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MI whiteout causes 193 car & truck pileup, but is weather truly to blame?

Written by Steve Gursten Posted February 4th, 2015

Trucks in Michign I94 pileup

The Northeast and Midwest have been especially hard hit with snow in recent weeks. And in Michigan, one particularly nasty storm resulted in a massive 193 car pileup in Galesburg, involving several semi-trucks. The terrible series of crashes left a man dead, 22 people injured and closed down a long stretch of the I-94 freeway.

The responders who investigated the crash acknowledged the weather was a factor – but that it was far from only reason this pileup occurred.

This scenario seems all too familiar. You may recall a similar crash last year involving multiple semi-trucks in Indiana. When these large pileups occur, people die or are seriously injured. When a truck driver is driving in a white out and slams an 80,000 pound big-rig into a line of stopped vehicles, the force is tremendous. In this horrific wreck, 59 semi-trucks slammed into the pile, adding to the destruction.

There are some important lessons that lawyers who litigate truck accident cases in states with inclement winter weather can learn from both of these crashes.

Unfortunately, many plaintiff lawyers who litigate a crash involving a truck in winter conditions are too quick to adopt the defense’s case theme of “sudden emergency.”  But, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Transportation put it best:

“This boiled down to driver behavior,” Nick Schirripa, spokesman for MDOT,  told the media.   “People were driving too fast and following too closely on an icy freeway during a white-out.”

And there are some special rules for trucks. If the weather is truly so bad as to constitute a “sudden emergency” defense because of ice and snow, it’s important for lawyers to remember that semi-trucks are not even supposed to be on the road in such extreme weather conditions.

Weather is very rarely a valid excuse for a semi-truck accident. And § 392.14 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) makes this abundantly clear. Under that section, it states that  “[e]xtreme caution in the operation of a commercial motor vehicle shall be exercised when hazardous conditions” exist.

But the rule doesn’t stop there.  In fact, it goes as far as to say:

“[i]f the conditions become sufficiently dangerous, the operation of the commercial vehicle shall be discontinued and shall not be resumed until the commercial motor vehicle can be safely operated.”

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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