Although car accidents are more common than truck accidents, crashes involving large trucks are more likely to cause serious injury or death, even if the truck driver is not harmed. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), more than four out of five of those who were fatally injured in truck accidents were pedestrians, bicyclists, or passengers in other vehicles.
A large truck may weigh more than 30 times as much as a car, and large tractor-trailers carrying heavy loads may take up to 40 percent longer to brake. It is obvious that the larger the truck, the worse the accident. In fact, in 2018, 74 percent of large truck fatalities involved tractor-trailers.
Despite the many safety laws regulating the trucking industry, accidents are on the rise. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), recently there were more than 164,900 crashes involving large trucks across the United States, representing an increase of seven percent compared with 2017. Nearly half of these involved injuries, and 4,946 accidents were fatal.
Given these statistics, all drivers should be aware of the risks of being involving in a truck accident. An experienced truck accident lawyer can provide the information victims need, including their rights to fair compensation.
Injuries a Victim of a Truck Accident Can Sustain
Given the height and weight of a truck, the impact they can have on a car can be devastating and cause severe injuries to anyone who might be inside it. There are several injuries that drivers and passengers can sustain during an accident with a truck, including the following:
- Back injury
- Spinal cord injury
- Brain injury
- Wrongful death
Any one of these can cause significant hardship for the victim and their families. The result could be significant time off work and frequent trips to the doctor or other medical facility.
Common Causes of Truck Accidents
As with most motor vehicle accidents, there are a few factors that can lead to a truck accident. There are some that impact cars as easily as they do trucks, and there are some that are specific to trucks. Here are some examples:
- Fatigue. Although getting behind the wheel when the driver is tired is a problem that can impact all motorists, it is a predominant problem among truck drivers. Many are making deliveries across the country and have deadlines to meet. That could mean that they may be out on the road much longer and later than they should to get to their next destination on time. When a truck driver is tired, their reaction time is limited, which is especially dangerous given a truck driver’s longer time behind the wheel.
- Braking time. Because of their significant weight over their automobile counterparts, trucks take much longer to stop. Even when the conditions are ideal, trucks take a longer time to come to a stop, meaning the truck driver’s reaction time to conditions in front of them is much less than that of car drivers .
- Turning. Again, owing to their size, turning is a major operation for trucks, as they must make a large, sweeping motions. Right-hand turns are easily the more cumbersome for trucks. Given the motion and the size of a large truck, other drivers could get caught in a truck’s blind spot during this turn and wind up getting caught in a sideswipe accident.
- Unsecured loads. When a trailer is not properly secured to a truck, the resulting debris could wreak havoc on the drivers behind the truck. It could turn into an obstacle course of dangerous materials.
What Drivers Should Do if Involved in a Truck Accident
No one wants to think about getting into a motor vehicle accident, especially one involving a large truck. However, it is best to be prepared. The following recommendations may help minimize some of the difficulties drivers might face immediately after a truck accident. They can also improve a driver’s chances of obtaining a successful outcome, should they choose to pursue a personal injury claim later.
Call 911. Drivers should turn off the engine and pause to collect their thoughts before doing anything else. It is best not to panic. Now is the time to think rationally. The vehicle’s hazard lights should be turned on, and the driver should check to see if they or any passengers are injured. If so, someone should call 911 and be prepared to specify the location as precisely as possible, including nearest intersections or exits, mile markers, and other landmarks.
Provide only the information that is necessary. Drivers should try to remain calm, even if they are angry at the other driver. Drivers should resist the temptation to get out of the car and talk to those involved, unless it is necessary to render first aid. If a driver talks with other drivers, they must not admit fault or make any comments about how the accident occurred. When the police arrive, drivers should be prepared to provide their registration, insurance card, and driver’s license. If the police officer issues a traffic ticket, drivers should sign it and do not disagree. At the same time, it is best not to answer questions about any other action that could result in a criminal charge. It is important to remember that drivers have the right to speak to a lawyer before answering detailed questions.
Document the scene of the accident. If it can be done safely, someone should take pictures of the accident scene. This includes photos of the car, the truck, road conditions, traffic signals, and anything else that may have contributed to the accident. If there were witnesses, they should be asked to provide their contact information. If circumstances allow, witnesses should be asked to write a short statement about what they saw, and sign and date it.
Seek medical attention. If paramedics arrive, victims should ask to go to the hospital even if they believe their injuries are minor. The extent of injuries is often hidden until days later. A medical examination immediately after the accident may discover internal injuries or, at a minimum, document a victim’s initial condition in case they experience pain later. Medical evaluations will prove critical to strengthening a personal injury claim.
Contact a lawyer. Drivers should contact their insurance company about the accident. Failing to do so may give the insurance company reason to cancel the policy or raise the rates. Drivers must note any directions provided on filing a claim; however, drivers should never agree to accept an initial settlement. Contacting a truck accident lawyer is the best way to ensure appropriate compensation is received.
In the days following the accident, victims need to take care of themselves and follow up on all medical appointments and treatments. It is suggested to drink plenty of water, as staying hydrated is best way to minimize muscle pain and soreness after an accident.
