy also contained an MCS-90 endorsement (with minimum coverage of $750,000.00 for nonhazardous materials). The plaintiff was injured as result of their driver’s negligence, resulting in a jury verdict of $3.3 million, but the Court of Appeals limited the plaintiff’s recovery from the insurance proceeds to $350,000, holding that the crash occurred during an intrastate delivery (involving nonhazardous materials), as opposed to during an interstate trip, and therefore the MCS-90 endorsement did not provide coverage.

The Court found that it was undisputed that the truck driver, Franks “was engaged in a trip involving purely intrastate commerce and that he was transporting nonhazardous commodities. Franks picked up a box truck in Monroe, Georgia, and drove the truck to Norcross, Georgia, where he picked up a load of “sales papers” and delivered them to a paper company in Newnan, Georgia. The sales papers were manufactured in Georgia and were destined for end users located in Georgia. While he was on his way from Newnan to Monroe to return the empty box truck, Franks struck the vehicle Burns was driving.”

The plaintiff argued unsuccessfully that once an MCS-90 endorsement is issued to a registered interstate carrier, the endorsement should apply regardless of whether a “specific trip” is intrastate or interstate. Burns argued that a Georgia citizen injured by an interstate motor carrier conducting intrastate commerce of nonhazardous materials at the time of an accident should be given the same amount of protection as a citizen injured by the same truck, owned by the same carrier, and covered by the same insurance policy, but whose cargo may be destined for another state. Burns argued that the MCS-90 endorsement should apply to all J. B. Trucking trips because J. B. Trucking was registered as an “interstate” carrier and J. B. Trucking had on many other occasions been involved in interstate trips.

There is a split of authority on this issue nationwide, as there are other courts which have held that the MCS-90 endorsement will apply to interstate and intrastate accidents (involving nonhazardous materials). Those courts rejected the “trip specific” approach, which focuses on the character of the shipment itself as interstate or intrastate, and instead based their decision on the fact that the FMCSA had jurisdiction over all of the interstate carrier’s trips, regardless of destination. Some courts have also held that based on public policy considerations, the MSC-90 should apply because the endorsement was designed to protect members of the general public injured by interstate carriers, regardless of the carrier’s destination on a particular trip. The public policy underlying the MCS-90 is to provide a safety net to members of the public injured as a result of negligent operation of tractor trailers used in interstate commerce. Its primary purpose is to assure injured members of the public are able to obtain judgments from negligent authorized interstate carriers. See Reliance National Insurance Co. v. Royal Indemnity Co., 2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 12901 (S.D.N.Y.) and Heron v. Transportation Casualty Insurance Co., 274 Va. 534 (Va. 2007).

Increasing Carnage On Our Highways from Truck Wrecks

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The Huffington Post reports, in an article released April 16, 2016, on:

The inside story of how the trucking industry and politicians have conspired to make our highways less safe.

What follows is an excerpt from that extensive article about truck-related deaths, which hit an all-time low during the economic doldrums of 2009, when 2,983 truck accidents killed 3,380 people, that they have increased as the economy has recovered, and the carnage has been on the rise:

“In 2013, the most recent year for which finalized statistics are available, 3,541 wrecks killed 3,964 people — an increase of 17.3 percent in just four years. In 2014, the number of deaths resulting from truck accidents was down slightly, but the total number of crashes and injuries increased.

At the same time, Congress has been caving, very quietly, to lobbying from trucking interests that want to roll back, block or modify at least a half-dozen important safety regulations. Significant parts of the hauling industry have long opposed many of the federal rules governing working hours, rest periods, size and weight limits, and safety standards. When the Great Recession began in 2008, profit margins for shippers shrank and bankruptcies rose, prompting a desperate industry to step up its lobbying effort.

Perhaps, the trucking companies’ lobbyists suggested to Congress, trucks could haul loads heavier than the federal 80,000-pound limit, which would allow them to deliver more goods with each truck. Maybe they could have longer double trailers, increasing the limit from 28 feet for each unit to 33 feet — turning each rig into an 80-foot-long behemoth, as long as an eight-story building is tall. Or they could let truck drivers be more flexible with their rest breaks, which would allow them to work up to 82 hours a week instead of the already-exhausting limit of 70. Maybe trucking firms could reduce labor costs by hiring lower-paid drivers, younger than 21 — as young as 18. Maybe they could stop federal regulators from raising insurance requirements that were set during the Reagan administration. Maybe the federal motor carrier safety ratings for unsafe trucking companies could be kept secret.

