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Semi Truck Accident and Personal Injury Claims

semi truck accidents


According to an estimate by the National Highway Safety Administration, in 2014 there were 411,000 reported semi truck accidents [1]. The average semi weighs between 30,000 - 40,000 lbs (compared to an average car 5,000 lbs), needless to say, they can cause some very serious damage.

Truck accident claims are similar to car accident claims with a few key differences. Due to their higher stakes and more complicated nature, we'll discuss these differences in detail so you can protect your rights.

We'll cover….

What Are the Most Common Causes of Truck Accidents?
Understanding Duty of Care and Driver Negligence
Understanding Trucking Regulations
How to Show Fault in Semi Truck Accidents
What Should You Do After a Truck Accident?
Determine Who is Liable and Your Best Course of Action

Let's get started….

What Are the Most Common Cause of Truck Accidents?

A good place to start trying to make sense of your truck accident claim is to understand some of the most common causes for them.

  • Driver Fatigue -- Truckers are incentivized to push themselves and get cargo delivered on (or ahead of) time. This leads to tired truck drivers.

  • Failure to maintain safe following distance -- Obviously trucks need a lot more space/time to stop. If a driver does not account for this is can easily lead to an accident.

  • Unsafe lane change/visibility problems -- Poor driving practice or simple carelessness can lead a trucker to change lanes and cause an accident. Many truckers struggle to see smaller vehicles even with specially designed mirrors.

  • Drug or alcohol use -- A research study reported by Reuters uncovered the fact that a “concerning” number of truckers admitted to taking drugs such a stimulants or amphetamines [2] while working.

  • Defective equipment or incorrectly loaded cargo -- Trucks can be improperly maintained or loaded, both of these can be significant factors in accident occurrence.

Understand Duty of Care and Driver Negligence

If you've been involved in a truck accident caused by one of the factors above (or others) your interest will be demonstrating that the trucker violated the law. This is a key point to moving your claim or lawsuit forward.

Drivers of passenger vehicles are required by law to practice a reasonable “duty of care” to look out for one another on the road, follow traffic laws and try to avoid collisions. Because trucks are much more capable of causing catastrophic accidents truckers are held to a higher standard.

When it comes time for an insurance company or jury to determine fault in a trucking accident they will expect truckers to follow their duty of care, and in addition, they will generally look in two areas:

  1. Violations of state and federal trucking regulation
  2. Evidence of negligence

Due to this higher standard truckers need to adhere to, courts will often view any violation of regulation as negligent action.

Understand Trucking Regulations

The trucking industry in the US is regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), a department of the Department of Transportation (DOT).

Their regulations are lengthy and mandate how a trucker should behave in essentially all aspects of operating a commercial truck.

These regulations are recognized for their safety benefits on the roadways. But among truckers are often criticized due to the difficulty in following all of them.

Two of the most common regulations that get violated are:

Commercial Drivers License (CDL) Requirements - Anyone operating a semi truck, tractor trailer or 18 wheeler must have completed their CDL training. These standards vary slightly state to state, but they all must meet a baseline federal DOT requirement.

CDL training teaches truckers:

  • Maneuvering techniques, parking, backing up, etc.
  • Defensive driving practices
  • Maintenance and safety measures, etc
  • How to properly handle hazardous materials

Typically included in CDL licensure is a physical fitness examination and a drug screening process. It's not uncommon for truckers to drive without a CDL or with one that has not been renewed.

Logbook rules - Another legal requirement placed on truckers is that they maintain a logbook. This book records information such as:

  • Route details, delivery dates, etc
  • Weight of the truck
  • The number of hours per day a trucker is working

It's not uncommon for truckers to cut corners in their logbooks to make more money or get a job done faster.

While these are the most common they are hardly the only regulations violated. A few others include:

  • Designated working hours per day -- Usually around 14 hrs (11 spent driving), many truckers push it to make money or hit a deadline.
  • Weight limits -- There are some unscrupulous trucking companies who dodge weight restrictions to maximize profits. Limits vary, but are trucks should never weigh more than 80,000 lbs. This is to protect other drivers and avoid damage to the roadways.

How to Show Fault in Semi Truck Accidents

A few other useful questions to keep in mind when considering fault in a semi truck accident are:

  • Was the trucker using their cellphone? (estimates show using a phone increases the chances of an accident by 23 times)

  • Does the trucker have a record of accidents or criminal behavior?

  • Was the trucker under the influence of medications, narcotics or alcohol?

  • Did the trucker fail to account for blind spots when changing lanes or parking?

  • What is the truckers financial background? Do they have any large outstanding debts?

In terms of a trucking accident claim, showing that a trucker violated their duty of care, a trucking regulation , and/or traffic laws are the key to success.

So, now you understand some key dynamics and rules, how do you actually approach the claim?

What Should You Do After a Truck Accident

Truck accidents are typically more complicated than car accidents so if you're in one be sure to follow a few best practices. These include:

  1. Call the police -- Even if the accident seems minor call the authorities, get a police report or the responding officer's contact information at the least.

  2. Seek medical attention -- If you or other parties are injured get them help as soon as possible. Call an ambulance, administer first aid if you know how or get in to see a doctor first thing (if injuries are non-urgent).

  3. Gather information -- Document everything you can from photos to witness statements to surveillance video. Take notes, the more information you have the better.

  4. Contact your insurance company -- File a claim with your insurance carrier and be aware you might be contacted by the other party's insurance company. If you retain an attorney direct the insurance company to them if not be cautious in what you say.

Determine Who is Liable and Your Best Course of Action

When it comes time to figure out who is responsible for your damages in a trucking accident, the number of possibilities is far greater than a normal car accident. If you were hit by a semi these include:

  • The trucker
  • The owner of the truck or tractor trailer
  • The company who loaded the cargo on the truck
  • The manufacturer of the truck
  • The person or company who leased the truck from another party

In many cases, all these parties will point fingers at each other and try to deny their own liability. Trucking companies try to put distance between themselves and their driver or equipment to reduce the chances they will have to pay.

The good news is regulations have cracked down on this a bit, and generally place liability at the feet of the trucking company or driver (if fault is clear).

If your claim is relatively black and white and the damages are not too high it's fine to simply let your insurance company handle things. On the other hand, trucking companies know accidents are going to happen so in many cases they are prepared to fight.

If injuries are more serious or you feel you're not getting a fair shake, consulting with an attorney probably makes sense.

Summary

Trucking accidents are complicated, unfortunately frequent, and often result in serious injuries/fatalities. If you've been involved in a trucking accident in some capacity keep the following in mind:

  • Truck accidents are often due to driver fatigue, drug use, improper cargo or unsafe lane changes.

  • The key to any claim is showing fault. With truck accidents, this can be done through breach of the duty of care or violated regulations.

  • After a truck accident be sure to call the police, seek medical treatment quickly, gather information and notify your insurance company in a timely manner.

  • Figuring out who to claim against can be tricky but it usually boils down to the driver or the trucking company. If in doubt consult a legal professional.


Sources:

1- Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration
2 - Reuters


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