September 7, 2019

How Michigan Laws Related to Truck Carriers, Affect Accident Claims

Commercial vehicle accident law can be enormously complex and time-sensitive due to the variety of laws and regulations that apply to truck carriers. If you have been involved in an accident involving a truck call a personal injury lawyer at Cochran, Kroll & Associates, P.C. as soon as possible to guide you through which laws apply and what your next steps should be. They are very experienced truck accident lawyers, who can advise you and ensure you get the support you deserve.

Truck Accidents

The first thing a driver of a truck that has been involved in an accident will do is call their carrier, who often have a legal team on board, that will consult with their insurance carrier. They may come back to you very swiftly with a low-ball offer of compensation, and you need to check this with your personal injury lawyer at our law firm before responding to or accepting anything. The crash reconstruction inspector will consider many factors before deciding on what the critical event, critical reason, and associated factors are that lead to the crash and the outcome.

Regulations in The Trucking Industry

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) are the two federal agencies regulating the trucking industry. Most of the federal trucking regulations are contained in Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations.

State departments of transportation regulate intra-state commercial trucking, and their regulations govern all investigations into truck accidents.

Regulations in the trucking industry include not only the size of the trucks and the size of the load each can handle but also how the load is secured or distributed and how many trailers they can pull. In addition, there are regulations, roads they may travel and bridges they may cross over or under, truck maintenance requirements, and very importantly hours of operation, amongst many others.

Hours of Service Regulations are set by FMCSA and dictate the number of hours a truck driver may operate a vehicle before they have to rest, and for how long they have to rest. Each state will have local rules too that apply to intrastate travel.

Many drivers, however, will push for longer hours as they are paid per load and not for off-duty time. This creates an enormous risk for everyone on the road as they will become sleep-deprived, and drowsy driving is more dangerous than driving drunk. Driving a vehicle that requires a lot of yards of clear space to come to a standstill, due to its sheer size, weight, and velocity can create major accidents if alertness and decision making is compromised even for one second.

Special licensing is required for driving different sized vehicles, transporting hazardous materials, explosives, gasses or liquids, with varying regulations for each material.

Trucking operations and drivers must carry special liability insurances.

Michigan Truck Accident Statistics

Trucks weighing over 10,000 pounds only account for 2.4% of accidents in Michigan; sadly, these accidents account for 8% of the fatalities.

The Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning reports that there were 12,486 accidents involving a CDL truck or bus in the State of Michigan in 2017.

Most common causes of accidents are topped by fatigued or tired truck drivers who have driven more hours than they are allowed to without rest. This is followed by alcohol or drug use while driving, failing to yield the right of way, improper loading of the truck, and lack of training for the truck driver.

Using unsafe safety systems (lights, reflectors, mirrors, and warning devices), running off the road, improperly maintained truck tires, oversized trucks, and poor driving conditions make up the last of the most common causes.

Michigan Laws and Regulations

In addition to all the federal laws and regulations, several Michigan laws and regulations apply in trucking accidents as well. These include:

  • Statute of limitations – which is a time limit imposed on when you can file a claim if it is applicable. It does not apply to insurance claims, where you are expected to report the possibility of a claim within a matter of days. This is set at three years in the Michigan Compiled Laws section 600.5805.
  • The clock starts ticking on the day of the accident, except if there is a fatality, then it starts on the date of the death. It is important to keep this time limit in mind if you want to sue as it helps with settlement of claims, thus if an insurance claim payment is dragging out, get some help urgently.
  • No-fault law – Michigan is a no-fault state, which means that you need to first get your compensation from your no-fault insurance carrier, regardless of whom was at fault. Suing the at-fault driver for higher compensation is dependent on several factors, and your personal injury attorney at our law firm can assist you with these determinations.
  • Comparative negligence – in Michigan the amount of damages that you can recover from a case against the at-fault driver is dependent on the percentage of blame that you carry for the accident. Michigan Compiled Laws Section 600.2959 states that if your fault is calculated at higher than 50% you may not recover any non-economic damages such as pain and suffering, and only the percentage of economic damages from the other driver. If there are multiple parties involved this becomes very complex calculations.

Investigating the Accident

The inspector will first evaluate potential contributory causes related to what happened before the accident, such as weather conditions, highway conditions, signaling, the driver’s training, and experience and the vehicle’s design and manufacture.

He will also look at circumstances that contributed directly before the accident, such as fatigue, drinking, speeding, dangerous driving, changing lanes, the decision to turn or tire blowouts.

Additional factors that will be investigated thoroughly can include:

  • Weather and other contributing factors or unforeseen circumstances
  • Driver’s logbook – on-duty hours and driving times, retention of logbooks, and maintenance records while on the road.
  • The carrier will have to provide employment and training records, as well as proof that employment records were checked. They can be held liable for negligent retention or hiring. Driver certificates and past citations for speeding and safety violations for both the driver and the company will be investigated.
  • Carrier maintenance records, drug, and alcohol testing records will be checked, as well as their state rating based on driver citations, bond and liability insurance, whether they have the required permits and required escorts per state laws and the employer and driver inspection records.
  • Actions by other drivers and other factors contributing to the accident.

