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2 potential causes of Santa Fe FedEx crash, where victims were awarded $165 million

Written by Steve Gursten Posted February 9th, 2015

How a truck attorney can research the crash causes

Santa Fe FedEx crash

In a horrific Santa Fe crash, a FedEx big-rig obliterated a pickup, killing a mother and her 4-year-old daughter in June 2011. Friday, a jury awarded the family a $165 million record wrongful death judgment.

According to published reports, it was 1:30 a.m. when the FedEx truck slammed into the back of the pickup truck driven by 22-year-old Mariali Venegas, of El Paso, outside Las Cruces, New Mexico. She was heading to Deming with her 4-year-old daughter and 19-month-old son. The boy was the only survivor. FedEx driver Elizabeth Quintana was also killed.

The attorneys for the Venegas family reported that while Mariali was pulled over with her hazard lights on, Quintana crashed into her at 65 miles an hour, and the FedEx truck showed no signs of braking.

As published reports state there was no attempt to stop or veer around the stopped vehicle, our attorneys are able to surmise that this serious crash was caused by one of two factors. Here’s what Roundtable Co-Founder Michael Leizerman has to say on the issue, given his extensive trucking litigation experiences as well as his past lawsuits with FedEx:

Whenever I get a case where there’s no skid marks and no one hears the squeal of the brakes before impact, my mind goes to two possible explanations, a truck driver who has fallen asleep or is fatigued, or is distracted. There’s really no other reasonable explanation.

1. A truck driver who has fallen asleep or is fatigued

A fatigued driver doesn’t necessarily have to be asleep. It could be a driver who is zoned out, a state we call “highway hypnotism.” At the Roundtable, we’ve handled many cases involving fatigue, and we know it’s not about looking at that day’s log book, but looking at the sleeping patterns of the driver for the week and even months before the collision. And there’s conditions we look to, such as does the driver have symptoms of sleep apnea, like snoring, large neck size or high BMI?

It’s important to look to the truck company to see if they have a fatigue management program or have even addressed the problem of fatigue. Also, do they have a director track the hours of service (HOS) and do they attempt to schedule their drivers so they can not only have legal hours of sleep, but that the sleep is happening in a consistent pattern? For example, if the trucker is driving during the day one week and during the night the next week, this can conflict with the body’s circadian rhythms and cause fatigue.

2. A distracted truck driver

The second thing we look to is whether the truck driver was distracted driving, including eating, talking, texting while driving or anything that takes attention from the roadway. There’s an important debate about whether any conversation is distraction. The National Safety council has indicated it can be just as dangerous to talk hands-free. The federal law is that truckers aren’t allowed to talk on a cell phone unless they’re using a hands free system, and it’s illegal to text while driving.

We’ve had some cases where truck drivers have denied using their phones, but in using state-of-the-art forensic experts, we’ve been able to get into the phone’s data to prove otherwise.

Steven Gursten Photo

About Steve Gursten

Attorney Steven Gursten is president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association and past president of the American Association for Justice Trucking Litigation Group. He has been named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Leader in the Law" for his efforts to prevent truck accidents and promote national truck safety. Steve was also a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Lawyer of the Year" for a record settlement in a truck accident case. He has received the top reported truck accident jury verdict and top reported truck accident settlement in Michigan for multiple years, according to published year-end compilations of all jury verdicts and personal injury settlements by Michigan Lawyers Weekly. He has been named a "Top 50 Super Lawyer," by SuperLawyers, is listed in Best Lawyers in America, and has been awarded an AV-rating by Martindale-Hubbell, which is the highest rating for legal ability and ethics. Steve speaks to lawyers throughout the country on truck accident litigation. He is a founding member of the Truck Accident Attorneys Roundtable, head of Michigan Auto Law, and has dedicated his legal career to making our roads safer.
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