Lessons from the Tracy Morgan Trucking Accident

It’s been a long road to recovery for comedian and actor Tracy Morgan. The SNL and 30 Rock star was involved in a deadly trucking accident in June 2014. His limo-van was struck by a speeding Wal-Mart tractor trailer on the New Jersey Turnpike. The accident killed his good friend James McNair and left Morgan with brain trauma and broken bones. The comedian is finally returning to the stage this spring after nearly two years of healing.

In his first interview after the accident in June 2015, Morgan emotionally described the difficulty of coping with his injuries and the death of his co-writer and friend. He also thanked Wal-Mart for “stepping up to the plate.” As it turns out, the company paid an undisclosed sum to the McNair family for the wrongful death of their loved one.

This high profile trucking accident case is unusual in many respects. First, that a celebrity was involved and the accident made national news. Second, that the case settled relatively quickly. More often than not, serious trucking accidents only make the local news and the at-fault parties do all they can to defend their position and avoid, or at least minimize, payout to the victims.

Creating a Culture of Safety

There are a number of lessons to be learned from this terrible accident, lessons that can promote safety within the trucking industry.

Putting tougher truck driving regulations in the books is one way to make the road safer. Stricter driving regulations can help ensure truck drivers are more rested and therefore, more alert while on the job.

Regulations may not always be enough though. For example, the driver of the truck that struck Morgan’s vehicle had been awake 28 hours straight, but had not violated regulations and had stayed within the mandated driving maximum of 11 hours per day.

Trucking and delivery companies and drivers, therefore, should be embracing the spirit of safety, not just following safety regulations to the letter.

A few key ways to encourage a culture of safety should involve:

  • Making safety a core value. Citing safety as a priority in day-to-day work is not enough; trucking operators need to make safety is a core company value. Priorities are subject to change. On the other hand, values do not change, and also drive decision-making and define an organization.

Trucking leaders who do all they can to avoid catastrophic accidents will actively promote a culture of safety. Such leaders put their money where their mouths are. If one of their drivers is too tired to continue driving – even if they have not hit their daily driving maximum or traveled their expected distance – the driver will be encouraged to stop and rest in the name of safety.

  • Focus on behavior, not handbooks. There are any number of decisions a driver will need to make while on the job – and even off the job – that will affect his or her performance. Not every situation can be listed in a handbook. When a driver works for a company that promotes safety, it will be easier for him or her to make the right decisions in those particular situations that can’t be itemized in a safety manual.

Furthermore, there may be specific behaviors not solidified in a handbook, but encouraged via company culture. Let’s take cell phone use as an example. A company handbook may forbid a driver from texting or using a smartphone while driving. Taking this a step further, employees may be encouraged to put their cell phone in the glove compartment. In this way, the driver will be given the personal freedom to put his or her cell phone where they wish and won’t feel micromanaged. A culture of safety, which includes other drivers locking the cell phone away, can promote the desired behavior among the entire fleet of drivers.

  • Holding people and organizations accountable.Individuals should be held to task for poor decisions that violate safety regulations and good common sense. It can be argued that the driver in the Morgan case bears personal accountability for the accident, at least for not getting the sleep needed to perform his job well. But does all of the fault fall on the frontline employee? What about his supervisor, who may have been putting pressure on him to complete an arduous trip? And if the supervisor did this, it also raises the question about potential problems with management and the overall logistical process.

The entire company should be scrutinized for defects such as improper training, unrealistic expectations on drivers, poor communication and if safety is truly valued within the company.

Safety Above All Else

Here at Fried Rogers Goldberg we know how devastating a serious trucking accident can be for victims and their families. We have been successfully representing trucking accident victims for decades, getting them the compensation they need – the money trucking operators often try so hard not to pay out.

We advocate strongly on behalf of our trucking accident victims, and for greater safety in the trucking industry to avoid these catastrophic accidents.

Should you, or someone you know, be injured in a trucking accident, please reach out to us today. We can review your case for free and help determine your next legal steps.

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