Indeed, the trucking industry is trying to do all of those things. If they are successful, these changes would amount to the most significant overhaul of highway safety rules in decades. But most people don’t know such sweeping revisions are even being considered.”

Safety regulations and requirements should be strengthened, not watered down, but that is exactly what trucking industry and their lobbists are trying to do.  We don’t need larger and heavier trucks on our roads.  And, truck drivers are falling asleep at the wheel now; they need to take more breaks and time off.  With the potential for death and destruction these behemoths present, one would think that the federal government would require them to carry at least $5,000,000 in liability coverage.  But no, when FMCSA begin consideration for increasing the current minimum of $750,000, another measure the industry pushed last year short-circuited federal regulators’ efforts to even evaluate raising insurance requirements for trucking companies. The current $750,000 minimum has been unchanged since the 1980’s.  But it is obvious to all that $750,000 doesn’t even begin to cover the costs of a serious semi wreck.  All the large trucking companies carry multiple layers of coverage, often far in excess of $5,000,000.  It is the small operators that present the clear and present danger, carrying only the minimum limits required by FMCSA.  And those small operators are often running poorly maintained equipment with marginally qualified drivers.

How can the public protect itself?  Speak up and get Congress to pay attention.  The relationship between the industry and Congress, including members of both parties, is far to cozy.  More on this topic to come, including truck drivers who fall asleep at the wheel.

Peterbilt is Recalling 2000 Trucks Due Tire Safety Defect That Can Cause a Crash

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Peterbilt is recalling more than 2,000 trucks because they reach speeds greater than their tires are built to handle. The move by Peterbilt in the U.S. and Canada raises questions about the safety of thousands of other big trucks on U.S. roads. Peterbilt is recalling certain tractors from 2009 to 2016 because they can exceed 75 miles per hour, even though the maximum speed their Michelin tires can handle is 65 mph. Such trucks mainly haul automobiles.  The tires on the front or steer axle can fail and cause a crash.

Media outlets are reporting that dealers will reprogram computers so the trucks can’t go over 65.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is encouraging other truck makers with similar risks to fix the problem. But at this time, the agency is not seeking more recalls. NHTSA began investigating Michelin’s 22.5” diameter XZA tires in 2014, and one of the findings was travelling at speeds higher that the tire can handle can lead to tire failure.

In any crash involving a Peterbilt truck manufactured since 2009, such tire failure should be considered as a possible cause, keeping in mind that the recommended maximum speed for certain Michelin tires is only 65 mph.  If the driver was exceeding 65, he was violating that safety recommendation, even if 65 was within the posted speed limit.

Tragedy in Chattanooga Illustrates Need for New Safety Systems for Tractor Trailers

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On June 25, 2015, a horrible crash on I-75 involving a tractor trailer killed six people, including two children.  The tractor trailer plowed into nine vehicles that were stopped due to road construction.  A more complete account of the tragic wreck, including the names of the victims, can be found in the Chattanooga Times Free Press:

http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/local/story/2015/jun/26/witness-tractor-trailer-mowed-cars-down-9-vehicle-crash-killed-six/311684/

It is almost universally agreed upon by highway safety advocates that requiring installation and use of forward collision avoidance and mitigation systems and speed governors on all tractor-trailers would reduce the number and severity of truck crashes on our highways and save lives.  Here’s how:

Forward Collision Avoidance Systems: This technology, which works by alerting the driver and taking over the brakes and engine of the tractor-trailer when an imminent collision is anticipated, is already fully developed and comes as a standard feature on many new automobiles. It is estimated that it would cost less than $500 per vehicle to retrofit current tractor-trailers to meet this standard. On average, according to NHTSA, two to three rear-end collisions involving tractor-trailers occur somewhere in the U.S. about every hour.

Speed Governors: Every tractor-trailer manufactured since 1992 comes from the factory with a speed governor installed as standard equipment, which works by setting a predetermined speed limit that the vehicle cannot exceed. Unfortunately, many truck companies and individual truckers opt not to use them. However, the companies that require the use of speed governors in their trucks report that, in addition to being safer on the roads, their tractor-trailers also are more profitable due to fuel savings, last longer because of the reduced wear-and-tear, and have lower liability costs as a result of the reduction in the number and severity of crashes.

