Fatalities in truck-related crashes increased by 17 percent between 2009 and 2013, according to the New York Times. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) states that in 2012, a total of 3,802 large trucks were involved in fatal crashes, a five-percent increase from 2011. The number of large trucks involved in crashes where someone was injured also increased by 22 percent, from 63,000 to 77,000.
As more communities struggle to deal with the increasing number of trucks on the road due to, for example, the natural gas industry, catastrophic trucking accidents remain a serious concern. The sheer weight of a large truck makes an accident particularly dangerous to smaller passenger cars and trucks, and the resulting injuries can be life-changing.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety states that most deaths in large truck crashes are occupants of the passenger vehicles involved in the crashes. In 2014, out of 3,660 deaths, 16 percent were truck occupants—68 percent were occupants of cars and other passenger vehicles, and 15 percent were pedestrians, bicyclists, or motorcyclists.
Though there are times when accidents are difficult to avoid, often they are caused by someone else’s negligence. There are many factors necessary to safely operate a large truck, and there are simply too many ways that something can go wrong.
Truck Accident Laws
A vehicle weighing more than 10,000 pounds must follow certain laws set forth by the U. S. Department of Transportation. Regulators have placed a limit on driving time, allowing a period of 14 consecutive hours in which to drive up to 11 hours after being off duty for 10 or more consecutive hours. Once the driver reaches the14-hour limit, they are not supposed to drive again until they have been off duty for 10 consecutive hours.
The FMCSA states the following as an example: If a driver arrives at to work at 6:00 a.m., he must not drive after 8:00 p.m., which is 14 hours later. During those 14 hours, the driver is allowed to drive for up to 11 of the consecutive total 14 hours. Whatever driving is done or not done, after the 14 hours of work, the driver must take 10 hours off.
Trucking companies are known, however, to force drivers to exceed these driving limits. Drivers, as well, may fudge on the limits to get as much work done as possible. Unfortunately, this can create a driving safety hazard on the roads, as truck drivers may suffer from driving-related fatigue.
Truck Driving Fatigue
According to the U. S. Department of Transportation (DOT), a segment of the trucking industry operates beyond the maximum hours allowed, and adds shifts for drivers that take them beyond the driving limits. Long work hours, without sufficient recovery time, leads to tired drivers who have slower reaction times and a reduced ability to assess situations. The DOT also revealed that drivers are often unable to assess their own fatigue levels accurately, and they fail to notice when fatigue is affecting their ability to drive safely.
A 2014 study by the FMCSA revealed that driver fatigue and hours of service remained a critical issue to large truck safety, and that 13 percent of commercial motor vehicle drivers were considered to have been fatigued at the time of their crash.
In an investigation after an accident, it may be determined that fatigue was a factor. Going over the truck driver’s logs is always a first step, after which investigators may look into trip tickets or other paperwork associated with each delivery on the driver’s schedule prior to the accident. Time stamps correlating with pickup and delivery may reveal how long a driver was really on the road.
Fatigue isn’t the only factor that can lead to a large truck accident, however.
Types of Large Truck Accidents
The FMCSA noted in their study that of all truck accidents caused by driver error, 44 percent involved truckers taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, and 23 percent involved drivers who were speeding. Other types of driver negligence may include:
- Distraction: The driver was talking or texting on his cell phone, updating social media sites, browsing the Internet, watching videos, eating, or otherwise distracted at the time of the accident.
- Drugs and alcohol: The driver may have indulged in illegal drugs or alcohol that affected his or her judgment.
- Inexperienced: The driver may have been young and/or inexperienced, and lacked the appropriate training for the job/load/route he was engaged in.
- Aggressive: The driver was driving recklessly or aggressively.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) stated in their traffic safety facts report that nearly 18 percent of all large-truck drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2012 had at least one prior speeding conviction.
Who May be Liable in a Large Truck Accident?
Though the driver may have been negligent in causing an accident, it is often the case that there were other factors may have contributed as well, and other parties that may share in liability. Examples include:
- Mechanical problems: If the truck had mechanical problems, such a malfunctioning brakes, other parties may be liable. A transportation company that fails to keep up with maintenance schedules would be an example.
- Defective brakes, tires, etc.: Should it be discovered that there was a design flaw in the vehicle itself, the manufacturer may be held liable.
- Improper loading: If the cargo wasn’t loaded properly, causing uneven forces or other issues with the trailer, the company responsible may be held liable.
- Transportation company errors: The company that hired the driver can be held liable for an accident in many situations. They may have set unreasonable deadlines requiring the driver to be on the road longer than allowed by federal regulations. They may have failed to keep up with inspections, or to do an adequate background check on the driver. It could be that they didn’t offer appropriate safety training, or to make sure drivers kept appropriate logs.
- Problematic road conditions: A construction company who failed to adequately warn about route changes, road hazards, and other issues could be held liable if it is found that the accident was due to unforeseeable road conditions caused by construction.
- Other drivers: It is not always the truck driver’s fault in a trucking accident. Smaller vehicle operators who are driving recklessly, or are under the influence may cause an accident involving a large truck and other passenger cars, in which case they would be liable for the damages.
Types of Large Truck Accident Injuries
Unfortunately, when a large truck and a passenger vehicle collide, the passenger vehicle is at a distinct disadvantage. Injuries can be serious and sometimes devastating. Examples of resulting injuries include:
- Serious burns
- Broken bones
- Severe disfigurement
- Spinal cord injuries, and paralysis
- Permanent disability
- Head trauma and brain injury
- Wrongful death
Victims of severe injuries often face multiple surgeries and therapies, and require long-term medical care. Families can be devastated by the resulting costs, particularly if the victim is no longer able to work or complete his/her daily duties.
How a Large Truck Lawyer Can Help
There are several ways in which a large truck lawyer can help you obtain the compensation you deserve.
- Establish liability: Even though other parties may have been negligent in causing the accident, it is highly likely that they will try to deny any wrongdoing. A large truck lawyer can help collect evidence that will strengthen your claim.
- Leave no stone unturned: A large truck lawyer is on your side. He or she will be the only one looking out for your interests. Though other parties may be investigating the accident, your lawyer will be looking for evidence that supports the best outcome for you. Reviewing camera footage, interviewing witnesses and medical staff, analyzing medical records, reviewing police and accident reports, finding witnesses, and consulting experts to help determine exactly what happened are all activities that your lawyer will take on for you.
- Examine possibilities: Though the accident may have been caused by driver error, there may be other factors involved as well. These include maintenance issues, manufacturing defects, road construction, lack of training, driver logs, and more.
- Find help to cover all your losses: Though your insurance may help with some of your losses, it’s often the case with large truck crashes that the injuries are severe, and there are long-term medical treatments and medications are needed. These can go beyond the scope of your insurance coverage. A large truck lawyer can help recover additional damages for you.
If you or a loved one suffered a serious injury or even death because of a large truck accident, contact the personal injury lawyers at Chaffin Luhana for help. We have the experienced team necessary to gather all of the evidence, including any documentation (police reports and others), photographs, witness statements, medical records, and more that may help strengthen your case.
To find out how we can help you, contact us today.