West Virginia Truck Accident Attorneys
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that between 2016 and 2017, crashes involving large trucks increased by 9 percent, with truck occupant fatalities jumping by 16 percent, from 725 to 841. Combination tractor-trailer crashes increased by 5.8 percent, and single-unit straight truck crashes increased by 18.7 percent.
Occupants in other vehicles involved in large-truck crashes also suffered 280 more fatalities, an 8.8 percent increase from 2016. Large-truck occupant fatalities in multiple-vehicle crashes increased by 28.5 percent, and large-truck occupant fatalities in single-vehicle crashes increased by 8.7 percent.
Meanwhile, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) reported that in 2017, a total of 4,889 large trucks and buses were involved in fatal crashes, which was a 42 percent increase from its low of 3,432 in 2009. About 57 percent of all fatal crashes involving large trucks occurred in rural areas, with 27 percent on Interstate highways.
West Virginia had 52 fatalities in crashes involving large trucks in 2017, which was nearly two times the number killed in 2016 (27), and more than any other year since 2007. When data analysts looked at NHTSA figures between 2000 and 2015, they ranked the number of vehicle crashes by state and found that West Virginia ranked eighth highest, with 19.96 average fatalities per 100,000 crashes. About 37 percent of those were related to alcohol.
Accidents with large trucks are among the most dangerous for occupants, simply because of the weight and size—large trucks can weigh up to 30 times more than passenger vehicles, which means they can cause far more damage in a crash. Collisions between large trucks and cars often result in major injuries and/or death, presenting life-changing challenges for families. According to a study by the Automobile Association of America (AAA), car drivers are substantially more likely to die in accidents with big trucks.
The potential danger of large truck crashes looms large in the minds of West Virginians today because of the booming oil and gas industry. Though responsible for bringing many well-paying jobs to the area, it’s also resulted in more big trucks on the road transporting pipeline materials, rigging structures, sand and water, fuel, and more.
Tragic stories of large truck crashes are frequently reported. In August 2018, a tractor-trailer driver was traveling southbound on I-77 when he lost control and collided with two Parkways Authority vehicles parked along the roadway. Three authority employees were standing near the vehicles, and two were killed. The driver was arrested and charged.
Sometimes accidents are difficult to avoid, but other times they are completely preventable. If you or someone you loved was injured in a large truck accident, call us. Our West Virginia trucking accident lawyers may be able to help you attain the compensation you deserve.
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West Virginia is rich in natural sources of fuel, which has made it a target for energy companies to explore. The West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey provides an interactive map showing over 144,000 oil and gas wells in the state—a clear indication of how the oil and gas industry is thriving in the area.
Efficiencies in new drilling and completion technologies enable operators to make large investments in the state while retaining profits, which is why the roadways have seen such an increase in the transportation of all materials related to oil and gas extraction.
Fracking is a highly water-intensive process, and that water must be trucked into the production site, then once used, taken out and reused or moved to a disposal site. The New York Times reported that each fracking well requires millions of gallons of water, requiring roughly 500 and 1500 trucking trips per well.
The mere presence of more trucks on the road increases the risk of a crash, but there is also the condition of the roads themselves. Many run through mountainous terrain, with potentially dangerous curves and reduced visibility. Impatient drivers trying to pass can increase dangerous on single-lane roads, and varying weather conditions, particularly in highly populated areas, can increase the risk of a crash for all vehicles. High traffic volumes in cities and towns along major truck corridors are among those with the highest number of truck-related crashes.
Trucking companies are in business to make money, which means they may, at times, make decisions that risk safety but boost profits. Drivers may be encouraged to stay on the road past federally regulated time limits, increasing risk of fatigued driving, and companies may fail to properly maintain their vehicles, which can lead to engine failures, faulty brakes, and tire blowouts.
Any vehicle weighing over 10,000 pounds must follow federal regulations created by the U.S. Department of Transportation. According to the FMCSA, property-carrying drivers must adhere to the following limits:
- Hours of service: After 10 hours off duty, a driver may drive for up to 11 hours within a 14-hour window of time, after which he/she must not drive for another 10 hours.
- Breaks: A driver must take a 30-minute break after 8 consecutive hours driving, and must stop driving after accumulating 60-70 on-duty hours in 7 or 8 days.
- 34-hour restart: After driving 60-70 hours, a driver must get 34 hours off before starting his next week of driving.
Trucking companies argue that these regulations cut down on their productivity, but nevertheless, if their drivers are found to be violating the rules, they can receive a monetary fine of $11,000 per violation. Individual drivers can also receive a penalty of $2,750.
Fines are given only if drivers are caught going beyond the limits, however, and they often aren’t —unless a crash occurs and a West Virginia truck accident lawyer does some researching.
There are some exceptions, however, for oil and gas drivers. These include the following:
- 24-hour restart: Oil and gas field drivers can start a new week of driving after only 24 rather than 34 hours off.
- Wait time as off-duty time: Drivers operating vehicles requiring specialized training can log their waiting time at well sites as off-duty or rest times. This time doesn’t have to count against their 14-hour limit. This applies to drivers operating trucks that can only be used in oil and gas field operations because of their construction.
- Alternate split break option: Drivers operating vehicles specially constructed for the oil and gas industry can use any break of 2 hours or more in a sleeper berth or sleeping facilities at a well site as a qualifying break, and any two qualifying breaks can be combined to make the 10-hour break.
