As the most popular soda in the U.S. and one of the most-recognized brands in the world, Coca-Cola seems to be everywhere, especially around the holidays. The annual tour of the Christmas Coca-Cola truck around the U.K has already been confirmed for 2019, in spite of protests by healthy eating advocates, who argue that the promotional soda giveaway is a nonsensical and sinister kickoff for the holiday season.
Unfortunately, excess sugar isn’t the only way Coca-Cola trucks can be hazardous to your health. The massive big rigs that Coca-Cola and other major companies use to move their goods can cause proportionately massive destruction with the slightest malfunction or misjudgment. Fortunately, the law recognizes that these companies have a duty to prevent casualties, and to take financial responsibility whenever their prevention efforts fail.
If you’ve been injured or lost a loved one to a faulty or mishandled Coca-Cola vehicle, The Stoddard Firm can help.
The Alton Bus Crash
Though it happened just over 30 years ago, it’s impossible to talk about Coca-Cola’s driving record without acknowledging the Alton bus crash. Famous and devastating enough to inspire a novel and film adaptation, as well as the naming of a junior high school, the Alton bus crash happened on September 21st, 1989, in the town of Alton, Texas.
At around 7:40 in the morning, a delivery truck controlled by Coca-Cola ran a stop sign and struck a school bus, knocking it off the road, over a 40-foot drop, and into water. Some of the middle and high school students aboard the bus were able to escape through the narrow windows, but 19 were killed and 62 were injured. Two of those pulled alive from the water did not survive their injuries.
The driver of the Coca-Cola truck was charged with 21 counts of criminally negligent homicide, but ultimately acquitted when it was confirmed that his truck’s brake system had failed due to inadequate maintenance. Finally recognized as a co-victim of Coca-Cola’s negligence, the driver was able to sue for compensation for his own neurological injuries, as well as for legal malpractice on Coca-Cola’s part. Coca-Cola also paid out more than $150 million total to the families of the drowned students.
For a long time, this one accident of unparalleled profile and heart-wrenching consequence was synonymous with Coca-Cola’s reputation on the road. The real question now is whether anything has improved at the company since, or if the quieter years that have followed are nothing but luck.
Road Safety Means Respecting the Destructive Power of Big Rigs
The horror of incidents like the Alton bus crash can be felt for decades after the fact, but they’re thankfully rare. More often, when a big rig and another vehicle collide, the other vehicle’s driver is the one at fault.
For example, last May in Macon, a man drifted out of his lane and into oncoming traffic, colliding head-on with a Coke truck. On the very same day, an almost identical accident happened in Maine, again between a Coke truck and a car that crossed the center divider. Just over a year earlier, back here in Georgia in South Fulton County, the same thing happened, with the main difference being that the driver of the car ran a stop sign in addition to drifting into oncoming lanes.
All three of the drivers of these cars were killed on impact, and a 13-year-old passenger in the South Fulton County wreck was injured.
Drivers in larger vehicles stand a slightly better chance of survival in encounters with Coke trucks. Two pickup drivers, one in Texas and one in North Carolina, both survived to be cited for causing such collisions this year, one for speeding and one for running a red light. However, the North Carolina driver did require hospital treatment.
Even though none of these wrecks were the fault of Coca-Cola or its drivers, each one serves as a reminder of how quickly and easily a big rig can obliterate a life — or several lives — and the weighty responsibility that goes with driving or dispatching one.
Coca-Cola Drivers Make Their Share of Errors Too
While truckers, including those employed by Coca-Cola, continue to be some of the statistically safest drivers on the road, the Alton bus crash was far from the last time Coca-Cola and its drivers have directly caused trouble and tragedy on the road.
In the mildest of cases, the damage is mainly to the Coke trucks themselves, and other drivers are only inconvenienced. This year in January, for example, a Coke truck in Massachusetts jackknifed and spilled its fuel supply. Traffic had to be diverted from the wreck and the fire risk it posed, but thankfully, no one was hurt. Then, in June, a truck hauling Coca-Cola syrup ran a red light in Utah, sped out of control on a freeway on ramp, and tipped onto its side. The driver in that case was cited, and there’s no word on whether maintenance may have been an issue. However, maintenance certainly appears to have been the cause of another incident in Nebraska in late 2017, when a malfunctioning Coke truck literally split itself open on the highway.
