A collision with a commercial vehicle, like a landscaping truck, a moving truck, a dump truck, or an 18-wheeler, is nothing you would wish for yourself or a loved one. Unfortunately, given the distinct disadvantage your daily driver is at in being involved in such a collision, the bodily injuries tend to be some of the worst we see. Therefore, it’s important to seek legal guidance for your truck accident claim.
Cars vs. Trucks: A Vehicle Mismatch
A loaded commercial truck can weigh more than 25 times as much as a typical car. Semi-truck accidents often lead to twice as many severe injuries and deaths as car-on-car accidents. For this simple reason, litigation over a truck accident claim tends to be much more complicated. A trucking accident claim involves:
- Discovery needs
- Special insurance held by trucking companies
- The number of parties involved
Semi-trucks are also much higher off the ground than cars. In minor fender benders, bumpers protect each vehicle from more serious damage. But the bumper of a truck will hit a car far above the car’s bumper, in an area that isn’t reinforced, causing more serious injuries to the driver and/or passengers.
For these reasons, the driving laws in Arizona are stricter for drivers of commercial vehicles. It is imperative that they follow all rules of the road to reduce the potential for accidents.
Causes of Truck Accidents
As with any kind of vehicle accident, the following can cause a semi-truck accident:
- Recklessness or speeding
- Distracted driving, including texting while driving
- Driver fatigue
- Mechanical problems
- Dangerous road conditions
Truck accidents can also happen when a poorly-packed load shifts in a turn, causing the truck to tip over.
Who Is Liable for a Semi-truck Accident?
When accidents involve semi-trucks, many parties may be responsible.
- The driver: Was the driver speeding or following too closely? Was the driver texting or talking on the phone while driving? Did the driver take the required breaks?
- The trucking company: If the driver is an employee of a trucking company, the company can be held liable for the driver’s negligent actions. Many trucking companies hire drivers as independent contractors rather than employees, specifically to avoid this liability.
- The owner of the tractor or trailer: Truckers and trucking companies may not actually own the trucks they operate. They may lease them from third-party companies.
- The manufacturer of the semi-truck, tractor trailer, or their components: If a crash happened because of some defect in the truck or trailer, the manufacturer may be liable.
- The company that serviced the truck: If the accident happened because the truck was improperly maintained or repaired, the service company may be liable.
- The shipping or loading company: If the cargo was improperly loaded, or if the cargo was hazardous and the driver was not warned to take special precautions, the shipping or loading company may be liable.
Due to the additional rules that apply to commercial vehicles, truck drivers are typically more cautious than other motorists. However, it is your responsibility to prove that the truck driver was negligent. This can be difficult to prove. In most cases, this requires a very fact-specific inquiry and sometimes litigation. In fact, multiple parties may share liability. A lawsuit against a truck driver will also be against his company, contractor, and insurance company. Involving all parties in the suit will ensure you recover all damages.
The Terrifying Truth about Truckers’ Safety Regulations
We all know trucks are bigger than we are and can’t stop quickly. So most of us give truckers plenty of space and get out of the way if they’re bearing down on us. However, many accidents on I-10 and I-17 involve big trucks.
Who’s Watching the Truck Drivers?
Federal law says that truck drivers have to get a certain amount of rest before they drive. Specifically, they’re not allowed to drive more than 11 hours per day. They must have 10 consecutive hours off before they can drive (no back-to-back shifts). They also need to take a 30-minute break when they’re on the road.
These laws intend to prevent truckers from falling asleep behind the wheel or “zoning out.” Truck driver fatigue puts other motorists—including you and me—at serious risk.
Trucking companies are responsible for tracking the number of hours their drivers spend behind the wheel. Unfortunately, some do break the law or falsify their records.
Profits vs Maintenance
For most companies, the biggest concern is money. They want to spend less and make more. However, when a company puts profits over safety, accidents happen. One case involved a Mexican tour bus in California that killed eight people due to brake failure. The company had already been cited several times for blatant safety violations. But they continued to operate, putting everyone on the road at risk.
