Did you know there are over eleven million trucks operating actively across the United States, many with overworked drivers carrying hazardous materials? In 2016 alone, there were 475,000 large truck accidents with human error accounting for roughly ninety percent of them. And while a Harvard study found that about a quarter of drivers have fallen asleep at the wheel, 50% of professional truck drivers have reported the same issue.
With so many drivers relying on highways to get to work every day, it takes just one overworked truck driver for your life to change in an instant. After all, trucks weigh 20-30 times more than a typical car, which can seriously amplify the impact and consequences of an accident.
If you or a loved one are involved in an accident with a truck, retaining the services of an attorney becomes vital. Because truck drivers are often insured in the millions and more than one party can be held vicariously responsible for a driver’s negligence, having a lawyer at your side as soon as possible will help to ensure your case is handled in the most professional manner. Identifying all the different lines of insurance is difficult in trucking accidents as the truck and trailer are often insured by different companies, with either or both possibly being guilty of negligence.
Read on to learn the many options available to you or a loved one following a truck accident and fill out a no-cost case evaluation form to see if our team of lawyers, investigators, and expert witnesses can assist you with your case.
What to Do Following a Truck Accident
The amount of confusion immediately following a truck crash can be great. You’ll want to make sure the police and any necessary emergency workers are called immediately to assist with any injuries or burns.
The police will take extensive notes, statements from all the involved parties and any witnesses, and take photos as part of their accident report. If possible, you will also want to document as much as you can, including witness statements.
If your phone’s camera is working, be sure to take as many pictures as possible of the damage to your vehicle and any injuries you and any other passengers sustained. Doing so can help you ensure that anything the police missed is still documented.
What Are The Leading Causes of Truck Accidents?
Driver Error - Despite the increased size and impact of truck accidents, truck drivers often drive recklessly. They often drive drowsy to reach mileage goals set by their companies and may be operating their truck while under the influence or while distracted.
Poorly Maintained Trucks - Trucks are often driven thousands of miles per week and if they are not properly cared for, they can become dangerous quickly. While worn brake pads or a cracked windshield must be dealt with if they occur on smaller vehicles, they can be the cause of a major traffic accident on a truck.
Equipment Failure - Defective parts on a truck may not be the fault of the driver, but they can turn deadly. Your attorney will be able to tell if a trucking company or manufacturer may be liable for your accident in addition to the truck driver.
Improperly Loaded Cargo - Loading the beds of commercial trucks must be done carefully and in accordance with the law. If they are loaded improperly, the contents on the truck may spill out onto the road and cause accidents and injuries.
How Truck Accidents Are Different From Car Accidents
Commercial freight trucks (or ‘big rigs’) tend to weigh 80,000 pounds or more, twenty times the weight of passenger cars. Despite regulations that exist to ensure truck drivers do not drive more than ten hours per day, they are often given financial incentives for traveling large distances faster, which can directly impinge upon other drivers’ safety.
If you or someone you know has been involved in an accident with an 18-wheeler, chances are many of the following differences will apply to your situation.
Larger Insurance Policies - Truck drivers’ insurance policies are up to fifty times larger than car accident policies. This often put ls the total value of insurance in the millions, so you can bet that the different insurance carriers named in a lawsuit will do everything in their power to prove they were not liable. Veteran insurance adjusters will be called in and employ intricate tactics, such as offering a seemingly-large payout, when your case might be worth far more. Having a trusted lawyer by your side can help make the process considerably less stressful.
Increased Property Damage - As noted above, the weight and overall size of an 18-wheeler commercial freight truck are much larger than that of a typical vehicle. That means that any surrounding property is going to be affected much more than in a crash involving two cars.
More Serious Injuries - Similarly, the injuries that are common in car accidents are also far more severe and can include intensive medical care and bills. From serious whiplash and broken bones to brain trauma and severe lacerations, injuries following a truck accident are often life-changing.
Much Larger Medical Bills - The amount of time spent in a hospital tends to be much longer than car accident-related injuries. Victims of truck accidents are unable to return to work for a prolonged period of time, if at all. By working with an experienced lawyer at Morgan & Morgan, we can more accurately calculate your current and future pain and suffering to obtain the compensation you truly deserve.
Greater Chance of Death - An accident with a large commercial truck is far more likely to result in death than a crash between two passenger cars. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), there are between 3,000 and 5,000 deaths due to truck accidents every year.
Considering the number of variables involved in truck accidents and the considerable resources wielded by the trucking companies and their insurers, getting a no-cost case assessment is a recommended first step when deciding whether to obtain the services of a lawyer.
Who is Responsible for My Truck Accident?
If you have been injured or lost a loved one in a truck accident, there are a number of parties who may be liable for your losses. It is not uncommon for these parties to deny fault or liability for a crash. The liable parties can include the following:
- Truck driver
- Truck company
- Owner of the truck
- Company leasing the truck
- Company leasing the trailer
- Shipper who wanted the load transported
- Truck, trailer or parts manufacturer
Injuries sustained in truck accidents can be severe, including severe brain trauma, spinal cord damage, disfigurement, burns, broken bones, lacerations, paralysis, or even death.
