Jefferson County, located between Augusta and Savannah, is home to many businesses, from small businesses in Wrens, Louisville, Wadley, Avera, Matthews, Bartow, or Stapleton to numerous farms and large-scale industrial facilities.
Traffic dangers in Jefferson County
US Highway 1, which travels the length of the county, brings a large volume of traffic to the county, and planned expansions to Highway 1 are sure to bring additional traffic to Jefferson County roadways. In recent years there have unfortunately been a number of fatal car and tractor-trailer wrecks along this roadway, along with others on the county's other highways.
Jefferson County's roadways are increasingly filled with commercial vehicles, including tractor trailers hauling cargo through the county to or from the port of Savannah, agricultural vehicles hauling crops, livestock, or timber to and from farms in the area, and industrial vehicles carrying equipment and supplies to local industrial facilities, such as local kaolin facilities near Wrens. Because of the large size and weight of tractor trailers and other vehicles transporting commercial goods in Jefferson County, combined with the decreased visibility usually inherent in commercial vehicles, these vehicles can present serious dangers on the road if the driver experiences unexpected conditions, is driving while distracted, or is driving while impaired due to exhaustion (sometimes resulting from violation of state or federal rules governing sleep and time of service), alcohol, or drugs.
Laws governing commercial vehicles
The laws governing the operation of commercial vehicles is sometimes governed by federal regulations and sometimes by state rules and regulations. Vehicles operating in interstate commerce are generally governed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, which provides comprehensive and extensive rules regarding weight and size limits, driving time limitations, driver testing and training, alcohol and drug testing, maintenance, and many other aspects of the operation of commercial motor vehicles.
In cases of tractor trailer and commercial motor vehicles operating intrastate – meaning entirely within the borders of the state of Georgia – Georgia motor carrier rules may apply instead, although many commercial operators driving entirely within Georgia nevertheless are registered as interstate operations and may be governed by the federal regulations. Regardless, Georgia's motor carrier rules largely adopt federal rules, and therefore in many cases the same requirements apply to both interstate and intrastate commercial motor carriers.
One significant difference between tractor trailers governed by federal regulations as opposed to Georgia regulations is the amount of insurance required to cover injuries to innocent victims resulting from a commercial vehicle wreck. Although certain exceptions apply that can raise or lower the amount of liability insurance required, federal regulations generally require coverage of at least $750,000 (an amount that has not increased in at least 20 years), while Georgia law requires only $100,000 per person, and $300,000 per accident, to cover injuries and deaths resulting from the negligent operation of a tractor trailer or other commercial truck. Different rules govern passenger-carry commercial vehicles like buses, as well as vehicles carrying hazardous materials.
A broad exception to the application of the federal or state regulations covering commercial vehicles generally involves agricultural vehicles. Agricultural vehicles, which can include large tractor-trailer trucks and heavy agricultural equipment, are exempted from many motor carrier regulations if they operate entirely within the borders of Georgia and within 150 miles of their place of origin. Ironically, despite being governed by fewer regulations than large-scale interstate commercial trucking operations, these vehicles are often more likely to have less experience and may pose a greater danger to other drivers as a result.
In short, particularly when it comes to trucking and commercial vehicles operations, a wide range of laws, regulations, and rules, particularly in areas like Jefferson County where it may be unclear whether a particular motor carrier involved in an accident was an intrastate, interstate, or agricultural operator. This determination can make a substantial difference in how a personal injury claim resulting from a tractor-trailer wreck is handles, and the extent to which a victim of such an accident can be compensated. An experienced Jefferson County tractor-trailer lawyer can help navigate these complex regulatory considerations.
Injuries caused by tractor trailer and other commercial drivers in Jefferson County, Georgia
As with accidents involving ordinary passenger cars and trucks, tractor-trailer accidents can result in serious injuries to all involved. But because of the far larger weight of commercial vehicles – tractor trailers can weigh 80,000, or even more with an overweight permit – as well as their larger size and lower level of maneuverability, cases involving commercial trucks are far more likely to result in serious injuries or death for those in smaller cars of trucks involved. Injuries may include whiplash (strain/sprain injuries to the spine), broken bones, burns, traumatic brain injuries (concussions, hematomas, or other serious injuries to the brain that can cause headaches and cognitive impairments that may be permanent), and injuries to internal organs.
It is important that these injuries be properly documented and treated, as trucking companies and their insurers will often try to downplay the seriousness of injuries or blame them on preexisting injuries or degenerative conditions. This is especially true with spine injuries (herniated discs or other problems involving vertebral bones or discs), and proving traumatic brain injuries were connected with a tractor-trailer accident can be difficult if a long period of time has elapsed since the wreck and any treatment.
Where are Jefferson County tractor-trailer accident lawsuits filed?
In general, a lawsuit against a negligent driver or other person or company is filed in the county of that person's (or company's) residence as required by the Georgia Constitution and Georgia statute. In tractor-trailer and other commercial motor carrier cases, though, lawsuits can often be filed in the county where the wreck occurred, although there may be other counties where the action can be filed should the victim wish to file elsewhere. Lawsuits involving tractor-trailer accident injuries in Jefferson County could, therefore, generally be filed in the Jefferson County State or Superior Court. Trials and hearings in these cases are held at the beautiful and historic Jefferson County Courthouse in Louisville. Smaller cases (with damages of $15,000 or less) could also be filed in the Jefferson County Magistrate Court.
In some cases, commercial vehicle accident lawsuits could be filed in federal court. This would be possible if the damages exceed $75,000 AND the plaintiff and defendant are residents of different states. Federal cases arising in Jefferson County would usually be filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Georgia, Augusta Division, should be plaintiff elect to file in federal court.
Even if the plaintiff/victim filed in Jefferson County State or Superior Court, in certain circumstances the defendant could remove (meaning transfer) the case to federal court. This could be possible if the defendant is not a resident of Georgia, but the plaintiff is a resident of a different state from the defendant. This also requires that the damages exceed $75,000.
Get help from an experienced Jefferson County tractor-trailer accident attorney
John D. Hadden is a native of Jefferson County, Georgia, growing up in Wrens and Louisville, and is a graduate of Jefferson County High School. He has successfully handled tractor-trailer wreck cases in Jefferson County and around the state, in both state and federal courts. If you have been injured in a trucking or other commercial vehicle accident in Jefferson County, contact The Hadden Law Firm today.