Accidents involving large commercial trucks, often referred to as a trucking accident, lead to huge injuries and loss of life. The sheer size, weight, and speeds at which these semi-truck accidents occur leads to correspondingly large harm to persons and property. The litigation surrounding them is also larger, more complex, than your car accident case. So, these trucking accident cases involve large corporations, complex contract matters, discovery, insurance companies, and federal and state laws.
The following information provides guidance on what you can expect if you have been a victim of a semi-truck accident. Specifically, it helps you understand the laws and cases in order to best help you understand your options after you were part of such a trucking accident.
Your typical auto accident is the rear-end fender bender. A moment of inattention or tiredness or a heavy foot and suddenly the car behind you or beside you smashes into yours. When those little dangers involve big semi-trucks at highway speeds, the results are often loss of life and grievous injury.
Auto accidents involving commercial trucks and tractor trailers differ from the more common roadway incidents in a number of ways. Commercial trucking companies are subject to federal regulations for safety as well as state rules of the road. Accidents with a large semi-truck and trailer often lead to much more severe injuries and death than the typical rear-ending accident, especially because they often occur at highway speeds. Hence, trucking accidents often involve more complex litigation, due to discovery needs, special insurance held by trucking companies, and the number of parties potentially involved.
Commercial trucks, semi-trucks, and tractor trailers are all required to follow higher standards of safety than other types of vehicles. If they carry goods between states, or restricted goods, or the vehicle requires a commercial driver’s license (CDL) to operate, they are governed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) rules. The FMCSA has requirements above and beyond those created by the state of Arizona.
Fatigue, inadequate maintenance, and overloading are common causes of trucker accidents. The FMCSA requires trucking companies to keep accurate records of hours worked, miles traveled, and rest time. It also requires logs of brake, tire, and engine maintenance. A semi can weigh as much as 25 times the average car. When they are overloaded, accidents may occur with that 40-ton vehicle. The average passenger car, however, weighs only about one and a half tons. Simple physics makes the danger clear.
These laws and any violations thereof may serve as powerful evidence in your case if your trucking accident attorney can show that they are causally linked to the accident that caused your injuries.
Like every state, Arizona has created laws that dictate driver behavior on its roads. These regulations are created to make the roads safe for everyone who uses them. Violation of these laws is not only a crime but may serve as decisive evidence in a negligence claim against the truck driver and his company. Even if your suit is brought in federal court, choice of law will likely favor applying Arizona laws.
Speeding, improper lane changes, failing to signal, and other common traffic laws 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.
Initial investigation of a trailer will include the following:
Once an exhaustive examination of the documentation has been done, a physical exam is also necessary. The following tips will provide insight into the how, what, and why this semi-truck accident occurred.
The answer is yes and you want to do it right away. The trucking company’s risk management team will be on the scene immediately to mitigate any incriminating evidence. You need to make the same strategic steps. In order to evaluate the semi-truck accident properly, check the following steps:
You should conduct the investigation of the semi-truck accident scene in the following manner:
Evidence that needs to be collected from the victim’s vehicle and the other vehicles involved in the accident are as follows:
Looking into the driver and his or her company also will provide plenty of important information:
Now that all of this evidence has been collected, you and your attorney will have a good idea, depending how forthcoming the information available to you is, why and how the accident occurred, who the parties responsible for the accident are, and what injuries you and/or your loved ones have suffered. With information comes action and that next step is a lawsuit.
In order to obtain compensation, you must to show the driver or the company (or both) were negligent in some way and that negligence led to your injuries and damages. Negligence, outlined in greater detail elsewhere, is a cause of action for non-intentional acts that nevertheless result in injuries. The four required elements of a negligence claim that must be proven are:
All motorists have a duty of care to others using the roads, be they bikers, other drivers, or pedestrians. Safety laws, such as traffic laws, can create, explicitly, a specific duty of care. As such, an accident caused by speeding is almost always going to be negligent per se. However, truckers have the heightened duties to obey the FMCSA regulations as well as those actions and precautions a reasonable truck driver would take when driving.