Then again, there are also cases like the one in Florida in 2015. A woman injured in that collision with a Coke truck claims in her suit that the driver was handling it so carelessly that it violently rammed into her vehicle. More recently, a Coca-Cola driver in Texas fell asleep at the wheel, clipped another big rig that was parked on the shoulder, and then veered off the highway and into a nearby shed. Just a month later in Idaho, yet another Coke truck ran yet another stop sign, striking a personal vehicle and killing two people.
Clearly, while there have not been any school buses unfortunate enough to be in the way for a while, out-of-control Coke trucks are not a thing of the past.
The Dangers of Inattentive Coca-Cola Drivers Can Spread Beyond the Roads
That shed in Texas was badly crushed when the Coke truck veered into it, but at least there was no one inside it, and no one counting on coming home to it. The same can’t always be said when Coke trucks leave the roads and impart their tremendous kinetic energy to nearby structures.
In Florida in 2013, a Coke truck left the road and crashed into a house, displacing the woman who lived there. She later sued for the damage that had left her home allegedly uninhabitable. Two years later in New York, another Coke truck jumped a curb and hit a scaffold along the side of an apartment building, injuring six pedestrians and killing a mother of five.
Whether on the road, on the sidewalk, at home, or at work, everyone has a right to be and feel safe. This means companies like Coca-Cola that control vehicles big enough to cause this kind of damage have a responsibility to take all reasonably available steps to prevent incidents like these from happening.
Commercial Driver Errors Are Often Connected with Poor Treatment at the Hands of Employers
As mentioned above, inadequate maintenance of company vehicles, especially brake lines, can easily put both truckers and bystanders at risk. Reckless or unqualified drivers can also be an issue, and employers like Coca-Cola have a duty to screen and train applicants to make sure these enormous vehicles are not entrusted to the wrong hands.
However, the far more common causes of trucking accidents are haste and fatigue. When drivers are regularly missing stop signs and falling asleep at the wheel, it’s a sign that a company needs to reexamine these drivers’ working conditions.
Historically, Coca-Cola’s relationship with its drivers has left quite a bit to be desired. In 2015, Coke drivers in Chicago went on strike after over a month of attempted negotiations. Union leaders report that, during that time, Coca-Cola representatives not only negotiated in bad faith and threatened participants with termination, but tried to intimidate employees using baseball bats.
Three years later, striking Coca-Cola drivers across Alabama and Mississippi reluctantly returned to work without reaching an accord, after walking out to protest an attempted wage cut of up to $8 per hour. Workers in Mississippi also reported that the proposed contract changes would have artificially reduced the seniority of many of them in the eyes of the company.
As of late 2017, Coca-Cola drivers have been subject to DriveCam video surveillance while in their vehicles. These driver-facing camera systems are sold to help employers coach their drivers on safer driving habits and prove their innocence when they’re involved in unavoidable accidents. However, the technology has already been banned from at least one major commercial fleet in Quebec, not only for its invasiveness, but for creating a potentially dangerous distraction.
The connection between Coca-Cola’s labor relations and its driving record may not always be obvious, but these two issues are inseparable. Drivers forced to work exhausting schedules will be a danger to themselves and others on the road. Those who are underpaid and struggling to support their families will often attempt to work even more exhausting schedules than they’re required to. If they feel intimidated and pressured to meet unrealistic expectations, they’re more likely make bad on-the-spot decisions out of fear of getting in trouble.
Like any company, if Coca-Cola is serious about road safety, making sure its workers are treated well should be one of its top priorities, right along with vehicle maintenance.
The Stoddard Firm Has Experience Holding Rich, Global Corporations Accountable
Realizing that you’ve been seriously injured at the hands of a corporation as powerful as Coca-Cola can be terrifying as well as painful. On the one hand, large corporations do at least have the resources to compensate you fairly, but on the other, companies rarely get rich and powerful by taking responsibility for the people they hurt along the way. Those resources that could cover your medical bills are just as likely to go toward an in-house legal team tasked with burying your case.
The Stoddard Firm specializes in these “David and Goliath” scenarios. We have the skills and knowledge to go head-to-head with corporate civil defense lawyers, but we choose to focus on protecting those who need it most: the victims of these economic giants and, in the most tragic cases, the surviving family members of those victims. We know how to make the facts heard, establishing what Coca-Cola should have done to prevent the accident, how they failed to do so, and what that accident ended up costing you.
To talk to a qualified attorney about your case today, give us a call at 678-RESULT, or reach out through our online chat function for a free consultation.
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