Evidence that is Useful in a Truck Accident Case
As victims recuperate from their injuries, their lawyers will begin the extensive work of building a case and gathering evidence on the victim’s behalf. It can be a long and complex process, but an experienced lawyer will know what to look for in these instances. The stronger the evidence, the more likely it will be that the victim will receive a sufficient settlement in the case. Some of the evidence that lawyers will gather includes the following:
- Witnesses. These are a key element in all accident cases, but especially truck-related accidents. Witnesses can provide first-hand account of any negligence that took place at the scene and if the driver was driving erratically. The victim of an accident might be able to locate witnesses if they are not severely injured. The moments immediately after an accident are the best time to gather names and addresses for future correspondence.
- Electronic control modules (ECMs). These are critical pieces of evidence in truck accidents and can provide a detailed picture of what was going on with the driver just prior to the accident. These ECMs are similar to “black boxes” for truck drivers in that they record different information about the truck, including the speed of the truck, whether the driver applied the brakes, and other useful information. Technical experts can retrieve this data and use it to establish negligence on the driver’s part or prove that they did their best to avoid an accident.
- Truck cameras. As an added protection for themselves, many truck companies have begun to install cameras inside their trucks. These cameras point at the road, the driver, or both. Footage from these cameras can be invaluable in showing if the driver engaged in any negligence or misconduct.
- Electronic logging devices. Truck drivers are required by the federal government to maintain their hours using electronic logging devices (ELDs). These devices will track the hours a driver has been on the road, and thereby provide a window into determining whether the driver was possibly battling fatigue.
- Trucking company records. Trucking companies should be maintaining comprehensive records of the people that they hire, and how they supervise their drivers. They must also conduct routine checks and drug screenings of drivers. These records will indicate if any such test was conducted prior to an accident.
A victim’s lawyer will be able to reach out to the relevant entities to collect as much of this evidence as possible. The lawyer will also be in a better position to deal with the truck company or other agencies, should there be a problem with obtaining the evidence or if the truck company is refusing to release it.
How Victims Are Compensated After a Truck Accident
Personal injury lawsuits involving truck accidents are often more complicated than car accidents. In a car accident, the at-fault driver is generally held liable and their insurance company pays the settlement. In contrast, more than one party may be held liable in a truck accident, even if there was only one truck involved. Parties that may be considered negligent and, therefore, liable for injuries and property damage sustained in a truck accident include the following:
- The truck driver. A truck driver is responsible for the safe operation of the vehicle. This includes maintaining a log of driving hours to prevent drowsiness. Drivers must also be aware of the condition of their vehicles.
- Loading crew. When a commercial truck pulls up at a loading dock, a separate loading crew may put the freight into the truck instead of the driver. Third-party workers that load or unload trailer contents are sometimes referred to as lumpers. Improperly loading a truck may result in a truck tipping over while traveling on a curve or exit ramp.
- Trucking company. A company that overloads its trailers, fails to perform proper maintenance, or neglects other duties may be held liable if those actions are found to have contributed to the accident.
- Leasing or maintenance company. The truck may be owned by a fleet leasing company or maintained by a separate company. Either may bear some responsibility for the condition of the vehicle.
- Vehicle manufacturer. Defective brakes, headlights, tires, or other parts may be found to have contributed to the cause of the accident.
If the truck was equipped with a video camera or black box, additional information about the accident may be captured, including the speed of the truck, the precise accident location, and whether other vehicles contributed to the cause of the accident. Given the multi-layered complexity of establishing liability in a truck accident, it is crucial that truck accident victims retain the legal services of a qualified personal injury lawyer with experience handling truck accident claims.
Compensation for Victims
When a victim or the family of a wrongful death victim files a lawsuit against a negligent or irresponsible truck driver or the truck company, there are several standard expenses for which the victim can sue. In general, the negligent party is responsible for paying whatever expenses the victim has accrued because of the accident, including the following where applicable:
- Medical expenses and bills. These include all costs associated with hospitalization, along with any diagnostic and laboratory tests as well as any treatments such as surgeries, medical devices, and prescriptions.
- Physical therapy and rehabilitation. As part of recouping from injuries, the treatment might include physical therapy.
- Counseling and mental health assistance. Enduring such an accident can be a traumatic experience and impact a person’s mental stability.
- In-home care or around-the-clock medical assistance for disabilities. Some injuries leave victims permanently disabled or injured to the point at which they are unable to leave their house.
- Home remodeling costs. If a person is forced to remain at home because of their catastrophic injuries, they might have to make changes to their house to accommodate their disability. That includes installing handrails and similar type upgrades.
- Lost wages from time off work. If victims are unable to return to work, they are entitled to receive compensation for the wages they would have made had not the injuries occurred.
- Job retraining and educational costs. If the victim is unable to return to their previous job, they can receive money to help finance retraining for a new career.
- Pain and suffering. This constitutes the costs of both the physical and mental pain victims have experienced because of the accident.