Types of truck accident lawsuits include:
Negligence: Lawsuits filed to recover compensation for injuries sustained in a truck accident will often be based on the truck driver’s negligence. Some common indications of negligence include:
- Lack of truck driving experience
- Overloading trucks
- Operating oversized trucks on narrow roads
- Failure to see other vehicles due to the truck’s large blind spot
- Failing to obey traffic laws
- Driving for too long without taking a break
- Failure to monitor the driving hours of the truck driver
- Not keep the tractor and/or trailer in a safe, working condition
- Hiring an unqualified or unfit truck driver
- Failure to properly supervise the truck driver
- Failure to properly train the truck driver
- Selecting an unqualified or unfit truck company
To prevail in a negligence lawsuit, the injured will have to show the truck driver had a duty of care to other vehicles on the road, the driver breached this duty through some action or failure to act, an injury was sustained, and the breach of duty caused the injury.
In some instances, the owner of the trucking company and manager, the owner of the truck, the employer of the driver, and they’re respective insurance companies may be liable after a crash.
Product Liability: If a defect in the truck or one of its components contributed to the accident, there may be a viable claim against the product manufacturer(s). Product liability lawsuits based on manufacturer’s negligence will require the injured party to show:
- The defective truck or a particular part was “unreasonably dangerous”
- The truck was being operated as the manufacturer intended
- The truck’s performance had not changed since its initial purchase
Product liability suits may also be sought under strict liability where proof of negligence is unnecessary; however, claimants must prove the defect originated in the manufacturing process to prevail. This will require analysis, testing, and testimony by experts.
Wrongful Death: Many times, truck accidents are so severe that the victim does not survive the crash. In some cases, the family may bring a claim on behalf of their loved one to recover compensation for their losses. Wrongful death claims require the family to prove the same facts as the deceased, had they survived and pursued a claim on their own. An attorney can help family members recover economic, non-economic, and, in certain cases, punitive damages for the loss of their loved one.
What Will My Attorney Do To Help Me?
At Morgan & Morgan, not only are our truck accident lawyers deeply familiar with the different tactics used by insurance companies to reduce the compensation amount you deserve, but we also boast a deep network of expert witnesses and investigators to investigate every aspect of an accident. Following a crash, the trucking company and their insurance company will start an immediate investigation of the scene. They may record statements from witnesses, take photos of the accident scene, and examine the vehicles to determine the extent of damage caused by the crash. State authorities may also launch their own investigation into the accident, which may prove beneficial for your claim. Once you’ve chosen to retain the service of a Morgan & Morgan truck accident lawyer, we go right to work examining every aspect of your case.
Our lawyer may record statements from witnesses, take photos of the accident scene, and examine the vehicles to determine the extent of damage caused by the crash. These steps include:
- Review camera footage, if available
- Interview witnesses
- Review mandatory police and accident reports
- Analyze and review medical records
- Interview medical staff
- Consult experts to reconstruct the accident scene and recreate the accident
- Help ensure that important evidence is preserved by the truck company and driver
- Obtaining alcohol and drug testing from the truck driver
- Obtain data from the truck’s Electronic Control Module (ECM; i.e. “black box”)
Our lawyers will also protect any critical evidence from being corrupted by sending a spoliation letter to the truck company before any crucial evidence is lost or destroyed. After receiving this letter, truck companies legally must retain records of evidence pertinent to the case, such as driver logs and black box information. This miss is sent immediately following an accident, however, as truck companies may destroy these records as part of their typical course of business.
How Negligence is Established Following a Truck Accident
If you or a loved one were injured by a commercial truck driver and you wish to pursue legal action to receive the compensation you deserve, you will have to prove negligence on the part of the truck driver and any other parties you believe are responsible. To establish that the accident resulted due to negligence, your lawyer will establish the parameters of the truck driver’s duty of care and demonstrate that there was a breach of that duty that led to your injuries and related damages. A few common examples of negligence for truck drivers include texting while driving, speeding, running a red light or stop sign, and falling asleep at the wheel
Due to the high-risk nature of truck drivers’ work, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations stipulate drivers must adhere to the following regulations:
- Maintenance of logbook detailing hours driven
- Documenting hours of service and rest breaks
- Adhering to scheduled and legally-mandated maintenance requirements
- Proper loading of truck cargo, including hazardous materials
- Non-use of controlled substances and alcohol
- Driving no more than ten hours per work day
For a full list of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) related to truck drivers, click here.
How Compensation is Determined Following a Truck Accident
Like other personal injury lawsuits, the types of compensation available to those affected as the result of an accident involving a truck falls into two categories: economic damages and non-economic damages. Compensation involving economic truck accident damages serves to cover the specific monetary costs, including the following:
Current Medical Expenses: This may include fees for emergency room visits, hospital care, surgery, assistive devices and appointments with approved medical professionals.
Future Medical Expenses: Compensation for extended medical attention and care.
Lost Wages: Compensation for the wages lost between the time of injury and the conclusion of the lawsuit.
Loss of Earning Capacity: If the victim can demonstrate that their ability to earn a living has been negatively impacted, compensation may be available. The awarding party will look to establish the amount victim could have earned had the car accident not occurred.
Non-economic damages compensate the victim and/or family for non-financial, intangible losses, including:
Pain and Suffering: This includes compensation for the physical pain suffered as a result of injuries sustained in the crash. The nature of the injury, the extent of the pain, and the length of time the victim is expected to suffer are all included in the calculation of the award.
Mental Anguish: Compensation for emotional pain stemming from a truck accident, including fright, embarrassment, nervousness, worry, grief and other forms of emotional distress caused by the accident.
Loss of Consortium: Compensation awarded to a spouse, parents, and minor children loss of services, assistance, aid, society, and companionship/care of a loved one, a child, or parents.
In addition to economic and non-economic damages, punitive damages may be applicable if the defendant’s actions causing the injury were willful, malicious, fraudulent or reckless. Punitive damages serve to punish the offender and dissuade similar behavior in the future.