If you are the victim of a trucking accident, the questions of who is responsible and what actually caused the accident are often much more complicated than in a simple traffic accident. There are many players involved, from the driver to the owner of the truck, and getting information about what went wrong often requires some industry know-how. Understanding the common reasons for trucking accidents, and the relationships among the persons and entities connected to the truck, the trailer, and the load, will help you determine whether you have a valid claim and how you will present your case.
Truck Accident Statistics
Over the past two decades, the number of truck accidents has increased by 20%. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), in 2002, 4,897 individuals died and 130,000 people were injured in crashes that involved a large truck. And even though large trucks are only responsible for 3% of injury-causing motor vehicle accidents, trucking accidents typically cause much greater harm than ordinary traffic accidents due to the large size and heavy weight of most trucks.
Laws Governing Truck Accidents
Federal laws and regulations govern the trucking industry. These laws establish certain standards that trucking companies, owners, and drivers must meet, and often determine who is responsible for a trucking accident. The bulk of federal regulations dealing with the trucking industry can be found in Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations. Agencies that regulate truck driving include the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). Every state also has a department of transportation with its own set of trucking regulations.
Who Is Responsible?
When it comes to truck accidents, there is a web of players who may be responsible for a victim’s injuries, including:
• the truck’s driver
• the owner of the truck or trailer
• the person or company that leased the truck or trailer from the owner
• the manufacturer of the vehicle, tires, or other parts that may have contributed to the cause or severity of the accident, and
• the shipper or loader of the truck’s cargo (in cases involving improper loading).
The trucking, hauling, and leasing companies often argue among themselves over whose insurance will compensate the victim. For example, the truck company might claim that the accident was caused by defective brakes. In turn, the brake company might then point the finger at the leasing company, claiming that it failed to maintain the brakes in good working order.
Can Trucking Companies Avoid Liability?
In the past, trucking companies often tried to avoid liability for trucking accidents by creating distance between themselves and the driver, the vehicle, and the equipment. Here’s how they did this: The trucking company obtains the necessary permits to operate the truck. However, the company often does not own the tractor, trailer, or equipment used to haul the goods. Instead it leases (rents) the equipment, tractors, and trailers from the “owner/operator.” The trucking company also does not directly employee the drivers. Instead, it hires them as independent contractors from the owner/operator. The trucking company gives the owner/operator a “placard,” which includes the name of the trucking company and its permit numbers. The placard is then affixed to the door of the tractor — which makes it seem like the truck is owned by the named trucking company and the driver is an employee of the named trucking company.
If the truck is in an accident, and the trucking company is sued, it would argue that:
• the driver was not the trucking company’s employee, so the trucking company is not liable for driver error, or
• the trucking company does not own the equipment, so it is not responsible for the operation, maintenance, repair, and inspections of the equipment.
Luckily, federal laws and regulations have put an end to these arguments. Under current federal law, any company owning a trucking permit is responsible for all accidents involving a truck that has its placard or name displayed on the vehicle. It doesn’t matter what the lease says with the owner/operator or whether the driver is an employee or independent contractor.
You Want the Best Truck Accident Lawyer
It’s an undeniable fact that semi trucks rule the road. These enormous trucks often weigh up to 80,000 pounds and stretch from hood to taillight an astounding 80 feet. Anyone who has driven next to these automotive giants can attest to how dangerous such an experience can be. If you’ve been injured in an accident involving a semi truck you will need an Advocate on your side to help you make a full recovery.
Why You Need a Semi-Truck Accident Attorney
Without a doubt, personal injury attorneys are the best in the business. They know better than anyone how difficult it can be to successfully pursue a truck accident claim. Such cases have so many parties involved–the trucking company, the corporation chartering the vehicle, and even the driver–that building a claim can quickly become complicated and confusing. Simply proving who is at fault for your injuries and losses can seem an impossible task. Below are just a few examples of damages that an Attorney can help you recover:
• Medical bills
• Lost wages due to injury
• Property damage
• Pain and suffering
• Loss of consortium
Common Causes Of Trucking Accidents
Any types of auto accident are dangerous, but add a loaded semi-truck into the mix and the risk of serious injury or even death increases drastically. And not only is the danger increased when a truck is involved, but the cost of injuries and damages is amplified also. Furthermore, in a truck accident case you must battle the driver, the trucking company, and the insurance company to receive full compensation, which is why you need legal representation from an experienced truck accident attorney who understands these types of cases. Car accident injuries involving a semi- or tractor trailer truck commonly occur as a result of the following reasons:
• Malfunctioning Brakes: Most trucks have air brakes, which are designed to stop a loaded truck in about 100 feet when traveling at a speed of 35-40 mph. However, when malfunctions or failures in the air brake system occur, these 80,000 lb. vehicles become a deadly force on the road. Even if a truck driver continuously pumps the brakes as recommended, malfunctions can still occur, resulting in a dangerous scenario.
• Rollovers: The most common type of truck accidents are rollovers. If a driver loses control of his truck and starts sliding sideways, any obstruction can trip up the vehicle and trigger a rollover—a curb, guardrail, uneven ground, another vehicle, etc. A truck that turns too sharply or aggressively is also at risk of rolling over, especially if it is carrying a full or unbalanced load. The danger and severity of truck rollovers are extremely high, and have high fatality rates.
