Swift Transportation is one of the largest trucking companies in the U.S, worth an estimated $5 billion as of its 2017 merger with Knight Transportation. Naturally, they’re connected with a significant number of trucking accidents, due to both their size and, arguably, certain aspects of their culture and policies we’ll discuss in further detail below.
Like any large company that receives accident claims as a daily part of doing business, Swift Transportation has a finely-tuned system in place to minimize their losses. Payouts in truck accident cases can vary from tens of millions to next to nothing, so while trucking companies will reject your claim outright if they think they can, they’re also happy to offer a small payout now if they think it will help them avoid a bigger settlement later.
That small payout might even seem quite generous at first, but then be quickly exceeded by your medical bills, leaving you with a lifetime of debt and no further recourse available. As such, it’s generally not a good idea to file a truck accident claim against Swift Transportation without first obtaining qualified legal counsel. A good truck accident lawyer will be able to assess the situation, gauge what a reasonable settlement would look like, and work out a strategy to make sure you get it.
If you’re currently in need of a truck accident lawyer in Georgia for suing Swift Transportation, you can reach out to us at any time through our online chat function. To learn more about Swift Transportation truck accidents, their causes, and the legal responsibilities involved, keep reading.
Truck Accidents Leave More Evidence Than Other Traffic Accidents
Truckers are statistically good drivers, sharing fault in only a little over a quarter of the accidents they’re involved in. Tractor-trailer accidents are almost always devastating for the occupants of other vehicles, however, simply due to the vast amount of kinetic energy a massive truck can impart in a crash. These accidents are costly in every possible sense of the word, so trucking companies put a lot of focus on minimizing them — or at least minimizing their own appearance of responsibility.
Because truck drivers are usually not at fault for their accidents, one of the most effective things trucking companies can do to protect themselves is simply to ensure there’s a reliable record of what really happened. Conversely, if you’ve been hurt by a truck driver who was at fault, this actually works in your favor.
Commercial trucks have data-gathering technology on board that companies use to prove their drivers’ innocence, when applicable. The same data can also be used in court to prove the company’s liability. A qualified Atlanta, GA truck accident law firm will know how to make sure this evidence is preserved and admitted. Recently, trucking companies have also started adding driver-facing cameras, which capture footage of what the driver is doing whenever the truck experiences unusual movement. In 2015, Swift Transportation became the largest company in the U.S to adopt these.
Unfortunately, while these technologies are effective at protecting the trucking company when it is truly in the right, they don’t necessarily reduce deaths or injuries. In fact, early analyses of driver-facing cameras show that they could actually be a distraction to drivers, making those drivers and the public less safe overall.
Trucking Companies Resist the Most Meaningful Safety Improvements
It might seem like trucking companies are doing their best, but there is one painfully simple change that could reduce tractor-trailer accidents much more effectively than any gadget: stop incentivizing drivers to sacrifice health and safety in favor of moving as much cargo as possible. That’s the one thing the industry as a whole won’t do.
Most truckers are expected to work much more than a 40-hour work week, and much longer than an 8-hour shift. Their pay is typically tied to productivity rather than hours worked, so they’re motivated to meet goals at the cost of driving safely and getting adequate rest. One study published in 2015 by Safety and Health at Work found that truckers were working an average of 11 hours per day, and 23.8% of them admitted to “frequently or always” violating government-mandated Hours of Service (HOS) regulations.
Those statistics sound abstract, but their impact on human lives is real. The same year the study was published, a Swift Transportation truck crossed a median in Hawthorne, Florida, and killed a man in a head-on collision. According to the widow’s lawsuit, the truck driver had clocked 65 hours on the road in the previous week and was going 17 miles over the speed limit.
These issues haven’t disappeared since 2015. In the two-year period ending January of 2021, Swift Transportation committed 1,153 recorded HOS violations, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). This was in addition to 2,233 unsafe driving violations and 7,016 vehicle maintenance violations.
During that same period, in December of 2019, some Swift drivers received a message from a supervisor telling them the company could not afford for them to be late and implying that they should use snow chains to keep up with their schedules. The northeast U.S was under winter weather alerts at the time. A Swift Transportation representative later made a statement confirming that chains should only be used to get drivers out of danger to a safe, legal parking spot, not to make deliveries in unsafe conditions. This statement only came after one of the drivers leaked the message on social media, however, and received over 3,700 comments in response.
Companies will always prioritize the bottom line, so the only way to make them truly prioritize safety is to make disregarding it more expensive than profitable. Litigation is the best tool we currently have for that purpose.
Driver Qualifications Are a Significant Factor in Swift Transportation’s Safety Shortcomings
Other than supporting safe driving and scheduling practices, and ensuring proper vehicle maintenance, the next most important safety measure trucking companies can take is thorough driver vetting and training.
