July 1, 2019

Commercial Trucking Accidents: Why you Need a Personal Injury Attorney

Being involved in a collision is not a pleasant experience by any means, and in the first stages of shock and disbelief, trying to deal with injuries and other arrangements, it can be easy for unscrupulous operators to take advantage of your state of mind to minimize their liability. The first thing you need to do is call a personal injury lawyer at Cochran, Kroll & Associates, P.C. to help guide you through the legal jungle of commercial vehicle accident law.

It is a very different situation than being involved in a collision with another motor vehicle. The trucking industry is heavily regulated, and commercial vehicle operators will notify their liability insurance carrier who may offer you an insufficient amount of money right away. It is best to speak with an experienced truck accident personal injury lawyer at our law firm as soon as possible.

Trucks Cause a Lot More Damage Than Cars

We are reliant on large commercial trucks to deliver everything we buy or consume in some form or the other. From building materials, chemicals, food, clothing and household goods, business equipment, and animals.

Unfortunately, because of their sheer size and weight, the velocity generated by these outsized vehicles can cause a lot of damage when something goes wrong on the road, whether it is a car pulling in too close to the truck or the driver looking away for a second and not reacting in time to changes on the road.

Most Common Truck Accident Factors

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), conducted a study into Large Truck Crash Causation that resulted in an injury or fatality and involved at least one large truck. In a nationally representative sample of 963 crashes, there were 1654 injuries and a staggering 249 fatalities.

Motor vehicle crashes are complex events, and many elements play a role in influencing the outcomes. A crash reconstruction inspector very rarely assigns a single factor.

Before:

  • Vehicle design and manufacture
  • Driving training and experience
  • Weather conditions
  • Highway conditions and signaling

Directly before:

  • Tire blowout
  • Changing lanes
  • Decision to turn
  • Fatigue
  • Drinking
  • Speeding
  • Dangerous driving

Three Variables in determining causation:

  • Critical Event: the action or event that made the collision unavoidable. The investigator assigns the critical event to the vehicle that took the action that made the crash inevitable.
  • Critical Reason: the immediate reason for the critical event (i.e., the failure leading to the critical event). The investigator assigns a critical reason to the vehicle with the critical event in the crash. It could be a driver error, vehicle failure, or environmental condition (roadway or weather).
  • Associated Factors: the investigator will check the person, vehicle, and environmental conditions present at the time of the crash. There is no judgment made as to whether any factor is related to the reason for a particular crash, just whether the factor was present. The list of the many factors provides enough information to describe the circumstances of the crash.

The study showed the following results:

Critical event:

  • Leaving the travel lane (off the road or into another lane) 32%
  • Loss of control of the vehicle (driving too fast for conditions, vehicle systems failure, poor road conditions, cargo shift or other) 29%
  • Colliding with a vehicle from the rear in the driving lane 22%

Critical Reason:

  • Driver 87%
    • Non-Performance (heart attack or seizure, physically impaired, asleep) 12%
    • Recognition (inattentive, distracted, failed to observe) 28%
    • Decision (driving too fast for conditions, misjudged other’s speed, followed too closely) 38%
    • Performance (panicked, overcompensated, poor directional control) 9%
  • Vehicle 10%
  • Environment 3%

Associated factors:

  • Brake problems
  • Traffic flow interruption (congestion, previous crash)
  • Prescription drug use
  • Traveling too fast for conditions
  • Unfamiliarity with roadway
  • Roadway problems
  • Required to stop before the crash (traffic control device, crosswalk)
  • Over-the-counter drug use
  • Inadequate surveillance
  • Fatigue

The Trucking Industry is Heavily Regulated

Due to the risk for catastrophic damage caused by trucking accidents, the federal government has enacted many laws that govern the operation and handling of semi-trailer trucks and other large vehicles. Most states have followed suit, some with even stricter requirements. For instance, your Michigan personal injury lawyer could provide you with advice on specific requirements in the state that apply to the trucking industry.

Regulations include the size of the trucks, how many trailers they can pull, the size of the load each can handle, how the load is secured or distributed, maintenance requirements, roads they may travel and bridges they may cross over or under, and very importantly hours of operation, amongst many others.

Hours of Service Regulations dictate how long a truck driver may operate a vehicle before they have to rest, and for how long they have to rest. Many drivers, however, are paid per load and will push longer hours if they can get away with it, creating an ongoing issue with sleep deprivation and drowsiness.

Driving while sleep deprived is more dangerous than driving drunk and operating a vehicle that requires a lot of yards of clear space to come to a standstill can create major issues if alertness and decision making is compromised even for one second.

Drivers are also required to obtain special licenses for driving different sized vehicles and for transporting hazardous materials, explosives, gasses or liquids, with varying criteria for handling different materials.

Also, truck drivers must carry special liability insurances.

Truck Accident Investigation Process

Two federal agencies regulate the trucking industry, namely the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations contains most of the federal trucking regulations. State departments of transportation regulate intra-state commercial trucking. These regulations govern investigations into truck accidents.

