Truck accident law covers personal injuries sustained by occupants of a passenger vehicle as a result of a collision with a commercial freight truck, also known as an 18-wheeler or “big rig.” Liability in these cases is premised on the doctrine of negligence. Because the negligent party is a professional truck driver, multiple sources of law will apply. These include traffic laws and civil liability rules, as well as regulations of the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
Causes and Contributing Factors
The average passenger car weighs 4,000 lbs., while semi-trucks can weigh 80,000 lbs. or more. Taking into account further differences, such as ride height, stopping distance, and driver field of vision, it is easy to see how problems result when these two types of vehicles share the roadway. Moreover, commercial truck drivers are provided financial incentives for traveling distances as quickly as possible, and the safety of nearby passenger cars is not always their priority. Of the many kinds of truck driver conduct that can result in an accident, certain ones tend to arise most often. Accidents can occur when a driver fails to stop and rest at appropriate intervals, or drives under the influence of sleep-suppressing drugs like methamphetamine. Truck drivers can also put others at risk by driving aggressively, making wide turns, merging too quickly, carrying an unsafe load, or driving too fast. It is worth noting that a truck may have been traveling within the posted speed limit, and still have been going too fast for road conditions. Sometimes the risk posed by a semi-truck is unrelated to any acts or omissions by the driver. For example, other individuals from the trucking company may have failed to inspect or repair the truck as they should have. Cargo may have been loaded improperly, or the truck may have been manufactured with faulty lights, brakes, or other equipment. Damaged truck tires can also cause accidents by suddenly coming apart at high speeds.
Identifying the Proper Defendants
In order to establish liability and recover compensation for a truck accident, the plaintiff must first identify every individual, business entity, or government official responsible. It is critical to name all of these parties in the court documents at the time the lawsuit is filed. If any are left out, and it is later revealed that an omitted party shares responsibility, it may be too late to add that party due to the filing deadlines applicable in negligence cases. Accident victims without previous experience in personal injury litigation often assume that the proper defendant to sue in a truck accident is the driver. After all, it was the truck driver’s carelessness that caused the accident. While the driver should be named, a number of other parties may be legally responsible as well. These additional defendants may include the trucking company, the manufacturer of the truck, parts companies (if defective equipment is involved), mechanics and maintenance companies, and others.
Proving Liability and Damages
Once all of the defendants have been named, the plaintiff in a truck accident lawsuit must establish a theory of liability. With the exception of strict liability defective product cases, the plaintiff’s theory will be based on negligence. As asserted against the truck driver, negligence is a straightforward concept, requiring only that the plaintiff show that a reasonably prudent driver in the defendant’s position would have acted with greater care. With respect to the other defendants, however, more nuanced aspects of the negligence doctrine become relevant. Consider the trucking company that employed the driver, for example. If the company knowingly hired a driver with substance abuse problems or previous accidents, or failed to properly train the driver, the company may be liable for its own negligence. But, under the “vicarious liability” rules, it can also be indirectly liable based on its employer status. This is true even if the trucking company did nothing wrong. In addition to proving liability, the plaintiff must show the extent of his or her damages. This is best accomplished through the use of expert witnesses. A physician will be needed to perform an examination of the plaintiff and offer a medical opinion regarding the harm suffered from the accident. The plaintiff will also need to hire an economist to form an opinion on damages such as lost income and earning capacity, and to explain how these figures can be converted to present value.
Why Hire a Trucking Defense Attorney?
Wrecks involving tractor trailers, semis, big rigs, 18 wheelers, and other commercial vehicles often cause severe injury or death. A fully loaded tractor trailer is massive, weighing up to 80,000 pounds. The energy contained in these huge vehicles travelling at 70+ mph is enormous. They are slow to accelerate, slow to decelerate, and they require extra time and space to change lanes, to complete turns, to clear intersections, and to maneuver. Trucking cases are different and require a higher level of expertise, commitment and resources to handle. Very few lawyers have the necessary experience, ability and resources to properly handle these cases. In addition to the obvious differences between a tractor trailer and a passenger car, here are some of the other factors that make truck wreck cases very different from the typical car wreck case:
• Commercial drivers are supposed to be screened, qualified and professionally trained;
• Different laws apply, including the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations;
• The cases are aggressively investigated and defended by trucking companies and their lawyers.
• Insurance coverage requirements are different and there may be complicated multiple layers of coverage;
• Much more is at stake than in the typical car wreck case.
Trucking companies often have rapid response teams already enroute to the scene of a wreck while the injury victims are being evaluated in the emergency room at the nearest trauma center. Those teams often include defense lawyers, as well as investigators who are collecting evidence, taking photos, interviewing witnesses and downloading data from the truck’s black box. Lawyers for the victim and/or his/her family have to respond quickly, as well, acting swiftly to prevent spoliation or loss of critical evidence, including securing and inspecting the victim’s vehicle, downloading data from the ECM, demanding the data downloads from the tractor trailer, arranging for inspection of the tractor trailer, photographing the scene, and obtaining 911 calls, post-accident vehicle inspections and other official records, as well as interviewing witnesses and securing cooperation of law enforcement personnel. In many cases, an accident reconstruction expert needs to be retained early in the process to inspect vehicles and interpret the data. Working knowledge of and experience with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) are critical. A commercial truck driver can and should be held to a higher standard of care than the driver of an ordinary passenger car or pickup truck.
Truck Accident Lawsuits
All accident lawsuits are unique in their own way. When trucks are involved, however, lawsuits can become even more distinct because of the industry’s complex trucking laws and regulations. This is compounded by the incredible destruction typically caused in these types of crashes. It takes in-depth legal knowledge of truck accident specifics to effectively research, build, argue, and successfully settle or try a truck accident case. If you’ve been involved in a truck accident, it’s imperative that you know your legal rights and obtain trusted and experienced representation.