• Blind Spot Accident: Trucks in particular have large “no zone” areas that can potentially cause an accident. As most warning stickers on the back of trucks say, if you can’t see the driver in his side mirror, he cannot see you. Blind spots for trucks are on their left and right sides, and following too closely behind.
• Swinging Turns. When trucks cause a collision while turning, it is known as a swinging turn or “squeeze play” accident. Swinging turn accidents can happen one of three ways:
When a truck swings left to make a right turn (or right to make a left turn)
When a truck makes too wide of a turn, hitting other vehicles head on
Squeezing cars beside the truck by not turning wide enough
• Tire Blowout/Bald Tires: Just drive down the highway and you will see scores of stripped tires and tread alongside the road. The heavy loads trucks carry, and the long distances they travel, cause significant wear and tear on their tires. Sometimes, when a tire blowout occurs, it can lead to an accident, and potentially cause serious injury or death.
• Overloaded Cargo: There are certain limitations as to how much weight a truck is allowed to carry at one time. In Colorado, interstate haulers cannot exceed the maximum gross weight allowance of 80,000 lbs. When truckers go above that limit, the weight of the load may become too heavy to manage, and they risk losing control of their vehicle and causing an accident.
• Falling Debris: Improperly packed trucks may lose some of their cargo in transit, causing falling debris that can potentially lead to an accident. According to the law, a truck driver is responsible for properly securing their load so that nothing falls onto the highway. Clear water or feathers from live birds are the only exceptions.
For drivers who are involved in a collision with a truck, or an accident caused by a truck, first you should determine if anyone at the scene of the crash requires medical attention. Truck accidents are generally very serious, and the appropriate medical care should be given to all parties involved. Second, avoid talking to a trucking company without the presence of an experienced Colorado truck accident attorney. The truck company may try to negotiate a settlement, but without having a lawyer present, you could be cheated out of the full costs and expenses associated with treating your injuries, fixing damage and compensating you for lost wages.
Who Pays For Injuries And Damages In A Truck Accident?
Big Rigs and semi-trucks present some very unique issues both on our roadways and in our legal system. Because of their sheer size alone, they are many times more dangerous than a standard sized automobile. When that much weight gets moving that quickly, it does not take much for a traffic accident to become fatal. When these accidents do occur, and one is curious as to whether they can pursue a claim, the first step is to show negligence. The driver must have actually fallen below a standard of reasonable care for him to be negligent and at-fault. It is possible that the experienced semi-truck driver has done everything right and yet was still unable to avoid the collision. Those instances are somewhat unique, but they happen. When they do, both parties may be reasonable for their own losses. If that is not the case in your accident, and a semi-truck did cause a car accident, one comforting thought is that the odds that you will recover your losses are very high. Most semi-trucks are being driven by a professional driver who is an employee of a business. Businesses are responsible for the negligent actions of their agents while they are in the course and scope of their employment under a theory called respondent superior. That means, that if the driver is negligent, instead of his own car insurance stepping up to indemnify him, the car insurance of the business will step up to indemnify the business. This happens because the business is sure to be buying insurance on their own trucks and listing their employees as drivers as opposed to forcing their employees to pay for expensive insurance on those enormous trucks. Because the business is the one who chose the insurance policy, it is likely to be enormous. That is just the reality. If you were starting a business that involved driving many huge trucks all around the country carrying a variety of expensive materials, you would purchase an enormous insurance policy to protect you against a catastrophic loss. The advantage of this policy having limits that are so high that they will never be reached is that the plaintiff is now able to be fully compensated even in the case of very serious damages. In order to lawsuit, plaintiffs are forced to sign agreements that officially release any and all future claims against that defendant. When one is working with an insurance company, which is darn near always, the agreement will release both the insurance company and the insured party. Because of that, when policy limits are too low to fully compensate the plaintiff, the plaintiff will be forced to accept less than what they deserve if the insured is insolvent. In the case of an employee causing the damage, the agreement may only protect the business, leaving the employee liable for the remainder, but this problem will likely never arise because semi-trucks will be carrying insurance policies that are so large that all potential problems can be avoided. In fact, one other difference in a trucking accident is that punitive damages may become a possibility. If it can be shown that the company had reckless disregard for the safety of other in how they used their trucks, the award may be exponentially larger. When an individual gets into an auto accident with a semi-truck, contacting a semi-truck accident attorney who has experience dealing with truck accidents should be the first item on your list. The attorney can find the correct insurance policy and can help make sure that the injured victim is compensated.
Help For Truck Injury Victims
Due to the sheer size and weight of tractor trailer trucks, resulting injuries are often severe or fatal. Thankfully, semi truck operators drive professionally and should carry a special type of commercial insurance coverage. If you are a victim of a trucking accident, you may be entitled to compensation. One challenge in fighting truck accident cases is defining jurisdiction, as the truck operator may be based in a different state from which the accident occurred. An experience truck accident attorney can help. Discuss your legal options in our free claim review. Common Truck Accident injuries:
• Whiplash injuries
• Spinal cord or head injury
• Broken bones
• Fatal injuries
Types of trucking accidents:
• Jack knife
• Head on collisions
• Rear-end crashes
• Limited visibility
Trucking Accident Lawyer Free Consultation
When you need to recover for injuries from a trucking accident in Utah, please call Ascent Law LLC 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