While maintenance is expensive, we cannot put a price tag on safety. Some trucking companies genuinely don’t care. While there are good companies with stellar safety records, all it takes is one mistake to cost someone dearly.
Chameleon Trucking Companies Get Away with Murder
A chameleon trucking company is one that has a horrible safety record but shuts down and reopens as a new business entity before they’re caught. Like a chameleon, they change their outward appearance to survive.
While we have laws penalizing companies that don’t obey safety guidelines, “chameleon” companies avoid these penalties by flying under the radar.
The Government Accountability Office estimated at least 1,100 chameleon trucking companies operating in 2012. 18% of these were involved in severe accidents resulting in unnecessary deaths.
Commercial Vehicle Accident Laws
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration
Commercial trucks, tractor trailers, and semi-trucks are all required to follow higher standards of safety than other types of vehicles. Because they carry goods between states, a commercial driver’s license is required to operate these vehicles. They are governed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) rules, which has additional requirements beyond Arizona state laws.
Record Keeping of Truck Drivers and Maintenance
Fatigue, inadequate maintenance, and overloading are common causes of truck accidents. The FMCSA requires trucking companies to keep accurate records of hours worked, miles traveled, and rest time. They also require thorough maintenance records of brakes, tires, and engines.
Violations of these laws may serve as powerful evidence in your case.
Gathering Information on Your Truck Accident Claim
Violations of Arizona traffic laws intended to keep us all safe on the road are not only a crime but may serve as decisive evidence in a negligence claim against the truck driver and his company.
Speeding, improper lane changes, failing to signal, and other common traffic violations apply to truckers just as they do to you and every other driver. When they break these rules, they can serve as strong evidence of negligence.
You should expect your attorney to quickly secure the police report, hire investigators and accident reconstructionists, and obtain witness statements and any public information about the accident.
The attorneys and insurance claim specialists will secure all available information. You will be asked about the accident exhaustively. The vehicle involved in the accident will be thoroughly examined.
Your attorney will hire investigators to:
- Take photos of the scene of the accident for reconstruction.
- Get vehicle history reports.
- Record legal interviews for evidence (depositions).
- Do background research on the driver, his trucking company, and its insurers.
- Review the make, model, and mileage of the truck.
While all this can be time consuming, onerous, and costly, these are necessary steps to help you prevail in your case. What makes a semi-truck accident case unique is the qualification of the drivers and their motor carrier employers.
Overview of the Accident Scene
The critical items to look for after a trucking accident include:
- Witnesses statements, photos, and footage wherever possible.
- Trucking company information including incorporation date and annual reports.
- Background into the driver, their motor carrier’s background, and driving records.
- Police report, citation status, and outcome.
- Maps of the area with aerial photographs and Google Earth images.
- News of the accident, such as newspaper articles and broadcasts covering the accident.
Investigate the Driver
You and your attorney should investigate the driver as well. Gather the following information, if possible:
- Home address of the driver and his route.
- Driving records of the driver from all states where he is licensed.
- A background check on the driver.
- Every truck driver is required to undergo DOT medical examination.
- Reasons for lack of physical qualification to drive. You can get the required physical qualifications from the FMCSA.
- Examination results at the scene of the accident of the driver must be recorded.
- Fatigue-related issues, eyesight, and blood pressure of the driver should be looked into.
- Medication used by truck driver should be checked; some medicines cause drowsiness.
The key question as you investigate the driver is:
Did fatigue play a role in your semi-truck accident?
Checking the truck driver’s hours of service is essential to your case for the following reasons:
- A frequent cause of accidents is fatigue.
- Federal requirements for rest have been revised as of 2013.
- Drivers cannot drive more than eight consecutive hours after a break of 30 minutes or more.
- Any seven- to eight-day limit is reset after 34 hours off.
- Provisions of a reset require two periods from 1 am to 5 am.
- Fatigue is a unique way to check the symptoms of alcohol consumption.