It is estimated by the U.S. Department of Transportation that there are nearly 100,000 injuries and 4,000 deaths nationwide each year as a result of tractor-trailer crashes.  It is time to do something and reduce the carnage on our roadways.

 

Labeling Fed Ex Drivers as Independent Contractors Does Not Necessarily Make Them So

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Although we generally confine our blog posts to developments in the law from Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama (as well as law firm announcements), this California case is worthy of comment.

In Alexander v. FedEx Ground Package System, Inc., a major decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals (August 27, 2014) the Court determined that Federal Express could not necessarily avoid claims by the drivers for employment expenses and unpaid wages under California law, or duck federal liability under FMLA, by calling the drivers “independent contractors”:

“Labeling the drivers “independent contractors” in FedEx’s Operating Agreement does not conclusively make them so when viewed in the light of (1) the entire agreement, (2) the rest of the relevant “common policies and procedures” evidence, and (3) California law.”

This decision could have broad application nationally to other types of claims against Fed Ex. As the Court stated, “As a central part of its business, FedEx Ground Package System, Inc. (“FedEx”), contracts with drivers to deliver packages to its customers. The drivers must wear FedEx uniforms, drive FedEx-approved vehicles, and groom themselves according to FedEx’s appearance standards.  FedEx tells its drivers what packages to deliver, on what days, and at what times. Although drivers may operate multiple delivery routes and hire third parties to help perform their work, they may do so only with FedEx’s consent. FedEx contends its drivers are independent contractors under California law. Plaintiffs, a class of FedEx drivers in California, contend they are employees. We agree with plaintiffs.”

The concurring opinion includes this delightful and appropriate comment:

“Abraham Lincoln reportedly asked, “If you call a dog’s tail a leg, how many legs does a dog have?” His answer was, “Four. Calling a dog’s tail a leg does not make it a leg.” Justice Cardozo made the same point in W.B. Worthen Co. v. Kavanaugh, 295 U.S. 56, 62 (1935), counseling us, when called upon to characterize a written enactment, to look to the “underlying reality rather than the form or label.” The California Supreme Court echoed this wisdom in Borello, saying that the “label placed by the parties on their relationship is not dispositive, and subterfuges are not countenanced.’ ”

Increase in Minimum Liability Insurance for Commercial Motor Vehicles Under Serious Consideration by FMCSA

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According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) the agency is exploring the potential to  raise the $750,000 insurance minimum requirement for commercial motor vehicles. In a report to Congress in April 2014, the FMCSA says current minimums are inadequate to meet the costs of some crashes because “inflation has greatly increased medical claims costs and related expenses.” The FMCSA has formed a team to further evaluate required levels of financial responsibility.

The report was mandated by MAP-21 legislation and includes findings from a study that weighed the benefits of increasing insurance minimums, including improved compensation for crash victims and reductions in commercial vehicle crashes, against costs imposed on commercial motor vehicle operators and the insurance industry.

The $750,000 minimum has been in place since 1985, and the agency says if it had kept up with the core consumer price index, the minimum would be $1.62 million, and if it kept up with the medical consumer price index, which measures the annual increase in medical costs, the number would be $3.18 million in liability insurance.

As expected, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) responded to the FMCSA’s report saying that any increase in insurance rates would devastate small businesses that comprise over 90 percent of the trucking industry.

“Even though the agency’s report confirms that fewer than one percent of all truck-involved accidents result in injuries or property damage that exceed current insurance requirements, it seems pretty clear they plan to raise those requirements anyway,” says Todd Spencer, executive vice president. He also points out that “the amount of insurance carried by motor carriers has never been shown to have a correlation with safety.”

The American Trucking Associations (ATA) echoed the OOIDA in a statement about the report that said “ATA has yet to see any evidence that increased insurance minimums will lead to improved highway safety, and until we can review the underlying study FMCSA’s report relies on, that continues to be the case.”

Despite industry reaction, the FMCSA intends to make the matter a priority and has formed a rulemaking team “to further evaluate the appropriate level of financial responsibility for the motor carrier industry.”

