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.
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.
Other times, the consequences are more serious. Sometimes the fault is not obvious at first glance, as in the collision between a car and a Coke truck in South Carolina this year, or between a Coke truck and minivan nearby in Decatur County last year, or even across the world in South Africa, between a Coke truck and a prison transport.
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.
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.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Do I have to go to court?
Not necessarily. Many wrongful death and personal injury cases are settled before they go to court. However, it is our experience that the most successful cases are built as if they are going to court. Our firm prepares every case to go all the way to trial, even if it is ultimately resolved before the trial starts.
Why is an attorney important in a personal injury case?
Personal injury law can be complex, and filing a successful claim can require a great deal of time, effort and experience. A lawsuit often involves several other parties, including defendants, insurance companies and other attorneys. There are also many procedural rules that must be followed. Having experienced, skilled legal representation maximizes your chances of success.
How do I pick the right attorney?
You’ll want to look for several qualities when choosing who will represent you. Your attorney should meet with you instead of sending an investigator, and he/she should be available throughout the process instead of having you consistently talk to a legal assistant. Your attorney should have a low number of cases so he/she can devote significant time to you and your case. Your attorney should have experience handling cases with facts similar to yours, and your attorney should have a proven track record with similar claims. Your attorney should also be able to devote significant money to your case so that he/she can hire experts, travel the country finding witnesses, and depose whomever is necessary to achieve justice. It’s also important to make sure your attorney is the right fit on a personal level, which is why you should take advantage of a free consultation.
How much time do I have to file a lawsuit?
There is a time limit on how long a person has after an injury to begin a lawsuit. This window is called a statute of limitations. For most personal injury cases in Georgia, the statute of limitations is two years from the time the injury was suffered. However, there are exceptions and subtleties that might change the amount of time you are afforded. Sometimes the period can be as short as 6 months, and other times it can be much longer than two years. Determining the statute of limitations requires a detailed analysis of the facts of your case.
What do I need to bring with me to the consultation?
For your free consultation, bring all relevant documents that you’ve collected regarding your case. If there are police reports, bills or correspondence from insurance companies, you’ll want to bring those items to the consultation so an attorney can learn as much about your case as possible.
How can a lawyer help me?
If you have been involved in an accident, you should explore every option available for making yourself whole again. It is your right to seek financial compensation for your injuries and damages. Lawyers are trained professionals who know what questions to ask, what details are important, how to identify every responsible party, how to handle insurance companies, and how to prepare a case for trial.
Do I still have a claim if the accident was partly my fault?
Believing that you shoulder some of the responsibility for an accident does not mean it is true. There are many factors involved in an accident, some of which may be unknown to you. If it turns out that you are partly to blame, this does not necessarily bar you from recovery. Laws about fault are different from state to state, which is another good reason to have a lawyer evaluate your claim.
What do I do about the insurance companies?
Prompt notice of an accident is required by most insurers or coverage under an uninsured / underinsured motorist policy may be denied, but this rule typically applies ONLY to your insurer – not the insurer of the striking driver. Further, while you may be required to cooperate you’re your uninsured / underinsured motorist carrier, you are under no obligation to cooperate with the insurance companies providing coverage for the other drivers/parties involved, and in fact, you should refuse to speak with them until you have a chance to consult an attorney. Insurance adjusters are out to protect the bottom line of the insurance company; they almost never have your interest at heart. As a result, its is preferable to communicate with such insurers, if at all, through your lawyer.
Will my claim be settled or will I have to go to court?
The answer really depends on how willing the other side is to legitimately compensate you for your injuries and losses. Settlement is possible once a fair value offer is made, and settlement is the client’s decision. That said, at The Stoddard Firm, we approach each case as if we are going to trial.