$750,000 Settlement in Fatal Hit & Run

On a dark winter night, a tow truck operator, in the course and scope of his job, struck and killed our 72-year-old client.  The tow truck operator fled the scene resulting in the destruction of physical evidence.  However due to an extensive police investigation, the tow truck operator was apprehended, charged criminally, and subsequently sentenced to prison.

Anthony J. Baratta, Esquire, representing the estate of the deceased, was prepared to expose major flaws in the tow truck company’s hiring and training process. The Pennsylvania and Federal Motor Carrier Safety regulations require that tow truck companies hire qualified drivers to drive their commercial trucks.  In this case, the tow truck operator’s application for employment omitted the driving and accident record. Without this information, there was no way that the tow truck company could have made a reasoned and informed hiring decision.  At the time of the operator’s hire, the company failed to document any reference contact information for prior employers from the previous three-year period.  The company also failed to record a road test examination testing the operator’s ability to drive a commercial truck. In addition, the tow truck company failed to administer a pre-employment drug screen.  Without such a drug screen, there is no evidence that its employees were drug free and sent a message that they could drive the company’s tow trucks after using illegal drugs without detection or recourse.

Furthermore, every commercial driver must have in place a valid medical examination card.  The tow truck company accepted an obviously forged medical examination card for the operator who struck and killed our client. Any competent and attentive supervisor would clearly see that the medical card had been forged.

The greatest and most dangerous aspect of the tow truck company’s negligent supervision was its absolute failure to address, much less understand, hours of service rules. The hours of service regulations found within the Pennsylvania and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations limit the number of hours a truck driver can drive/work per day and per eight-day period.  The purpose of the hours of service regulations is to keep fatigued drivers off the public roadways.  A supervisor of commercial operators must be aware of and supervise the driver’s hours of service.

The tow truck company had never expressed nor enforced any rules regarding the number of hours its operators were permitted to drive in any one day.

On the day and time that our client was killed, according to the Teletrac GPS data found in all of the company’s tow trucks, the operator had been driving the tow truck in excess of the 11 hour driving rule and the 14 hour on-duty rule. Unfortunately, if the tow truck company had properly enforced the hours of service regulations, the operator would have not been on the road at the time of the hit and run and our client would have not fallen victim to their complete disregard for public safety.

Our client was wearing all black. He was walking in the street because there were no sidewalks. He was walking in the direction of traffic, not against it, as the law requires. Our client died instantly. Our client is survived by his widow and adult son.

The case settled for $750,000.

PA Law Weekly – Jiang

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