For the past several years, Walmart’s name has been inseparable from the trucking safety conversation, due to the now infamous accident that occurred on June 7th, 2014. In the early hours of the morning, a Walmart truck traveling at 20 mph above the speed limit rear-ended a limousine carrying, among others, comedians Tracy Morgan and James McNair. McNair was killed, and Morgan suffered several broken bones and a traumatic brain injury that kept him comatose for eight days. Three other passengers were also injured.
The driver of the Walmart truck had allegedly been awake for 28 straight hours at the time of the crash, due to driving for 12 hours from his home to his base of operations before even beginning his shift. He is believed to have fallen asleep at the wheel and was charged with vehicular homicide.
Walmart settled with Morgan for an undisclosed amount, and with the children of McNair for $10 million, taking a noteworthy amount of responsibility for the tragedy. However, when famous names are involved, it’s always worth questioning how differently the incident might have been handled had the world not been paying such close attention.
Considering the fact that Walmart’s own insurance providers later sued to avoid reimbursing the company for its payment to Morgan, it seems that compensating the victims of its drivers’ accidents isn’t exactly a standard practice Walmart is set up for.
Anyone in Morgan’s position, or the position of McNair’s family, deserves full compensation for their loss. Unfortunately, the average person might find that compensation a lot less forthcoming. That’s where the Stoddard Firm steps in, helping people without extensive means or fame hold powerful corporations like Walmart accountable for the harm they cause.
Most Walmart-Involved Accidents Aren’t as High-Profile
Obviously, a single celebrity-involved accident doesn’t offer a complete picture of Walmart’s driving record. Other accidents happen on a regular basis involving Walmart trucks too, usually with little fanfare.
This year alone, a crash involving multiple big rigs, including one from Walmart, shut down a freeway in Texas. The condition of the Walmart truck afterward could best be described as “ripped open like a tin can.”
Two months later, another Walmart truck jackknifed in Pennsylvania, blocking all lanes of a major thoroughfare toward a turnpike. Another month later, a Walmart truck collided with a pick-up truck on a rainy interstate freeway in Tennessee, causing more slowdowns.
Yet another two months later, the story repeats, this time with fire instead of water. Another interstate, this one in California, had to close down for five hours to allow emergency crews to extinguish a blazing Walmart truck.
It’s the accident that happened that same month in Oregon, however, that points to the biggest potential underlying problem. In that case, a Walmart truck taking an illegal detour down a two-lane side street ended up jackknifing on a too-tight curve, blocking traffic. Thankfully, no one was hurt, and the disruption was smaller than it might have been on a major highway, but the incident is important in that it was the direct result of a choice, rather than possible bad luck.
Though illegal and ill-advised, it’s easy to understand the driver’s reasoning. The usual truck route was closed, and unlike commuter vehicles, the nearest legal detour for a big rig might be hours out of the way, especially in heavy traffic. That would be more than an annoyance for many truckers, who often work under extreme financial pressure to make as many deliveries as quickly as possible. For safety reasons, truckers also have a legal maximum number of hours they can drive in a shift, and many companies demand that their drivers work on extremely tight margins under those limits.
An hour’s delay could be the difference between a driver making it to their own bed for the night or having to find a place to park and sleep a tantalizingly short distance from home and family.
This is what ultimately leads to a huge portion of trucking accidents and on-the-job accidents in general: employers trying to wring productivity out of their employees as fast and cheaply as they can, leading to rushed, tired, unsafe decisions. Whenever employees start cutting corners, it’s time for their employers to reexamine their policies to prevent future tragedies.
Walmart Has the Right Idea in Raising Wages, but Its Other Expansion Techniques Are Open for Debate
To its credit, Walmart is one of the best-paying employers of American truckers. In February of 2019, the company further raised its per-mile pay rates in an effort to attract more talent to its trucking workforce. The most careful, conscientious drivers will always be those who feel secure in their finances and their positions, yet aren’t burdened by more work than one person can do, so higher wages and active recruiting are great steps toward improving road safety.
On the other hand, some of Walmart’s other efforts to upgrade its fleet haven’t been quite as safety-oriented. In addition to raising its pay, Walmart has also relaxed its entry tests for new drivers. Whereas only 10% of applicants passed the previous screening process, 80% are passing the new one. Whether these new recruits will be up to the safety standards of those who came before them remains to be seen.
In Arkansas, Walmart has also begun experimenting with self-driving vehicles provided by Gatik. Although self-driving vehicles are a promising technology of the future and worthy of exploration, Gatik’s attitude toward the lingering safety issues can be interpreted as disturbingly close to “out of sight, out of mind.” The new self-driving Walmart vehicles are expected to transport goods along only the middle legs of their journeys, eliminating the need for outside consumers or suppliers to interact directly with the vehicles. This is a calculated element of Gatik’s marketing strategy, intended to prevent the company from having to wait for everyday consumers to become comfortable with the idea of self-driving vehicles.
