Trucking Industry Sues to Prevent Release of Safety Data

We’ve often written on this blog about the tension that exists between corporate profit and the public good, in the trucking industry in particular, but across other businesses as well. A classic example from the hospitality industry: the revelation, on the PBS science program NOVA’s “Why Ships Sink” the other night, that the cruise ship industry’s skimpiness on costs extends well beyond what even the most cynical of us would have believed. We all know the industry’s baseline: low-grade food, dumping sewage into the ocean rather than disposing of it in an environmentally responsible fashion…the standard profit-enhancing atrocities.

But the NOVA program revealed far worse: the industry is skimping on recommended safety protocols for its captains. The small amount of time these men and women are spending on at-the-helm training and training on simulators is shocking. Despite calls for higher standards for qualifications to operate these huge, floating hotels, the industry continues to put captains at the wheel whose qualifications are marginal. There are not not enough qualified captains: this is clear. Faced with the choice between putting ships to sea only if they can find a qualified captain, and putting every ship it can fill with paying customers to sea, regardless of whether it has a qualified captain, the industry goes, as usual, for profit.

Another interesting and awful nugget from the excellent program (which TLO highly recommends): modern vessels are built in a way that dramatically increases the likelihood that they will capsize. The reason? Properly engineered ships, built with safety in mind, roll in high seas more easily than these newer, less safe ships. Passengers don’t like to be on a ship that rolls even a little bit. So again the trade-off is simple for the industry: they get more customers and make more money if they use a less safe ship. So they’re building fleets of unsafe ships. It is only when this happens that people pay any attention to it. 32 people died when this ship, the Costa Concordia (“The Peaceful Coast” in English, ironically) capsized in the Mediterranean Sea, off the Italian coast.

We found the Costa Concordia revelations on NOVA interesting. More interesting for our firm and for our clients is another classic example of corporate profit over safety, this one dealing with the trucking industry. Egregiously, shamelessly, shamefully, transportation industry groups are actually suing the federal government for providing information to the public on the safety qualifications of given companies. Think about that: the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration—whose task is to keep the highways safe and the transportation industry in line—attempts to provide important safety information to the public about a notoriously dangerous industry…and the notoriously dangerous industry sues it.

Frankly, the bulletin that the FMCSA posted only does what we’ve been doing on this blog since its inception: educating the public about the staggering dangers posed by tractor trailers, log trucks, cement mixers, 18-wheel flatbeds and other commercial motor vehicles. When these trucks are involved in accidents, the personal injuries are grievous, and the fatalities numerous. So this is the backdrop of the industry’s lawsuit: it knows full well that its business operations are causing mayhem on a daily basis, wrecking lives, destroying families.But when its profits are at stake the industry holds nothing back. It believed that the FMCSA bulletin would damage the business of carriers deemed to be less safe, so it sued. As if fewer trucks operated by known dangerous companies is a bad thing.

Everyone needs to earn a living, and as we’ve said repeatedly: there are plenty of good, safety-conscious carriers out there. They employ veterans of our armed services. They provide solid pay for people willing to work hard. Traywick & Traywick has no quarrel with these good corporate citizens.

But TLO partner Ben Traywick represented the industry in his prior professional life as a defense lawyer. He’s reviewed the flimsy safety polices of these unsafe companies. He’s seen forged and falsified driver logs in the glove box of a tractor trailer which had just been involved in an accident where a person had been killed. He’s sat down in meetings with “safety directors” who don’t even know what the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Rules are, much less what they require of motor carriers.

There is good money in the trucking business, but that good money comes subject to relatively high overhead when it’s done right, with appropriate controls and policies in place for the public safety. Good money turns into great money when a trucking company refuses to invest in safety. Sadly, that great money is an enticement which is all too commonly pursued by the less responsible carriers.

Full recovery for injuries in the trucking accident setting is no easy task, and it requires expertise from a lawyer who knows where to look for the skeletons these carriers inevitably have tucked away in their closets. Call Traywick & Traywick at 843-810-3121 to discuss your case today- no obligation.


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