Truck Driver on Duty for 19 Hours Prior to Pre-dawn Crash
Orlando, FL – The Didier Law Firm, P.A. obtained a $3 million dollar verdict late Monday on behalf of the Estate of Julio Rentas, Jr. An 8-member jury for the United States District Court, Middle Division in Jacksonville, FL deliberated for just over two hours before making their decision.
The case involved the collision of two commercial tractor-trailer vehicles which occurred in the early morning hours of December 22, 2009 on a dark unlit stretch of Interstate 95 in Flagler County, and resulted in the death of 33 year-old Julio Rentas, Jr. Betty Ann Tucker was driving a tractor trailer for her employer, Williamson Distributors, Inc. (Williamson), when she failed to yield the right of way as she re-entered the highway from an emergency lane causing Julio Rentas, who was driving a tandem tractor trailer for his employer, Central Transport, to strike the rear of Ms. Tucker’s truck. According to Ms. Tucker, she had pulled her truck off to the shoulder to check why a light had come on in her cab, and, after seeing no problems, she decided to accelerate down the emergency lane and then re-enter the right hand lane. Per her own testimony, she saw lights approaching, but believed they were “way back.” Experts testified that the likely speed Ms. Tucker was traveling, when she shifted lanes immediately in front of Mr. Rentas as he was driving down the highway that night, was 23-33 miles per hour.
Suit was filed by the Estate of Julio Rentas, Jr. for the benefit of his beneficiaries, his surviving wife, Glenda Rentas, and his two minor sons, JAR and MCR, who reside in Groveland, Florida. P. Alexander Gillen and Henry N. Didier, Jr. of the Didier Law Firm, P.A., and Kevin Liles of Liles Harris PLLC in Corpus Christi, TX, comprised the counsel team for the plaintiff.
During trial Plaintiff’s counsel presented evidence that Betty Ann Tucker had a duty to adhere to the 14-hour “Hour of Service” Rule of the Florida Motor Carrier Safety Act §395.3 (FMCSA), which restricts driving a commercial vehicle beyond the 14th consecutive hour after coming on duty to ensure truck drivers get the necessary rest to perform safe operations. Fatigue is a major safety concern with truck drivers, and the 14-hour rule was made law to protect the traveling public from the risks posed when truck drivers operate their trucks in while fatigued, as fatigue contributes to poor decision making, and often leads to accidents. In this instance, the Plaintiff established that Ms. Tucker had gone on duty at 8:30 a.m. the day before, and was past her 19th hour of service when the crash occurred after she decided to pull out into the right lane in front of Mr. Rentas instead of just letting him pass and then pulling out. The team also successfully argued that Williamson failed to properly monitor its employee and dispatched Betty Ann Tucker on a 770+ mile run she could not make without violating the 14-hour rule. Finally, it was unequivocally established that Ms. Tucker’s trucking logs submitted to the DOT as part of the investigation were inaccurate, and omitted critical information, such as the fact she had arrived at work at Williamson and gone on duty over 19 hours prior to the accident at 8:30 a.m., versus at 6:30 p.m. as her log suggested.
“This company and this driver put the public at grave risk by acting without regard to well recognized safety rules applicable to trucking practices” said Plaintiff’s counsel, P. Alexander Gillen. “The judicial system and this jury did its job, and we hope the roads are safer as a result.” Attorney Hank Didier added, “The rules of the road for trucking companies are in place for a reason. A fatigued driver and a reckless company are a deadly mix on the highway.”
The Didier Law Firm, P.A. is a Florida-based trial firm specializing in the litigation of complex auto accidents, truck accidents and product liability cases. The vast majority of the firm’s cases involve families whose lives have been irrevocably changed by a defective product, a rollover accident, a tire failure or a dangerously operated truck. The firm handles cases throughout the Southeast and nationally.