During investigating the cause of the accident, there will be investigations into many aspects such as:

  • Trucker’s employer – an instance of negligent retention or hiring
  • Employment records
  • Training records
  • Driver certificates
  • Past citations for speeding and safety violations
  • Maintenance records
  • Licensing
  • Drug and alcohol testing at the time of the accident if injuries
  • Weather and other contributing factors related to unforeseen events
  • Driving time and on-duty hours, maintenance, and retention of logbooks.
  • The validity of permits and required escorts as per state laws.
  • Employer state ratings based on driver citations and issues
  • Employer’s bonds and liability insurance policies
  • Employer’s and drivers’ inspection records.
  • Actions by other drivers or factors contributing to the accident

Liability Issues

Liability for a commercial truck accident could include the truck driver, the driver’s employer, the truck manufacturer, or the company who owns and loaded the cargo if the truck was the cause of the accident.

Other parties claiming liability against you or the truck driver (and associated parties) may include commercial entities, pedestrian, cyclists or property owners, and in some cases even government entities.

What Should You Do After A Truck Accident?

  • Do not ever leave the scene of the accident and set up flares or markers.
  • Ascertain if there are injuries and get medical help immediately.
  • Call the police or state troopers, especially if you suspect that the damage is more than a thousand dollars.
  • Take as many photos of the accident scene as you can, documenting all the damage, also the undamaged sides of the all the vehicles, the identification of the vehicles involved, the weather, road conditions, the identification of the drivers involved, the identification of the police, medical personnel or troopers assisting you.
  • If needed, photograph any injuries.
  • Let your family know that you are safe if you can.
  • Call an experienced truck accident lawyer at our law firm before you talk to anyone about the accident, so they can help you manage legal aspects.
  • Look around for traffic cams or other business cameras and note them, your lawyer can obtain footage afterward of the accident.
  • Call your own insurance company.
  • Get a case number from the officer on duty.
  • Do not post on social media! It may be tempting to get support, but insurance companies can use your posts against you.
  • Follow up with your truck accident personal injury lawyer for additional information or steps required.

When Should You Hire a Truck Accident Personal Injury Lawyer?

Your respective insurance companies can deal with fender-benders and minor accidents where no one was hurt. Unfortunately, when a truck is involved, it is seldom just a fender-bender. Even so, make sure that you photograph everything to protect yourself from future lawsuits from the trucking company claiming additional damage.

After a major accident or one with injuries or fatalities, an experienced truck accident personal injury lawyer can help you collect evidence, protect your interests, and recuperate compensation for damages and medical costs.

They can advocate for you, negotiate with the opposing side’s insurance companies, lawyers, and courts, allowing you to focus on your recovery. It is best to hire a reputable law firm with the requisite experience when:

  • You need to collect evidence about the accident and the preceding events contributing to the accident – this may require requests for information from companies and other drivers, police reports, and insurance accident investigators’ reports. Often these documents will only be released if a court issues an order for the release, and you will need a lawyer to assist with that. They will also know which pieces of evidence required to evaluate fault and to calculate injury or wrongful death claims. You may need to recover data on the ‘black box’ in newer vehicles, driver logs and training records.
  • Multiple parties were involved – there may be more than two driver parties involved in an accident, as well as other parties such as property owners, commercial entities, pedestrians or cyclists. It may lead to multiple lawsuits and court cases. Thus, it is imperative that you retain a lawyer to protect your interest and minimize your liability to the other parties.
  • An insured motorist, driver or company was involved in the accident – financial responsibility laws in several states require all drivers to pay for third party insurance. However, you may still end up with an uninsured driver or vehicle. Your lawyer can give you advice on how to proceed in these cases.
  • The accident caused serious injuries, disabilities, or fatalities – there may be several court cases and counterclaims for personal injury or wrongful death. These cases are complex and require expert handling and advice, and most reputable firms will offer free evaluation consultations and claim a fee only if there is a recovery made.
  • You require ongoing care and are unable to work – your capacity to earn an income may be compromised for life, and you will need an experienced lawyer to calculate the required compensation for missed work opportunity cost and medical claims.
  • You have received a settlement offer or wishes to settle – the majority of cases are settled before going to trial, however, in most cases the initial settlement offer is insultingly low on purpose, to leave room for negotiation. You will be expected to give up certain rights in return for the settlement amount, so you need to be sure that the amount is fair compensation for your losses and future needs. Truck accident personal injury lawyers can negotiate better settlements that what you can do on your own. Don’t be tempted to accept the first offer, as it will save you time and money compared to going to court.
  • Statute of limitations is looming – in most states, a statute of limitations applies before which time a suit must be filed to claim damages. If a lot of time has passed since your accident and you have not been able to recoup your losses or claim compensation, you should consult a lawyer as a matter of priority, to get the documents filed in court. Insurance companies do not always play fair.

If you believe you are a victim, let Cochran, Kroll & Associates, P.C. fight for your rights. There is no obligation for a case evaluation, and we only charge fees if a recovery is made.

The Law Offices of Cochran, Kroll & Associates, P.C. is dedicated to representing individuals and families who have suffered catastrophic losses as a result of injuries, disabilities, and death. The firm does not represent insurance companies or corporations but instead bases its practice upon representing individuals and families.

Ms. Barry is studying Communications at the University of Pennsylvania. She has won multiple awards both for her persuasive and creative writing and has written extensively on the topics of medical malpractice law, personal and birth injury law, product liability law. When she’s not researching and writing about these topics, she edits a literary magazine and tutors students at Penn’s writing center.

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