People are understandably nervous about getting into self-driving vehicles after the fatal accident involving a self-driving Uber, so Gatik and Walmart aren’t asking people to get inside them — just putting them in contact with them on the road, whether they like it or not. It should be noted that the Uber fatality was not of a passenger, but of a pedestrian. The technology being the same, self-driving shipping vehicles aren’t any safer for the public than self-driving taxis, just easier to keep quiet.
Walmart Sets the Tone for Truckers Across the Country
The lengths Walmart is willing to go to in order to move more products, whether by human labor or robots, calls into question the working environment it’s been offering to its drivers until now.
All of these tactics, from higher pay to laxer testing to automated vehicles, are supposedly Walmart’s response to a shortage of qualified and motivated workers in the trucking industry. Yet according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, no such shortage actually exists. Plenty of people have the ability and desire to drive big rigs; they just keep being forced out of the profession by unlivable wages and untenable work schedules. This issue has been ongoing in the industry for at least five years, with employers complaining of a “trucker shortage,” simply because people aren’t excited about driving for inflation-adjusted salaries that have been steadily dwindling since the 1980s.
As a relatively high-paying leader of the trucking industry, Walmart shouldn’t be having any problems attracting the crème de la crème of an ample trucking workforce. The fact that the company is experiencing these difficulties at all suggests that even the lucky truckers who’ve been able to secure coveted Walmart positions in the past have still been unable to achieve the financial stability and work/life balance they need.
By setting such a low quality of life standard for even top-tier truckers, Walmart may be enabling an entire industry of under-paid, over-stressed, and therefore unsafe drivers behind the wheels of the U.S.’s big rigs.
Walmart’s Treatment of Non-Employee Truckers Suggests Less than Altruistic Priorities
It could be argued that Walmart is making honest strides toward improving the lives and safety of its truckers, even if it still has a long way to go. However, its interest in safe, healthy trucking seems to begin and end with shoring up its own workforce.
Other truckers in Walmart’s supply line are another story entirely. In 2017, an investigation by USA Today found that trucking companies operating out of California ports, transporting goods that would ultimately be sold in retail giants like Walmart, were using abusive practices ranging from wage theft to child labor to indentured servitude schemes. One worker interviewed by journalists reported working 19-hour days and still not being able to make the payments for the truck his employer forced him to sign a lease-to-own contract for.
Walmart only has so much power over how its contractors operate, of course, but what power it has it’s used to make things worse. As part of a lobbying group of corporate interests opposing trucking regulation, Walmart alone spent $500,000 to gut a bill that would have imposed criminal penalties for the wage theft committed by these port trucking companies.
Walmart’s apparent disdain for the well-being of truckers who aren’t its own employees can also be observed on the company’s own doorstep. In July of 2019, one trucker captured a video of an altercation with Walmart parking enforcement that seemed to be part of Walmart’s standard operating procedures. According to the trucker, he had reached his legal limit of drive time and pulled into a Walmart parking lot to sleep, as had several other truckers. No signage forbidding trucks was posted within view. In the middle of the night, he was woken by a banging on his sleeping compartment that made him think his truck had been crashed into. He was then ordered to pay $500 within 1 hour to remove a boot device from his windshield. Walmart parking enforcement claimed to have performed a “courtesy knock” before applying the boot, but the trucker who captured the video, as well as several others who later came forward with similar experiences, reported never hearing the initial knock.
Given its comfort with extorting truckers who are taking their legally mandated rest periods, it’s reasonable to assume that Walmart is not above prioritizing money over road safety whenever it expects to get away with it.
What to Do If You’ve Been Injured by a Walmart Truck
If you’ve been injured in an accident involving a Walmart vehicle, you will be required to exchange insurance information with the driver just as you would after any other truck accident, but it’s a good idea to limit your direct contact with Walmart’s insurance representatives as much as possible. They may be friendly, sympathetic, or inquisitive, but it’s vital to remember that these representatives are not on your side. Any settlement they offer you is likely to be a gross underestimation of the damages, and they may also try to convince you to admit fault for the accident or make guesses about the details that could hurt your case later on.
Immediately after the accident, the most important thing is to seek medical attention right away. This not only allows you to start the healing process on the right foot, but also establishes a formal record of the accident’s consequences.
Once you’ve been thoroughly examined by a medical professional and received any necessary emergency care, your next priority should be consulting with a legal expert like those at The Stoddard Firm. We’re experienced and passionate about our work protecting the public from corporate greed, and we can help you prove exactly how Walmart caused your injuries and why it should have known better.
To get started with your free consultation, just reach out through our online chat function, or give us a call at 678-RESULT.
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