Swift Transportation prides itself on giving inexperienced drivers a chance. In itself, that’s not a bad thing; the difficulty of getting experience without already having experience is a problematic barrier to entering most careers, and everyone needs a place to start. However, companies that choose to employ inexperienced workers are generally expecting to take advantage of these workers’ lower salary expectations in return. Once workers gain enough experience with such a company to command a higher salary, they often have to look elsewhere to get it. The result is a high-turnover work environment, with a shortage of experienced, qualified workers available to train the newcomers who need it. When the job is driving a 40-ton truck on public roads, that’s a dangerous combination of factors.
There’s more to a trucker’s qualifications than years of experience, and Swift Transportation has shown signs of looser standards in these areas as well. In addition to the unsafe driving, HOS, and vehicle maintenance violations mentioned above, Swift Transportation also received 125 driver fitness citations over the same 24-month period. These include infractions like driving on a suspended license or not meeting minimum medical requirements.
In 2019, Swift Transportation also reportedly hired or contracted with a driver who had just been fired from another company for his role in a fatal road rage incident
If you were injured by a Swift Transportation truck driver who shouldn’t even have been on the road, that’s something the company should answer for in court.
Swift Transportation Is Responsible for Most Employees’ Mistakes
When an at-fault driver is working directly for a company at the time of an accident, compensation for the victims of that accident should come from the company, not from the driver or the driver’s personal insurance. In this regard, Swift Transportation is no different from any other company that has vehicles on the streets.
Even if Swift Transportation did nothing wrong leading up to an accident — the truck was in good condition, the driver was well-rested and had a clean record before this one mistake — any harm caused by an on-duty Swift employee is still Swift’s responsibility. This is because it would be primarily Swift, not the driver, who would reap the financial benefits of the driver doing their job successfully, so Swift is also financially responsible for the risks that come with getting that job done.
This principle is helpful for survivors and their families, because on a practical level, a big company like Swift Transportation is also in a much better position to actually pay for a fair settlement than an individual trucker.
Swift Transportation May Also Be Responsible for Its Independent Contractors
Trucking companies often prefer to have their drivers work as independent contractors rather than employees for a number of reasons. Most obviously, independent contractors are not protected by labor laws, so the company doesn’t have to pay overtime or take responsibility for making sure driver schedules are safe and reasonable.
Keeping drivers as independent contractors can also somewhat protect the company from accident liability. When an independent trucker is involved in an accident, the company whose name is on the side of the trailer is usually quick to point out the driver’s contractor status and deny all responsibility.
This practice isn’t as airtight as trucking companies would like it to be, however.
For a start, the argument that a company isn’t responsible for the actions of its contractors is only valid and relevant if the driver really is a contractor, not just misclassified as one. Swift Transportation settled a class action lawsuit over this issue for $100 million in March of 2019. The suit involved about 20,000 drivers who were classified as independent contractors, even though Swift Transportation held the leases on their trucks and could terminate them at any time, leaving drivers on the hook for the remaining payments and without the necessary equipment to earn the money.
Essentially, Swift was exerting just as much control over its “independent” drivers as an employer would over an employee, if not more. In the context of the class action, this meant that Swift owed the drivers the same benefits it would owe to employees. By the same logic, if Swift holds that level of control over a driver who hurts someone, it should bear just as much responsibility for that accident as it would if the driver were an official employee.
Even when a driver does have enough independence to be legitimately classified as a contractor, that’s still not an absolute guarantee that the company they’re driving for is immune to liability in case of an accident. Companies like Swift Transportation can still influence the safety of the trucks that carry their shipments in ways other than controlling the driver’s behavior. The law recognizes this.
For example, if a truck driver owns their tractor and controls their schedule, but Swift Transportation owns the trailer and/or employs the people who filled it, Swift could share liability if trailer maintenance, improper loading procedures, or unmarked hazardous materials were contributing factors in an accident.
The Stoddard Firm Can Help Swift Trucking Accident Survivors Get Fair Compensation
When you’re in need of a lawyer for suing Swift Transportation, it’s important to find someone who understands not only traffic law but all of the legal factors involved in truck accident cases.
The Stoddard Firm can make sure all the evidence is taken into account, all the responsible parties are named, and all of the financial and emotional consequences of the accident are factored into your settlement. We won’t be deterred by faulty defenses or quick payouts that don’t meet your needs. We won’t stop until you have what you need to put your life back together.
If you need to talk to a qualified truck accident lawyer in Georgia about your personal injury or wrongful death case against Swift Transportation, just call 678-RESULT or reach out through our online chat function.