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Driver sentenced in 2010 truck accident that killed 3 people due to distracted driving

Written by Steve Gursten Posted September 12th, 2012

The deadly consequences that result from distracted truck driving

Recently,  a truck driver was sentenced on three counts of criminal vehicular homicide in connection with a distracted driving crash that killed two women and an unborn child.

In this very tragic instance, the driver was held accountable for his negligent actions in a criminal case.  Criminal convictions like this one are  actually pretty rare. It is usually truck accident lawyers who pursue claims against the insurance companies of trucking companies through civil lawsuits, i.e. suing the trucking companies’ insurance companies for pain and suffering compensation and economic benefits such as  medical bills.

The mission of the Truck Accident Attorneys Roundtable is to hold trucking companies accountable when they injure and kill innocent people in truck accidents. We will uncover every safety violation and every bad choice that led to the crash.

As truck accidents involve larger commercial vehicles with heavy loads that can weigh  80,000 pounds, these types of cases are always more deadly.

According to an article, Minnesota driver sentenced in 2010 triple fatality on landlinemag.com, a publication for truckers, Jason Styrbicky, 38, of Buffalo, MN was sentenced on July 31.

For his negligence, Styrbicky was sentenced to:

  • One year in jail;
  • 10 years of probation;
  • 40 hours of community service a year;
  • No CDL.

Additionally, Styrbicky must supply a DNA sample, write a letter of apology to the victims, and undergo a mental health screening.

Court documents state that on May 24, 2010, the left lane of the northbound Interstate was closed for road construction. Two miles before the construction zone, drivers were alerted to the closure via electronic sign. Traffic had slowed and was backing up about a mile and a half. Styrbicky, a driver for Reinhart Transportation, was in the right lane and reached for an energy drink on the floor. He rear-ended a car in the backup, creating a chain reaction that crushed two cars between his truck and another truck that was hauling bees.

The victim Pamela Brinkhaus, 50, died at the scene and Kari Rasmussen, 24, and her unborn child died later that day, according to the article.

Here’s where the truck driver was negligent, according to the article and court documents:

  • He reached for a drink, driving distracted;
  • He was driving without corrective lenses, as required on his medical card and his CDL;
  • He was traveling at the maximum 68 miles per hour when the truck accident occurred;
  • He was one hour and 46 minutes over his 11-hour driving time limit.

Not surprisingly, there were many violations, and sadly many, many more if an investigation into  the company that entrusted and supervised this driver was ever performed. But the truck driver is not the only  party who should be held fully accountable here. It is the trucking company who employed him, and that has a legal responsibility to enforce  the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations.

In reality, truck companies are usually the ones who push the truck drivers to speed, drive longer than required to get loads to their destinations quicker, and break a slew of other safety rules to therefore increase their bottom line.

The criminal conviction and punishment is important in this case. It could be considered a deterrent to truck drivers; a cautionary example of the consequences that result from distracted and unsafe truck driving.

But the trucking company should also face penalties — criminal, and most definitely civil.

As an aside… after they have caused crashes, it’s common for truck drivers to flee the scene, the state or even the country, while the employing trucking company turns a blind eye.

This actually happened in one of my cases, where the truck driver was driving distracted (playing with his phone), allegedly on drugs and rear-ended my client. The impact of the crash tore my client’s car in two, and he lost both of his legs. After the crash, the truck driver fled to Mexico.

 – Photo courtesy of Creative Commons, by elvissa

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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