If the driver did not receive the required rest, you have a strong case against the driver and his company.
Get Information on the Commercial Vehicle
You and your attorney need to gather the following information on the tractor:
- Make, model, and year of manufacture
- Engine size and type
- Gross weight at the time of the accident
- Weight, height, and length
- Braking system
- Tire size
- Axle location
- Wheelbase and the axle/differential ratios
- Transmission specifications
- Recording devices and automated log systems: ECM, EDR, GPS, etc…
- Any customizations made to the vehicle
The key question becomes whether this commercial vehicle was “fit” to drive. Or was it an imminent hazard? Were there out-of-service orders on this vehicle?
Was the semi-truck road worthy?
Our federal government has increased regulations of over-the-road and long-haul trucking. As a result, the number of imminent hazard orders putting carriers out of service has doubled. Trucking companies are also under increased scrutiny.
Investigate the Trucking Company
Looking into the driver’s company also will provide plenty of important information:
- Determine whether the vehicle is a licensed and legal truck carrier or not.
- Determination whether it is a common, contract, private, or exempt carrier.
- Get information on the geographic areas of operation and weight of the vehicle.
- Find out whether vehicle FMCS regulations along with state regulations apply.
Check whether this company followed negligent hiring practices or failed to ensure its drivers get plenty of rest.
Bad Driver, Bad Employer
A negligent hiring or broker liability in a semi-truck accident can be useful to establish negligence of the trucking company. Finding broker liability is a tough proposition, but it becomes very important when there is little or no insurance.
Depositions of Critical Personnel in a Truck Accident
Your attorney will conduct depositions of critical personnel, including:
The Driver Deposition:
- Understanding the psychology of truckers.
- High turnover.
- Tension between company and drivers, especially former drivers.
- Health issues including sleeping disorders.
- Substance abuse, citation history, and arrest history.
The Safety Director Deposition:
- Hiring and qualification of drivers.
- Criminal history of each driver.
- Safety policies, budget, and training.
- Knowledge of applicable regulations, maintenance, and repair.
- Company’s understanding of how accident occurred.
- Document retention and record keeping.
Look for strong indicators of negligence, as well as previous and current violations of state and federal laws. You also need evidence showing that FMCSA rules were broken leading up to your accident.
Reconstructing the Accident with Automated Log Systems
Many newer vehicles, including commercial trucks and semis, have been fitted with automated log systems. Experts can use this data to reconstruct an accident. These devices have high credibility in court, so they can be used to support your case.
Electronic Control Module: What Role Does It Play in Your Case?
Electronic control modules in semi-truck accident cases can provide important information:
- All files are available for experts to download and interpret data.
- Speed of the vehicle prior to braking, at impact, and change in velocity.
- Data for fastest speed, time at maximum speed, the number of hard braking incidents, and even clutch depression.
- GPS data showing where the driver has been and how fast he was driving.
This can help determine whether the trucking company tampered with evidence before a legal proceeding. If this is the case, your attorney will prepare the Spoliation argument.
ECM devices are not the only device that can support your case.
Finding the Black Box: Electronic Data Recorder
An Electronic Data Recorder (EDR) can be useful for reconstructing the semi-truck accident. It also uses a GPS tracking device.
- Records vehicle data including speed, braking, seat belt usage, airbag deployment, and change in velocity.
- Having an EDR is a must for all new passenger vehicles.
- Spoliation letter should maintain a request for specific data.
- EDR is also useful in checking hours of service and speed.
- Even your vehicle can have a similar EDR device with useful data.
- Black box data tends to be accurate and has high credibility to it.
All this information is available for you and your attorney to prove your case.
Preparing Your Truck Accident Claim for Trial
Once you and your attorney collect all of the above information, you are ready to prepare your case. At this point, you and your attorney have a better understanding how the accident happened and which parties are responsible.
The next step is to bring a lawsuit against the truck driver and/or his company.
To get compensated, you must show the driver or the company (or both) were negligent in some way. You also need to show that this negligence led to your injuries and damages. A negligence claim requires four elements that must be proven:
- Duty of care.