The way to achieve redress for your injuries is to prove the driver, company, or both were negligent. The easiest way to do that is to show that the driver or company violated a law that’s been interpreted as a safety regulation by courts. Most traffic laws fall under this umbrella. Put another way, if the driver that hit you was cited by the police or highway patrol, you have proven negligence.
Otherwise, your trucking accident attorney will seek to show that the driver or company acted negligently by failing to use ordinary care and that that ordinary care led to property and physical injuries to you. The four elements of that claim are duty, breach, causation, and damages. Truck drivers have a duty to drive safely, and their companies have a duty to responsibly maintain their vehicles so as to prevent accidents.
The first step is negligence. Negligence is provable a number of ways that vary from case to case. For example, if the driver fell asleep at the wheel, you may be able to show it by a rest schedule that doesn’t conform to the FMCSA requirements. The inspection of the vehicles may turn up negligently maintained engines or brakes. This element is the reason so much investigation, research, and discovery is required at the outset of your case. By proving this, you prove that both the commercial trucking driver and the company are at fault.
Once one or more breaches of duty have been found, your trucking accident attorney must argue before the jury that the breach was the cause of the accident. This is fairly easy in some cases and difficult in others. The causal link between a failure to maintain a proper rest schedule for drivers and a driver falling asleep at the wheel and causing an accident is clear. Whether slightly over-worn brake pads caused an accident may be more difficult to show. The final element, damages, is sadly generally fairly easy to show once the others have been established. The jury will consider the hospital bills, property costs, and pain and suffering.
To succeed at the above, your trucking accident attorney will need to perform a number of inquiries. The lifeblood of any legal case is information, and that holds especially true in the aftermath of a commercial trucking incident.
You should expect your attorney to move quickly to secure the accident report from police, hire investigators and accident reconstructionists, and obtain any public information regarding the accident as well as witness statements. So too will the attorneys and insurance claim specialists be moving to secure any and all available information. You will be asked about the incident exhaustively, and the vehicle involved in the accident will be kept and examined.
Your attorney will investigate, and hire investigators, to review:
These investigations include photographing accident scenes and vehicles for reconstruction, vehicle history reports, depositions (essentially recorded legal interviews for evidence), background research on the carrier and driver, the make, model, and mileage of the truck, etc. While all of this can be time consuming, onerous, and costly, these are necessary steps to prevail in your case.
During your case, you can expect to find and discover further helpful information to your case. What makes a semi-truck accident case unique is the qualification of the drivers and their motor carrier employers. The following are the factual situations that you want to review and consider in your case.
Hours of service in case of a motor carrier driver is important owing to the following reasons:
As a result, you can explore both sleep and fatigue in your semi-truck accident case.
Electronic control modules in semi-truck accident cases can provide important information as follows:
Electronic Data Recorder (EDR) can be useful in a various way in a semi-truck accident:
Hence, this list gives you and idea of how much information is available in order to prove your case.
Our federal government has been very proactive in increasing the regulation of over-the-road and long-haul trucking because of its high-degree hazards, such as a semi-truck accident. As a result, the number of imminent hazard orders that put the carriers out of service has doubled, and motor coach companies are increasingly scrutinized.
A negligent hiring/negligent selection in a semi-truck accident can be useful to establish negligence of the trucking company and expand liability to brokers. However, finding broker liability is a tough proposition and can become very important when there is no or inadequate insurance.
For depositions of critical personnel, consider the following:
The predominant defenses to recovery for victims in semi-truck accident cases involve questions of liability by companies and insurers. The legal theory of respondeat superior holds employers liable for the wrongful acts of their employees. Companies will only be responsible for the conduct of their drivers when the driver qualifies as an employee or agent. Trucking companies often attempt to argue their drivers are merely independent contractors, and thus are the only party liable for their negligence.