These exceptions make it possible for companies to efficiently operate gas wells, but may also contribute to driver fatigue.
According to the Large Truck Crash Causation study by the FMCSA and other transportation organizations, fatigue, speeding, and drinking alcohol are major factors in truck crashes, with driver fatigue found to be a proven factor in 13 percent of crashes occurring between April 2001 and December 2003. (In many of the crashes, a cause of the crash was not reported.)
In 2016, the Safety and Health magazine, published by the National Safety Council, reported that fatigue is estimated to play a role in up to one-fifth of commercial motor vehicle crashes, and acknowledged that while the FMCSA’s hours-of-service regulations “limit the amount of time a driver can spend on the road,” they do not “guarantee a driver will receive adequate sleep and rest while he or she is off duty.”
The CDC reports that motor vehicle crashes cause over 40 percent of work-related deaths in the oil and gas extraction industry. They add that driver fatigue is a factor in oil and gas-related truck crashes, and that it often results from long distances traveled to well sites, long work shifts, and insufficient sleep. They add that driving for extended periods of time with few changes in routine can increase workers’ risk of fatigued driving.
In a truck driving lawsuit, West Virginia trucking crash lawyers look to see if driver fatigue was a factor. They can find out by examining truck driving logs, trip tickets, and other paperwork associated with each delivery. Time stamps of pickup and delivery can also provide evidence as to how long the driver was on the road.
In addition to truck driver fatigue, there are other factors that can contribute to a truck accident:
- Speeding: The FMCSA study mentioned speeding as one of the four major causes of driver-caused truck crashes. Trucks.com reported in 2016 that truckers racing to get to their destinations before required breaks may be tempted to speed, increasing risk of accidents. Jim Mullen, chief counsel for the FMCSA, told Trucks.com that a lot of drivers, because of regulations, were speeding just to get their freight from Point A to Point B.
- Distraction: As with all drivers, truck drivers are now vulnerable to distraction, which can include dialing cell phones, texting, eating, adjusting the radio, and doing other activities that take the driver’s attention off the road. In a 2009 study, researchers found that 71 percent of large-truck crashes occurred when the truck driver was doing something besides driving the truck.
- Impairment: Drivers are prohibited from using drugs and alcohol, but some of them do, anyway. In a review of 36 studies, researchers found 12.5 percent of truck drivers in the U.S. tested positive for alcohol. Another study found that 3.7 percent of truck drivers tested for drug use were found to have been using stimulants. These drivers also had a greater proportion of driving record infractions. Sometimes, legal medications that increase drowsiness—like antihistamines, antidepressants, anxiety medications, blood pressure medications, and muscle relaxants—can also impair commercial truck drivers.
- Experience: Inexperienced drivers typically present more of a risk of crashes than experienced drivers, and with the demand for truck drivers increasing nationwide, many are new or inexperienced. It’s up to transportation companies to be sure their employees are properly screened and trained.
Most truck driving accidents are caused by driver error, but often there are other factors that contribute as well, with other parties that may be liable for damages. Your West Virginia 18-wheeler accident attorney will investigate to determine if any of the following parties share in the responsibility for the accident:
- The driver’s employer: The company employing the driver is responsible for many things, including vehicle maintenance, driver screening and training, scheduling within the hours allowed by regulations, and more. If they set unreasonable expectations for delivery, fail to perform an adequate background check on the driver, or fail to keep up with inspections on the vehicles, they may be held at least partially liable for the accident.
- The loading company: Often another company loads the trailers, and if the load isn’t placed properly, it can set the truck off balance and increase the risk of an accident.
- Manufacturers: Sometimes there are design or manufacturing problems with the equipment on the truck, like the tires, brakes, fuel lines, and more. If investigators find an issue with any of these materials, the manufacturer may be found to be partly or wholly responsible.
- The construction company: When a road is under construction, risk increases for a crash. Construction companies who fail to provide adequate signage or warning about route changes, road hazards, and other changes on the road may be found to have contributed to the accident.
- Other drivers: If the accident was caused or partially caused by another driver who was speeding, driving distracted, or under the influence, he or she may share in the responsibility for the damages.
Individuals involved in a truck accident may suffer from the following types of injuries:
- Serious burns
- Broken bones
- Severe disfigurement
- Spinal cord injuries; paralysis
- Permanent disability
- Head trauma and brain injury
- Wrongful death
Because of the severity of most large truck accidents, victims often endure multiple surgeries and therapies, and typically require long-term medical care. Victims who become disabled because of their injuries may no longer be able to help support their families, making the costs of medical care and the other related losses even more difficult to manage. Of course, death can be devastating in all these ways and more.
If you or a loved one was involved in a large truck driving accident, our truck accident lawsuit attorneys can help in the following ways:
- Investigate the accident: Our lawyers are experienced in checking every possible piece of evidence to find out all the factors involved in the accident. We review camera footage, pictures, driving records, accident reports, medical records, company files, and much more to find all information that may support your claim.
- Determine who may be held liable: We know that even if the truck driver was at fault, there may be other parties that were negligent as well, including the employer, the loading company, the maintenance crew, and more. We look for those entities that are best positioned to help you recover damages.
- Find help to cover your expenses: Your insurance company will help cover some costs, but we can help find other ways to close the gap between what you’re now having to pay and the funds you have available.
West Virginia Office
3200 Main St.
Weirton, WV 26062