The Hamilton Firm urges a substantial increase in the minimum limits given the devastating effects of a collision between a passenger car or small truck and a tractor trailer or other large commercial vehicle.  The likely result of such collisions is catastrophic injury or death.  The current minimum limit of $750,000 is grossly inadequate.

A copy of the FMCSA’s report can be viewed at:

http://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/mission/policy/report-congress-examining-appropriateness-current-financial-responsibility-and

In Trucking Cases, Can a Claim for Negligent Entrustment,Hiring or Retention Survive Summary Judgment if the Carrier Admits Responsibility for Its Driver’s Acts and Omissions?

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In Kelley v. Blue Line Carriers, 300 Ga. App. 577, 580-581 (2009), the Georgia Court of Appeals held:

“”. . . when an employer admits the applicability of respondeat superior, it is entitled to summary judgment on claims for negligent entrustment, hiring, and retention. The rationale for this is that, since the employer would be liable for the employee’s negligence under respondeat superior, allowing claims for negligent entrustment, hiring, and retention would not entitle the plaintiff to a greater recovery, but would merely serve to prejudice the employer. An exception exists for this general rule, however, where a plaintiff has a valid claim for punitive damages against the employer based on its independent negligence in hiring and retaining the employee or entrusting a vehicle to such employee. In such case, it cannot be said that the negligence claims against the employer are merely duplicative of the respondeat superior claim. Underthese circumstances, the employer is not entitled to summary judgment on the negligent entrustment, hiring, and retention claims”.

In order to support a claim for punitive damages against an employer based on its independent negligence, however, the plaintiff must present “clear and convincing evidence that the defendant’s actions showed willful misconduct, malice, fraud, wantonness, oppression, or that entire want of care which would raise the presumption of conscious indifference to consequences.””

So, in Georgia the answer appears to be No, unless punitive damages are alleged and can survive a motion for summary judgment.

 

 

Removal of trucking case to Federal Court allowed more than one year after filing where Plaintiff was found to have acted in bad faith.

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In an interesting trucking case, Cameron v. Teeberry Logistics, 920 F. Supp. 2d 1309 (2013 N.D. Ga.) the district court permitted removal of a case filed in Troup State Court over a year after it was filed alleging that the amount in controversy was less than $50,000.  Through discovery it was revealed that the plaintiff was claiming medical expenses of $62,432.45, and that her doctor was recommending back surgery.  Subsequently the medical total expense increased to $91,413.75.  The case was set for mediation, and prior to mediation plaintiff’s counsel demanded $575,000 to settle.  The demand for $575,000 was made one year and four days after the lawsuit was filed.  Mediation failed and the defendants removed the case to federal court, more than one year after it was commenced.  Plaintiff moved to remand, arguing that the removal came too late under 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b)(3).  Under that statute, the defendant must file notice of removal within 30 days of when he first ascertains that the action is removable.  To remove a case that was not initially removable but later becomes removal, the defendant has to file the notice no “more than 1 year after commencement of the action, unless the district court finds that the plaintiff has acted in bad faith in order to prevent a defendant from removing the action.” 28 U.S.C. § 1446(c).

The District Court found that the plaintiff acted in bad faith and allowed the removal to stand:

“First, Cameron specifically pled that this case was not removable, knowing that her pleading is “entitled to deference” by a district court and has “important legal consequences” regarding federal removal jurisdiction. Burns, 31 F.3d at 1095. Second, she failed to amend her complaint, or otherwise notify Defendants that she considered the amount in controversy to be over $75,000, therefore allowing Defendants to continue to rely upon her representation that she was seeking no more than $50,000 in damages. Third, she sent the time-limited demand letter exactly one year and four days after commencement of this suit, thus ensuring that the one-year limitation of § 1446(c) would be a potential hurdle to Defendants’ removal. Taken together, these actions show bad faith in preventing Defendants from removing this case.  Cf. Bolton v. U.S. Nursing Corp., No. C 12-4466LB, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 152387, 2012 WL 5269738, at *5 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 23, 2012) (“[A] plaintiff’s refusal to stipulate to damages less than the amount in controversy is not evidence of bad faith and forum shopping.”). Thus, despite the one-year time limitation of § 1446(c), Defendants’ removal is proper.”

Nice try by plaintiff’s counsel, but it goest to show that you can’t have your cake and eat it too!

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