Truck Accident Claims Against Large Vehicles
Truck accidents are not like car accidents. Large vehicles are behind some of the most severe devastation seen on the road and cause extreme pain and suffering for those involved. Most often, this mass destruction is caused by the following types of large vehicles:
Truck Accidents Involving Commercial Trucks
Commercial trucks like tanker trucks, flatbeds, tractor trailers, garbage trucks, tow trucks, mass transit buses, and other commercial vehicles consume our roadways every day. Commercial truck drivers and the trucking company owners are required to follow strict laws that help protect others on the road. This means the driver needs to be adequately trained, act reasonably and safely on the road and only operate the vehicle as designated. It is the responsibility of trucking companies to ensure their drivers are properly trained, as well as to maintain their trucks and ensure loads are secure. Truck manufacturers are also responsible for the parts and products they create for these large vehicles.
Truck Accidents Can Involve Government Vehicles
Buses, fire trucks, utility trucks, and other vehicles owned and operated by government agencies have a duty to employ experienced drivers and maintain their vehicles, just as in the commercial industry. For example, even a fire truck driver responding to a call is obligated to follow designated laws and regulations. When government agency drivers like police or fire department cause an accident, they can be sued even though they are protected by what is called sovereign immunity. This protection makes bringing a lawsuit against the agency difficult and complex, which is why it’s essential to seek experienced counsel after an accident. Despite the barriers involved in suing the government, your rights should still be protected.
Truck Accidents Can Involve Private Vehicles
Recreational vehicle (RV) use is increasing on our roads, and so is the amount of accidents they cause. Did you know that RV drivers are not required to hold a special license to operate them? Because of their size, RV’s have many blind spots and can be difficult to maneuver. Common causes of accidents involving RV’s include unsafe lane changes, accidental rollover, tire blowout or even a defect in the RV design.
Who Do You Sue After?
Accidents involving large vehicles can be caused by a number of factors, which is partly why they are so complicated and unique. Each element of the accident, from speed to fatigue to load weight, plays a significant role in identifying the negligent parties. Liability is not limited to the driver of the truck or large vehicle. It can reach to include those involved in making, driving or directing that vehicle.
In lawsuits such as these, liability may apply to a number of defendants, including the following:
• Employed truck driver
• Contracted truck driver
• Company that employs or contracts the driver
• Party receiving the shipment
• Company that loaded and weighed the truck
• Manufacturers of trucks, buses and recreational vehicles and parts
• Government agencies owning and operating large vehicles\
• Insurance providers
Filing a Truck Accident Claim
Most truck and large vehicle accidents are caused by the negligence of the driver or vehicle owner. A motor carrier claim is most often filed by an attorney specializing in truck, bus or large government vehicle accidents. This type of civil lawsuit is detailed, time consuming, and entails extensive research and expert testimony to obtain a fair and successful outcome.
What Happens During a Truck Accident Lawsuit?
Truck accident lawsuits, or motor carrier claims, entail many litigation steps that are critical to their outcome. Because each case is unique, it could take several months or even years to settle a claim or complete a trial. No matter the length of your claim, we work tirelessly for your rights throughout the entire process.
A truck accident lawsuit involves the following steps:
Claim Assessment Attorney
When a claim is filed, our attorneys conduct a thorough assessment to ensure you have a valid case. This involves discussing accident details, evidence, the damages suffered, medical expenses, future cares and the negligence of the other party. After this, we will discuss your legal rights and options based on the facts and determine your next best step. This assessment is done during your free consultation with one of our experienced truck accident attorneys.
If your case is qualified, we will move forward and immediately conduct a thorough investigation of the accident. It’s always best to begin this step as soon as possible in order to preserve evidence. We will notify the negligent parties to demand preservation of all evidence, including photographs, vehicles involved, road structures, truck certificates and other data.
File and Complaint
Lawyer files a public direct action against all parties who are deemed negligent in the accident.
This is where the Lawyer request information from the other parties, conduct depositions, talk to witnesses and obtains expert analyses from road, trucking, accident reconstruction, medical and other specialists to build a solid case.
Most often, truck accident victims and the defendants will attend mediation to determine if a fair settlement can be reached. Both parties and attorneys will attend. During this process, a mediator will attempt to assist in negotiating a settlement to compensate you for pain, suffering and other damages. The majority of accident claims are resolved before a trial takes place.
Go to Trial
If no settlement is reached, the case will proceed to trial. Once the trial date is set, the case will be heard by a jury or judge. If your testimony is requested, we will make sure you are prepared. Your accident attorney will present evidence and participate in closing arguments. The judge or jury will then determine fault and render a decision on whether you will receive compensation for your losses.
Compensation After a Truck Accident Lawsuit
If you’re a victim of a large vehicle accident and the other party is at fault, you may be awarded compensatory and/or punitive damages for the following:
• Past and future medical bills
• Future cost of rehabilitation and other medical care
• Lost employment and wages
• Future wages if unable to work
• Loss of consortium (spousal relationship)
• Pain and suffering
• Mental anguish
• Loss of life
• Punitive damages to punish the at-fault party
Free Initial Consultation with Lawyer
It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. Legal problems come to everyone. Whether it’s your son who gets in a car wreck, your uncle who loses his job and needs to file for bankruptcy, your sister’s brother who’s getting divorced, or a grandparent that passes away without a will -all of us have legal issues and questions that arise. So when you have a law question, call Ascent Law for your free consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you!
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States
Telephone: (801) 676-5506