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Fatal crash caused by sleeping truck driver yields $1.2 million for victims

A truck driver traveling at 47 miles per hour crashed into the rear of a station wagon carrying a couple and their two children that was stopped behind a school bus that was waiting to pick up a student. The impact was so severe that it pushed the station wagon underneath the bus and crushed the back of the school bus. A 16 year old boy in the back of the bus was crushed between two seats and died shortly after the rescue workers arrived. As the rescue workers were removing the boy and the other children from the school bus, they heard the cries of a child and discovered that a station wagon was under the school bus.

Rescue workers had a secure crane to pull the bus off the station wagon, where they discovered a couple and their son deceased, and a young daughter conscious but barely clinging to life. She was subsequently airlifted to a trauma center where she died four hours later.

In the subsequent lawsuit filed by Edmund J. Scanlan against the trucking company, his experts were able to obtain the truck’s electronic control module, a type of onboard computer system or “black box” installed in the truck that monitors and records the functions of the vehicle and preserves it for later analysis. Although these devices continuously monitor data, they only begin to record it when the speed of the vehicle changes by more than 11 miles per hour in a second. The device then records data for a 45 second period prior to the speed change and 15 seconds after the speed change.

After analyzing the device’s data, Scanlan’s experts concluded that the truck driver had maintained his 47-mile per hour speed for a period of six seconds after the accident. “In other words,” said Scanlan, “the driver had fallen asleep at the wheel and had his foot on the accelerator at the time of the accident. After the crash, his truck continued to push the station wagon-while he was asleep-for six seconds until the station wagon was finally stopped underneath the bus.” Because of Wisconsin wrongful death damage caps, there was a limitation on the amount of damages that could be recovered. Nevertheless, Scanlan obtained $1.2 million for the plaintiffs in an out of court settlement.

Scanlan has handled a number of these “sleeping driver” cases, and has made them one of his personal crusades. “This case was just another horrible example of the tragedies caused by trucking companies that, in their quest for a few extra pennies of profit, force their drivers to drive well in excess of the 70-hour weekly maximum mandated by federal law,” said Scanlan. “As a result, thousands of U.S. truckers are driving while drowsy, putting the lives of all of us on the road at risk. I was so incensed by this case that I named the company that hired the trucking company to ship its products as a defendant, on the theory that it knew that the trucking company was violating federal law, as a result of the low shipping rates they were able to charge as a result of pushing its drivers to exceed the hours of service limits. Apparently, I struck a nerve, because a number of large law firms representing shipping companies from across the country filed friend of the court briefs asking the court to reject my argument against the shipper. Although the court agreed with the shipper in this case, I’m going to keep going after them; they know what the trucking companies are doing to their drivers, and yet they allow them to do it. One day, a court will see the light and agree with me. Maybe then the trucking companies will realize all the harm they’re causing.”

Scanlan was able to demonstrate the hours of service violations by cross-checking the logs the driver kept in their trucks with the GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) printouts the trucking company had for its trucks. In this case we were able to show that the on-board logs the driver maintained did not coincide with the GPS readouts where it shows truck locations every hour. In other words, we showed that the truck driver was forging his logs so that they would appear to be in compliance with the federal hours of service regulations.

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