‘A Little Bit Frightening’: This Legal Obstacle Is Emerging in Trucking Lawsuits

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“To me the realization was that this whole system is a ticking time bomb, and something’s got to change,” attorney Tyler Hall said.

What You Need to Know

  • It took a lengthy series of document requests for Tyler Hall to learn that his adversaries were under contract to haul U.S. mail.
  • Companies contracted to haul mail have poor safety records and are said to impose unrealistic time constraints on drivers.
  • The U.S. Postal Service allegedly doesn’t object to its mail-hauling contractors farming out work to subcontractors with poor safety records.

A lawyer says his quest to obtain relief for a client suffering serious injuries in a crash with a truck hauling U.S. mail highlights the difficulties of going up against this vast but little-known and minimally regulated field.

After filing suit on behalf of a man whose car was rear-ended by a tractor-trailer on Route 78 in Warren County, New Jersey, it took Tyler Hall nearly a year to learn that the truck was a subcontractor hauling mail for the U.S. Postal Service. The discovery was important since the attorney said it better enables him to make a full financial recovery for his client.

The experience should serve as a cautionary tale for other lawyers who face off against private mail haulers, which have been in crashes that killed 79 people since 2020, according to a Wall Street Journal investigation.

‘It All Kind of Came Together’

Hall’s client, Hugo Vieira, suffered a concussion and spinal injuries in the Oct. 26, 2021, crash. Vieira slowed down dueto backed-up traffic, and the tractor-trailer hit the rear of his vehicle. Hall said Vieira, 36, a U.S. Navy veteran, is expected to require multiple surgeries on his back and neck. The driver that stuck him, Bekzod Gozibekov, had only been on the job a few weeks but had already had multiple crashes, and a police officer’s body cam footage showed Gozibekov pleading to not get a ticket, said Hall, who is with Rebenack, Aronow & Mascolo of Somerville.

Hall filed suit against Gozibekov, as well as his employer, BJJ Enterprises of St. Louis, and the truck’s owner, Xpress Line of Chicago, in Warren County Superior Court in March 2022.

The case made little progress as Hall pressed the defendants for documents detailing their business relationship, but didn’t get much information, Hall said. Then, this February, when Hall asked BJJ for its bill of lading, it produced a broker agreement between that company and Carroll Fulmer, a trucking company in Groveland, Florida, which referenced the U.S. Postal Service.

Hall kept pushing for the bill of lading and BJJ produced a form that said the postal service hired Carroll Fulmer to run an extra route carrying 25,000 pounds of mail from North Carolina to Massachusetts. Carroll Fulmer then turned around and assigned the job to BJJ, Hall said.

“It all kind of came together there,” he said.

Double Brokering?

Carroll Fulmer has a good safety history, but BJJ does not, “but there’s no mechanism to prevent a company who contracts with the USPS to broker their load out to a crappy company,” Hall said. Hall is considering adding Carroll Fulmer as a defendant after learning how it hired BJJ. That company and Xpress together only have $1 million of insurance.

“It’s going to [make a difference] now that I know Carroll Fulmer got involved. There’s a thing called double brokering in the trucking industry and it’s frowned upon. It’s where a company hires a motor carrier to haul the load but then that motor carrier turns around and hires another company to do it, so they wind up pocketing a couple bucks without having to do any work. It looks like Carroll Fulmer did that with the USPS,” Hall said. “They have a contract, they got paid from the USPS, and they turn around and hire another trucking company to haul the load with a bad safety history. In order to be a USPS contractor, I think you have to be 21 years of age and have a working truck—there aren’t many safety requirements.”

BJJ, Xpress and Gozibekov are represented by Joseph Cobuzio of Tompkins, McGuire, Wachenfeld & Barry in Roseland who did not respond to a call or an email. Carroll Fulmer did not respond to a call about the case.

BJJ allegedly didn’t give Gozibekov sufficient time to safely make the trip from North Carolina to Massachusetts, Hall said. Gozibekov picked up his load at 12:30 p.m., and was supposed to drop it off 14 hours later. But federal law requires truck drivers to drive for no more than 11 hours in a 14-hour period, and after that they must have 10 consecutive hours off, Hall said.

“So if the driver did the route in a straight shot, the driver would drive over the 11-hour limit. If the driver took a rest break, then the driver would be over both the 11-hour and the 14-hour limit. Either way, it is not a route that can be done within the bounds of the law,” Hall said.

‘It Has Opened My Eyes’

The Wall Street Journal said that about 50 trucking companies that haul mail for the postal service had such poor safety records that the U.S. Department of Transportation put them on probation. They commonly violated DOT rules limiting how many hours they can drive, which are intended to guard against fatigue, the report said.

The post office frequently set unrealistic expectations for speedy deliveries that prompt truckers to skirt the rules, the Journal said. In one crash caused by a mail truck in Colorado last June, five members of one family were killed, including a 3-month-old baby.

When he saw the Journal article, Hall said “it all crystallized and hit home. It just made sense—why this brand-new driver was on this road. It all started to make sense in a way that was a little bit frightening and scary. It was something I can tell my client. While it doesn’t bring closure, it gives him some context for what happened, not necessarily in a good way, but now we know who’s responsible,” he said.

Reflecting on what he’s learned about the postal service’s contracting with private trucking companies to haul mail, Hall said, “it has opened my eyes to the amount of trucks that are on the road because of this system.”

“It’s obviously lucrative but it’s also very easy, an easy load. And these things don’t come to light unless something really, really bad happens,” he said. “To me the realization was that this whole system is a ticking time bomb and something’s got to change and it can’t be allowed to continue.”

Please note this article originally appeared on Law.com on March 10, 2023.

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