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.
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:
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 truck accident claims.
As with any kind of vehicle accident, the following can cause a semi-truck accident:
Truck accidents can also happen when a poorly-packed load shifts in a turn, causing the truck to tip over.
When accidents involve semi-trucks, many parties may be responsible.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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:
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.
The critical items to look for after a trucking accident include:
You and your attorney should investigate the driver as well. Gather the following information, if possible:
The key question as you investigate the driver is:
Checking the truck driver’s hours of service is essential to your case for the following reasons:
If the driver did not receive the required rest, you have a strong case against the driver and his company.
You and your attorney need to gather the following information on the tractor:
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?
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.
Looking into the driver’s company also will provide plenty of important information:
Check whether this company followed negligent hiring practices or failed to ensure its drivers get plenty of rest.
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.
Your attorney will conduct depositions of critical personnel, including:
The Driver Deposition:
The Safety Director Deposition:
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.
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 modules in semi-truck accident cases can provide important information:
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.
An Electronic Data Recorder (EDR) can be useful for reconstructing the semi-truck accident. It also uses a GPS tracking device.
All this information is available for you and your attorney to prove your case.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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 attorneys at the Thompson Law Firm 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.