Trucking Accident Lawsuits
Settlements, Compensation and Hiring a Personal Injury Lawyer
In 2006, 385,000 large trucks (semi-trucks, tractor-trailers, 18-wheelers and other types of commercial trucks) were involved in crashes, according to a report by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). In the same year, fatal trucking accidents took the lives of 4,995 people, and injury accidents harmed another 106,000.
Negligence was the cause of many of these trucking accidents. Victims of trucking accidents involving negligence can file claims and receive compensation to cover their accident-related expenses and, in many cases, for their pain and suffering as well.
This article outlines a variety of legal issues relating to trucking accidents. Please continue reading to learn more, or contact a trucking accident attorney to discuss your specific situation.
Truck Accidents and the Law
As a legal matter, a truck accident (18-wheeler truck wreck, commercial truck accident) occurs when a large truck is involved in an event or series of events that causes harm, such as property damage, injury and/or death. A large truck is any truck with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) over 10,000 pounds. Statistics show that most trucking accidents involve an element of negligence.
Victims of trucking accidents receive compensation by filing a claim and establishing that the accident was caused by negligence. If a driver acted carelessly and irresponsibly, those harmed as a result may be able to receive compensation by demonstrating:
- The truck accident resulted from recklessness
- The truck accident caused harm to the victim
- The victim is owed compensation from the negligent party for harm caused
Police reports, eyewitness testimony, expert witness testimony and photographs of the crash site are all strong pieces of evidence that can help prove the negligence of a driver or other negligent party.
For example, the statement of a bystander who witnessed a truck driver talking on a cell phone, speeding and/or running a red light just before crashing into a car is convincing evidence of driver negligence.
Truck accident claims can also include circumstantial or indirect evidence. For example, a police report stating that a truck driver involved in a truck wreck was discovered with bloodshot eyes, an odor of alcohol on his breath or an open container of liquor in the cab is likely to persuade a jury of truck driver negligence.
To prove harm done, injuries must be directly linked to the truck accident, the collision itself and/or exposure to the truck's hazardous load. Trucking accident injuries can be catastrophic, if not fatal. Among others, they may include:
- Cuts or lacerations
- Broken bones
- Head and neck injuries
- Spinal cord injuries
- Abdominal injuries
In some situations, more than one party is to blame for a trucking accident. In these cases, liability is divided based on percentage of fault, also known as comparative negligence.
Compensation is often awarded to victims to help them pay for their accident-related expenses. Depending on the case, a victim may be reimbursed for physical and psychological pain, lost income, property repairs, medical expenses and, sometimes, lost opportunities. Insurance companies and jurors use preset formulas to determine the values for compensation.
Victims in states with no-fault insurance laws often struggle with filing their claims. No-fault laws are intended to decrease trivial lawsuits and claims, and to help ensure that victims receive prompt reimbursement for medical expenses and lost income. Unfortunately, these laws sometimes prevent victims from obtaining their rightful compensation for other expenses. A personal injury attorney can help victims receive the compensation they deserve.
Factors Contributing to Trucking Accidents
A number of factors contribute to trucking accidents. Many can be traced to some form of negligence. Some of the most common contributing factors are discussed below.
Trucking Accidents and Traffic Law Violations
According to the NHTSA, 24 percent of large-truck drivers involved in fatal accidents in 2006 had a previous speeding conviction. A driver who violates a traffic law and in doing so causes a trucking accident is considered to be acting negligently. In addition to speeding, this may include tailgating, improper lane changing and failing to yield the right of way. All of these violations greatly increase the risk of a motor vehicle collision, particularly when committed by drivers of large trucks, which do not have the same reaction time as smaller motor vehicles. Victims who have been in a trucking accident where a traffic violation citation has been issued can use this as evidence in their claims.
If you have been a victim in a trucking accident, a personal injury attorney can help you determine if you have grounds for a lawsuit.
Driver error, influenced by one or more of the following, is the cause of most traffic violations leading to motor vehicle accidents and especially trucking accidents.
- Fatigue or drowsiness
- Over-the-counter drug use
- Aggressive driving
- Inadequate training
- Lack of experience
- Improperly loaded or overloaded cargo
- Lack of familiarity with the road
Because fatigue or drowsiness leads to many truck wrecks, the Federal Carrier Safety Administration (FCSA) requires trucking companies to comply with "hours of service" rules. These rules state that a driver may not:
- Drive more than 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours off duty (Drivers using a sleeper birth may split the 10-hour off-duty period into two intervals, provided one interval is at least two hours long.)
- Drive beyond the 14th hour after coming on duty, following 10 consecutive hours off duty
- Drive more than 60 hours over a period of seven consecutive days or 70 hours over a period of eight consecutive days
- Start a seven- to eight-day driving period without being off duty for 34 consecutive hours
Victims can earn compensation if they have suffered injuries or property damage in a trucking accident that was caused by another driver's fatigue or drowsiness.
Driving under the influence is a criminal offense, and is therefore handled by criminal courts; however, accidents caused by intoxicated drivers sometimes serve as grounds for civil lawsuits as well. This website's DUI section contains extensive information on all aspects of DUI cases, including DUI charges and penalties, as well as DUI bail cost information.
Trucking Accidents and Equipment Failure
In order to ensure proper operation, large trucks require a significant amount of maintenance and upkeep. This can be costly and time consuming but is necessary for the safe operation of the vehicle. If maintenance is not performed in a timely and proper manner, it can cause equipment to malfunction and lead to trucking accidents. Many lawsuits have resulted from malfunction of the following components:
- Fifth-wheel hitches
- Fuel lines
- Lighting equipment
- Steering mechanisms
In addition, lawsuits are often filed due to the following issues related to design flaws:
- Roof crush
- Unsafe seatbelts
- Weak truck underride guard
Negligence can be cited in conjunction with a number of dangerous road conditions, including poor weather, road construction or debris. If a trucking accident occurs due to poor maintenance of the roads, victims are able to seek compensation from government entities that have acted negligently. Before a victim files a claim against a government entity, he or she should review the case with a qualified trucking accident attorney to learn about rules and time limits associated with such claims.
Victims can also seek compensation from a government entity for flawed road designs that contribute to collisions. Traffic control devices, merging lanes and poorly designed intersections can all be contributing factors in a trucking accident.
When You Might Need a Personal Injury Attorney
Although some trucking accident claims are managed by insurance companies, many situations require the expertise of a personal injury attorney. Because of their extensive training, personal injury attorneys are able to determine the right courses of action to help victims earn their rightful compensation. A personal injury attorney can help protect your rights before settling your trucking accident claim.
The following are examples of situations where it is critical to have a personal injury attorney, even if you have already accepted a settlement offer:
- Your expenses from the accident have not been reimbursed. Victims of no-fault insurance states often seek the services of a lawyer after suffering financial losses due to a trucking accident.
- The insurance company holds up the settlement of your claim. Personal injury claims must be filed within a certain timeframe, depending on the jurisdiction and other factors. Personal injury attorneys help victims ensure they retain their right to timely compensation.
- Your claim is denied by a government entity or insurance company.
- You have been injured by a negligent party who is not covered by insurance.
Personal injury attorneys help victims obtain the compensation to which they are entitled. Contact a personal injury lawyer today to learn more about trucking accidents.
Seventy-six percent of large truck accident fatalities in 2006 were occupants of another vehicle, 15 percent were occupants of a large truck and 9 percent were non-occupants.
Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)