- Breach of that duty.
- Causation of the incident.
- Damages resulting from the incident.
All motorists have a duty of care to others—including bikers, other drivers, or pedestrians. Safety laws, including traffic laws, can explicitly create a specific duty of care.
An accident caused by speeding is almost always going to be negligent per se. However, truckers have heightened duties to obey the FMCSA regulations as well as take extra precautions when driving.
Proving Your Truck Accident Lawsuit
The easiest way to achieve redress for your injuries is to show that the driver or company violated a safety regulation. Most traffic laws fall under this umbrella. Put another way, if the driver that hit you was cited by the police, you have proof of negligence. Otherwise, you can seek to show the driver or company acted negligently by failing to use ordinary care, causing your accident.
In short, you need to prove the truck driver breached his duty of care. You also need to prove that this breach caused the accident, which resulted in damages to you.
Finding Breach of Duty
If the driver fell asleep at the wheel, you can prove it with a rest schedule that did not conform to FMCSA requirements.
An inspection of the vehicles may show lack of maintenance on engines or brakes. This will also help you prove a breach of duty of care. Finding breach of duty by either the driver or the company is vital to your case. This is why so much investigation, research, and discovery is required from day one.
Linking Breach of Duty to the Cause of the Accident
Once you prove breach of duty, your attorney must argue in court that this breach caused the accident. The causal link between failure to maintain a proper rest schedule for drivers and a driver falling asleep at the wheel and causing an accident is clear. However, it may be more difficult to argue that slightly worn brake pads caused the accident.
Damages from the Accident
The final element is damages. Generally, it is fairly easy to establish your damages once the cause of the accident has been determined. The jury will consider hospital bills, property damage, and how pain and suffering affected your life.
To prove your case, your trucking accident attorney will need to perform several inquiries. The lifeblood of any legal case is information, especially in the aftermath of a commercial trucking incident.
What Steps Will the Defense Take?
Commercial trucking is a multibillion-dollar industry. Anytime a trucking accident occurs, the trucking company will get a notification. They will take immediate action.
Their 24/7 transportation defense teams will respond within minutes or hours of the accident. This enables their defense counsel to access the accident site while the investigating officers are still present at the accident site and before the vehicle is removed. Independent adjusters and experts, on call 24/7, are also on their team.
They will take the following actions:
- They will contact their investigators and instruct them to interview and gather information from witnesses at the scene. The investigators will also obtain a copy of police reports.
- They will have an accident reconstructionist take photographs and measurements before removing vehicles,and before road markings and debris disappear.
- All evidence with the truck driver will be secured: driver’s logbook, camera, cell phone, and snack receipts on or within the commercial vehicle.
- They will test their driver for drugs and alcohol within an appropriate time frame.
The trucking industry is well aware that their commercial drivers have very stressful jobs and are closely monitored by the FMCSA, video cameras, GPS and ECM devices, background checks, and drug tests, to name a few. Drivers have to constantly maneuver past obstacles such as pedestrians, bicycles, and vehicles while safely transporting their cargo.
Truck drivers also have to cope with spending lots of time away from their family, under pressure to deliver cargo safely and on time. However, their companies will take every step to defend themselves and their reputation in any suit brought against them.
Preparation is key for your case.
Next Steps for Your Trucking Accident Case
Trucking accident court cases can be long, complex, confusing affairs that are mentally and physically draining for the victim, defendant, and even your lawyer.
The case may revolve on complicated facts involving a mixture of state laws and FMCSA regulations of vehicle parts and maintenance, load weights, sleep schedules ,or insurance contracts.
Navigating such a case can be difficult at best. But a better understanding of the process will hopefully assist you in evaluating your claim and asking the right questions to your semi-truck accident attorney.
It is important to protect your rights. The professionals at the Thompson Law Firm, LLC are ready to answer any questions you may have. They will guide you through the legal process so you can focus on getting your life back on track.