Whether a driver qualifies as an employee or independent contractor is a matter of contract and actual control. Even if the driver’s contract says that he is an independent contractor, if the employer exercises enough control over him, it is liable under the respondeat superior doctrine. If the employer controls the way to complete the work, then it will be liable. However, if the company merely controls the result, but not the methods used to accomplish it, the independent contractor relationship will likely hold. For example, if the trucker uses and owns his own vehicle, supplies his own gas and insurance, and takes on the cost of repairs, has no tax withheld, and receives no benefits, he is likely an independent contractor.
If the employer confirms the relationship, the second step in the respondeat superior analysis is whether the driver was acting within the scope of that employment. Factors in determining scope of employment are dependent on the facts of each specific incident. Generally speaking, the nature, time, and place of the driver’s conduct that led to the injury are relevant. If he was engaging in an activity for which he got employment or was reasonably incidental to that work, he was busy within the scope of his employment duties.
The FMCSA mandates the insurance policies that cover commercial trucks, and these policies are for much larger amounts than typical auto insurance. For these reasons, the trucking company’s insurance agency may be one of the staunchest opponents against your claim. Under the Motor Carrier Act of 1980, insurers of trucking agencies may offer an endorsement called an MCS-90 that acts as proof of financial liability.
“An MCS-90 endorsement to an automotive insurance policy obligates an insurer to cover an insured’s negligence involving vehicles subject to the financial responsibility requirements of … the Motor Carrier Act. The Motor Carrier Act, in turn, creates minimum levels of financial responsibility for the transportation of property by motor carrier … within the United States. Canal Ins. Co. v. Coleman, 625 F.3d 244.
This broad language means that, in most cases, the insurer will be liable. However, courts have held that some exceptions apply. For instance, the truck is present in the United States; (Canal Indem. Co. v. Galindo, 344 Fed.Appx. 909); it must have been transporting property (Canal Ins. Co. v. Coleman, 625 F.3d 244; Brunson ex rel. Brunson v. Canal Ins. Co., 602 F.Supp.2d 711); and the truck must have been a for-hire vehicle (Canal Ins. Co. v. YMV Transport, Inc., 867 F.Supp.2d 1099).
Whether the trucking company’s insurance represents a viable defendant will base on the facts of your accident. As a general rule, however, trucking company insurers will usually be required to pay for the negligence of drivers.
Most of all, the commercial trucking industry is a multibillion-dollar industry. If you are involved in a trucking accident that was the reason of serious injuries, the trucking company will get a notification, and they are taking action from the moment that accident occurs. Here is a list of steps they will have taken shortly after the accident occurred.
The key onsite defense tasks are as follows:
Experts in the areas of biomechanics/human factors, conspicuity, metallurgy (underride cases), and policies and procedures on hiring, training, disciplining, and general safety practices will obtain from the trucking company:
The trucking industry is well aware that their commercial drivers work in a very stressful occupation that is highly monitored by FMCSA, Qualcomm, GPS, ECM, video camera, background checks, medical and drug tests, to name a few. Bus drivers have to constantly maneuver past obstacles such as pedestrians, bicycles, and vehicles while trying to safely transport their customers. OTR truck drivers have to cope with spending a long time away from their family together with pressure to deliver loads on time while being aware of the fact that such delivery is very safe. However, they will take every step to defend their actions and reputation in any suit brought against them. Preparation is key for your case.
Trucking accident court cases can be long, complex, confusing affairs that are mentally and physically draining both for the victim, defendant, and even the semi-truck accident lawyer. The case may revolve on complicated facts regarding the regulation of certain parts, weights, sleep schedules, or insurance contracts. Navigating such a case can be difficult at best. And a better understanding of the process involved will hopefully assist you in evaluating your claim and asking the right questions of your semi-truck accident lawyer.