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In January 2015, A Santa Fe jury awarded the family of a deceased woman and her daughter a record $165 million in damages for their wrongful death lawsuit. The family had filed the suit against FedEx after one of their trucks collided with the woman while she was pulled over at the side of the road.

FedEx Truck Slams Into Pickup, Kills Two Occupants

In June 2011, 22-year old El Paso resident Mariali Venegas was traveling in her pickup truck on Interstate 10 outside of Las Cruces with her 4-year-old daughter and 19-month-son. She was on her way to Deming. She pulled over to the side of the road and turned on her hazard lights.

Local news station KRQE reports that about 1:30 in the morning, a FedEx semi truck slammed into the back of Venegas’ pickup while she was pulled over. The driver, Elizabeth Quintana, was going 65 miles an hour at the time, and a later investigation found no evidence that she tried to slow down or stop before colliding with Venegas’ vehicle. Venegas, her daughter, and Quintana all died in the accident. Venegas’ young son was the only survivor.

Jury Awards Family $165 Million

Mariala Venegas’ family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against FedEx. According to their complaint, the company was negligent in failing to properly manage their drivers, as Quintana allegedly fell asleep behind the wheel, and lacked proper training.

A Santa Fe jury agreed with the plaintiffs, and awarded the family $165 million in damages—a record high wrongful death judgment in New Mexico. FedEx extended their condolences to the family, but stated they may appeal the verdict.

Truckers and Drowsy Driving

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), drowsy driving is a serious problem that leads to thousands of automobile crashes every year. They note that a typical crash caused by sleepy drivers occurs in what has been called the “danger zone,” in the late night/early morning hours.

The Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety state that each year, truck crashes kill over 5,000 people and injure nearly 150,000. Meanwhile, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), fatigued commercial truck drivers cause accidents that kill more than 750 people and injure about 20,000 more.

Current rules state that drivers may operate a truck or bus no more than 11 consecutive hours before resting for a minimum of 10 hours. A truck can be on the road 60-77 hours in any seven-day period, or 70-88 in any eight-day period. This ruling came into question after comedian Tracy Morgan was hit and injured by a Wal-mart truck driver who had not slept in more than 24 hours.

In 2013, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal, new rules were put into place that shortened the average workweek from 82 hours to 70, required a 30-minute break during the first eight hours of driving, and required 34-hour breaks between workweeks that must extend over two nights, including the hours between 1:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. The FMCSA estimated that the changes would prevent about 1,400 crashes a year.

Truckers and the companies they work for have been trying to get the rules appealed, however, noting that they put more trucks on the road during high-traffic times, and reduce overall productivity.

The New York State Partnership Against Drowsy Driving (NYPDD) has made other suggestions for increasing safety, including the following:

• Revise the police crash report to include a new code for falling asleep at the wheel
• Add drowsy driving training for the police
• Install more rumble strips on interstate highways
• Conduct more research studies on drowsy driving
• Implement programs to expand and revitalize roadside rest areas

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