Dollar Burns & Becker, LC
1100 Main St Ste 2600
Jeff Burns didn’t set out to be arguably the most respected truck crash litigator in the nation. He says he became involved in truck safety “literally, by accident.” “Many years ago,” Burns recalls, “in my first truck crash case I represented a client who had lost his wife and two daughters, ages 6 and 9, in a crash caused by a fatigued truck driver. I had a daughter about the age of the younger girl at the time,” he notes, “and the more I learned about the trucking industry by working on that case, the more I was afraid of putting my family on the highway. I was shocked to learn that 1 in every 5 truck drivers admits to have fallen asleep at the wheel in the last 30 days.”
“That first case was a life-changing event for me,” states Burns. “Standing in the weeds next to the highway at the scene of the crash, I promised the girls’ father their deaths would not be in vain; that I would make sure that their loss would make a difference.” He spent much of the next twenty years in Washington, D.C. working on the issues, trying to improve safety rules, and advocating for more enforcement and more public awareness of the problem in fulfillment of that promise. “No one had heard of truck driver fatigue back then and the issue still doesn’t have the public awareness it needs,” he notes.
DRIVER FATIGUE HAS TRAGIC CONSEQUENCES FOR MANY FAMILIES
“Between four and five thousand people are killed most years in truck crashes,” says Burns, “and many of those are due to truck driver fatigue. When I handle a truck crash case, I assume fatigue played a role until I can rule it out.”
Burns wants to make sure everyone understands that his firm is not anti-trucking, but pro safe trucking. In fact, Dollar, Burns & Becker works with major truck lines and industry leaders to improve safety. “Drivers are generally good people,” he says emphatically, “they’re trying to put food on the table, but the industry is ultra-competitive and can put huge economic pressure on drivers to drive faster and longer than they can do safely. Ultimately, the drivers and the companies must be held accountable for those risky decisions, and we all need to work to change the culture of the industry.
But his job includes more than litigating cases, educating the public and working for rule changes, stronger laws and stricter enforcement. “We view our job as helping people through the worst time in their lives,” Burns notes. “That’s the bottom line. We care about our clients and we spend a great deal of time late at night talking and sometimes even crying with our clients.”
STRONGER SAFETY RULES ACTUALLY REDUCE COSTS AND SAVE LIVES
He says his goal is to help trucking companies see the light and realize there can actually be a remarkable return on investment when they institute or strengthen safety programs. Burns says there is less litigation and drivers actually stay with companies longer when they see stronger safety rules as a genuine commitment that helps protect them.
Burns thinks we need a quantum shift in the way trucking companies, their customers and consumers look at the industry. “We need to get big shippers to include a good safety record as part of their service expectation,” he says, “and consumers need to hold companies accountable for the carriers they choose in the same way they now hold retailers accountable for the working conditions of people who make the products they sell.”
“Our firm tries to do the right thing,” Burns points out, “we cannot sit back and work on these tragic cases and not try to do something about the problem. Burns’ commitment to making a difference is recognized by executives at some of the country’s largest truck lines. The Senior V.P. of Safety and Security for Schneider National says, “Jeff Burns’ motivations to improve safety are genuine and deeply held, when he says he’s cried with too many families, he means it. He has the ability to translate that negative energy into a passion that is compelling and contagious. He has been the catalyst for collaboration between traditional adversaries.”
Burns stays at the forefront of developments in the trucking industry. He was appointed as a member of the National Academy of Sciences’ Transportation Research Board’s Truck and Bus Safety Committee (ANB70), and the Secretary of Transportation has appointed him as a member of the National Freight Advisory Committee.
MOTIVATED BY THE HUMAN FACTOR
The impact on people’s lives is always at the forefront of Burns’ mind. To help remind him of what his practice is all about and the promise he made years ago to a bereaved father, he keeps a broken pair of a child’s white roller skates with pink wheels in his office, recovered from the scene of that first truck crash case.
Burns graduated first in his class at the University of Missouri – Columbia School of Law in 1983. He received his undergraduate degree from Truman State in 1978. He also pursued studies at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid in 1978-79 and at the University of Leicester Facility of Law in England in 1980-81.
From 1983 to 1985, Burns served as a law clerk to the Honorable Elmo B. Hunter, United States district judge for the Western District of Missouri in Kansas City, Mo. In 1985, he joined the law firm of Shook, Hardy & Bacon, P.C. in Kansas City where he served in the tort litigation section.
In 2005, Burns joined The Law Offices of Tim Dollar, L.C., now known as Dollar, Burns & Becker, L.C., in Kansas City. He continues to focus on truck accident litigation and highway safety.
ADVOCACY RUNS DEEP
Jeffrey A. Burns
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