- Wrongful death. For those who lost a family member, they are entitled for lost wages and other expenses associated with the death of a loved one, including funeral expenses.
If a Victim is Partially Responsible for the Accident
Because California is a comparative fault state, a victim can still sue even if they were partially responsible for a truck accident that ultimately caused their injuries. This means that in California, a person can be held financially responsible for a fraction of their total damages, equivalent to the percentage that they are deemed to be at fault.
For example, if a person is deemed to bear 10 percent of the responsibility, they will have to pay 10 percent of the overall reward. It means the person who bears the bulk of the responsibility will not have to pay the full amount.
The Statute of Limitations for Filing a Lawsuit
In California, victims have two years to file a lawsuit if they were hurt in an accident. Families have the same amount of time if a family member was killed in a truck accident. This period starts at the time when it is apparent that someone is responsible for the injury or wrongful death. This is generally thought to be on the day of the accident.
If a person fails to file the lawsuit within the two-year window, they have lost their opportunity and will not be able to file. They cannot bring the case up in another court.
Furthermore, if the accident took place in California but the victim lives in another state, they must still file their suit in California and are therefore subject to its laws and statute of limitations.
Finally, if a victim is just seeking compensation for the damage to a vehicle during an accident, they have three years to file that lawsuit.
Laws in Place to Prevent Truck Accidents
To regulate the risks associated with driving a commercial truck, drivers must undergo special professional training. The trucking industry is regulated by both federal and state laws that establish minimum standards that must be followed by all trucking companies and drivers. The FMCSA and the Department of Transportation are the two primary federal agencies that regulate this area under Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations.
Each state has its own department of transportation to regulate intrastate commercial trucking. Some of the regulations are designed to ensure the driver is well rested, in good physical and mental health, and understands defensive driving techniques. Other regulations verify whether the company performed routine inspections and regular maintenance to make sure the truck is safe for use. These laws aim to prevent trucks from leaving the yard with faulty brakes, poorly functioning lights, or inadequate tires.
Federal agencies support state regulatory efforts as well. The Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program (MCAP) provides financial assistance to states to reduce the number and severity of accidents involving commercial trucks. Thanks in part to strict regulatory requirements, truck accidents are rarely caused by truckers with high blood alcohol content levels (BAC). According to the IIHS, in 2018, only three percent of fatally injured truck drivers were legally drunk. Drivers convicted of driving under the influence (DUI) can lose their commercial driver’s license (CDL), jeopardizing their ability to earn a living.
Can Trucking Companies Be Held Liable for an Accident?
Liability against commercial trucking companies is often found under the doctrine of respondeat superior, in which an employer may be liable for an employee’s acts committed within the scope of the employment. It imputes the employee’s fault to the employer, and thus makes the employer responsible for all damages as if they had personally committed the negligent act.
The employer is responsible for the employee’s acts, even if the employer exercised due care in hiring the employee or supervising their conduct. The justification for the imposition of liability is in part based on the following two concepts:
Employers have more resources. An employer may be considered more likely than the employee to respond to an innocent third person injured as a result of the employee’s tortious conduct. Also, employers can protect against such risk by insurance, the cost of which can be spread over the entire business and passed on to the public.
Driving is a business activity. The decision of Sumrall v. Modern Alloys, Inc. noted a deeply rooted sentiment that a business enterprise cannot justly disclaim responsibility for accidents that may fairly be said to be a characteristic of its activities.
Employers have a nondelegable duty. A trucking company may also be liable for the acts of its independent contractors under a nondelegable duty, which prevents a party that owes a duty to others from evading responsibility by claiming to have delegated that duty to an independent contractor hired to do the necessary work. The non-delegable duty doctrine applies to find a motor carrier liable for the negligence of its independent contractor to protect the public from financially irresponsible contractors, and to strengthen safety regulations. Highway common carriers may not, therefore, insulate themselves from liability for negligence occurring in the conduct of their business by engaging independent contractors to transport freight for them as logistic brokers.
Specific acts of negligence on the part of a trucking company may include these actions:
- Failure to maintain the vehicle appropriately
- Negligent hiring
- Hours of service violations
- Failing to train drivers properly
Commercial trucking cases can be legally complicated, involving both theories of negligence and products liability for defective truck conditions. They are equally complex in the type of damages that could result, involving significant medical expenses caused by catastrophic injuries, including traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord damages, burns, orthopedic fractures, amputations, and even death. Many of the survivors also face lost wages; loss of future earnings; and limitless pain and suffering, depression, anxiety, and disfigurement.
Los Angeles Truck Accident Lawyers at ACTS Law Fight for Truck Accident Victims
If you were injured in an accident involving a truck, it is likely that your injuries may be serious. The process of establishing liability may also be complex. The experienced Los Angeles truck accident lawyers at ACTS Law are quite capable of handling complex cases, including those that go to trial. We are determined to apply our skills to obtain the compensation you deserve. To schedule a free, confidential consultation, call us today at 833-ACTS-LAW or contact us online.
With offices in San Diego and Los Angeles, we serve clients throughout southern California.