In determining causation, the investigator will assign the action or event that made the collision unavoidable (critical event) to the vehicle that took that action, as well as the critical reason which may be an environmental factor, a driver error or vehicle failure. The inspector will note the associated factors without any judgment as to contribution, to describe the accident properly.

Who May Be Held Liable?

Liability for a commercial truck accident could include the truck driver, the driver’s employer (carrier), the truck owner, the leasing company or the owner of the leasing company, the owner of the trailer, the truck manufacturer or any accessories used, or the company who owns and loaded the cargo if the truck was the cause of the accident.

Other parties may claim liability against the truck driver and associated parties, and yourself and they could include pedestrians, cyclists, commercial entities or property owners, and in some cases even government entities.

Your Truck Accident Lawyer Can Help with The Following:

  • Search for, collect and review any available camera footage from the scene
  • Take witness interviews
  • Examine police reports and any other accident reports
  • Review and analyze all medical records related to the accident and interview medical staff
  • Review all aspects of the driver and company records, such as driving logs, driving history, criminal records, maintenance, ownership, and look for possible violations of driving regulations.
  • Search for possible manufacturing defects
  • Hire experts to reconstruct the accident scene and consult on issues

Typical Cases Brought After Truck Accidents

  • Negligence – is the most common suit brought in Michigan (apart from medical expenses) for driver negligence, where you will have to prove a duty of care, that his negligent behavior constituted a breach of care as well as the harm caused by this breach with damages.

The negligence may relate to drowsy driving, not obeying traffic laws, inexperience, failure to stop at weigh stations, missing a car in a blind spot, overloaded or overweight trucks, and taking narrow roads.

  • Wrongful Death – with the relatively high rate of fatalities compared to the percentage of truck accidents, relatives can file a wrongful death suit but have to prove the same facts that the victims would have had to prove.
  • Product Liability – if you can prove that the truck or a component was defective when used as intended and caused the accident.

Hire a Truck Accident Personal Injury Lawyer

If you have been involved in a major accident with injuries or fatalities, an experienced truck accident personal injury lawyer at our law firm can help you to collect and sort through the evidence, protect your interests, and get compensation for damages and medical costs.

A reputable law firm with the right experience can negotiate with insurance companies, lawyers, and courts and can advocate for you. Hire a lawyer when there are:

  • Multiple parties involved – which can lead to multiple lawsuits requiring the services of a lawyer to protect your interests. Property owners, commercial entities, pedestrians, cyclists, or other drivers can all sue individually based on fault assignment; thus, negotiations become extremely important.
  • Serious injuries, damages, disabilities, or fatalities – these cases can become extremely complex especially if more than one party is involved. It can lead to many lawsuits and counterclaims which will require the assistance of an experienced trucking accident lawyer at our law firm.
  • Uninsured driver, vehicle or company involved in the accident – Michigan financial responsibility laws require the payment of third-party insurance, like most states do, however, you may still end up with an uninsured party involved in the accident.
  • Unable to work and support yourself – if you are unable to earn an income for a period of time, or the rest of your life, and anticipate ongoing medical bills, the calculations for economic damages will be complex as they need to calculate past and future medical bills and lost opportunities which are governed by state laws. You need to find an experienced lawyer to assist with these calculations. Besides, you may be due non-economic damages too.
  • You need evidence – that often requires court orders for release. You may also need to recover the ‘black box,’ training records, and driver logs. Your lawyer can advise on the types of evidence required and how to obtain it, to calculate fault, damages and deal with wrongful death suits.
  • Statute of limitations deadline is close – insurance companies will not always be fair, and you may run out of time to get documents filed in court in time. If the clock is ticking, it is imperative that you retain the services of a lawyer as soon as possible to minimize your risk.
  • A settlement was offered, or you wish to settle – the vast majority of cases are settled before going to trial. However, as part of negotiation tactics, initial offers are purposely set at ridiculously and insultingly low levels. In all settlements, you will be expected to give up certain rights and the ability to claim at a later stage, so it is imperative that your calculations consider any future needs and is fair compensation for your losses. An experienced truck accident lawyer no doubt can negotiate a better settlement than the typical low first offer, or what you could negotiate on your own. Accident victims are often afraid that if they do not take the first offer it may be withdrawn and fear the drawn-out nature of going to court and will be sorely tempted to accept that first offer – but patience and the help of your lawyer can protect your interests.

If you live in Michigan, and you have suffered injury or loss in a trucking accident, call our law firm at 1-866-MICH LAW (1-866-642- 4529) for a free consultation. Our law firm dedicates its time and resources to fighting for individuals or families. We do not represent insurance companies or corporations, and we do not charge a fee unless we win your case.

Nikole has a special interest in medico-legal issues and holds post-basic degrees in medical law and business. She has developed quality improvement and safety plans for many practices and facilities to prevent medico-legal issues and teaches several courses on data protection and privacy, legal, medical examinations and documentation, and professional ethics. She has been writing professionally on legal, business, ethics, patient advocacy, research and medico-legal issues in articles, white papers, business plans, and training courses for over thirty-five years.

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