Commercial truck accidents are different in many ways from collisions between standard-sized passenger vehicles. If you have been injured or lost a loved one in a crash that involved a tractor-trailer (or semi-truck), you should work with a law firm that understands these differences and how they can impact your case.
The following are five areas, in particular, in which truck accidents are different from other types of motor vehicle accidents:
1. Severity of Injuries
A commercial truck is typically much larger and heavier than a passenger vehicle – even when it is not loaded down with cargo. As a result, trucks can cause devastating injuries to passenger vehicle occupants in a crash.
Just look at the most recent National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) statistics, showing the number of injuries and fatalities in multiple-vehicle truck crashes in 2012. As you can see, the majority of victims are those in other vehicles or non-occupants such as pedestrians and motorcyclists:
Of course, the size and weight of a tractor-trailer is not the only factor that makes these crashes particularly deadly. The reality is that commercial truck accidents often occur on highways and interstates, where the vehicles are traveling at high speeds. Other factors include the type of impact and the type of cargo being hauled such as hazardous materials.
2. Complexity of Investigation
Gathering evidence following a truck accident is very important. These accidents must be investigated quickly, or else evidence is likely to become lost or destroyed. Evidence that needs to be preserved after a truck accident includes:
- Photos – Ideally, photos should be taken before any vehicles are moved, revealing details about how the crash occurred. Of course, the vehicles and crash scene should be inspected by an experienced accident reconstruction specialist as well.
- Trucking company files – Business records, pay stubs, driver logs, dispatch records, bills of lading, daily driver inspection reports and other pertinent documentation.
- Truck maintenance and inspection records – Training certificates for inspectors, brake mechanics and others who may have performed work on the truck should also be obtained.
- Insurance information – Copies of insurance policies, names of the insured and any excess insurance coverage must be identified.
- Device records – This includes records pertaining to satellite-tracking systems, on-board recorders and GPS devices.
- Accident records – The police report, black box data, statements from potential witnesses, “out-of-service” reports and documentation from state or federal inspections.
- Records relating to the truck driver – These records include job application documents, hiring files, background records, training documentation, testing information, employee records, incident reports involving property damage or injury, commercial driver’s license (CDL) records, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulations compliance records and any results from substance- or alcohol-testing.
All of this evidence will help to reveal how a crash occurred and who should be held responsible for the harm that has resulted.
3. Multiple Responsible Parties
The truck driver may not be the only party who can be held liable for victims’ injuries and losses. Multiple parties could have played a role in causing the accident to occur, including:
- The truck’s owner or trailer’s owner
- The trucking company who employs the driver
- The individuals and/or companies who loaded and secured the cargo
- Freight shippers
- The manufacturer of the truck or its parts
- Various contractors.
Some truck accident cases can involve large, out-of-state trucking companies or foreign companies. This can present further complications and difficulties in litigating a case.
4. State and Federal Regulations
Liability in truck accident cases is often based on either a truck driver’s or trucking company’s violation of state and federal regulations. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has certain commercial motor vehicle activities it regulates such as “hours of service” to help keep roads safe. According to the FMCSA hours of service regulations:
- Truck drivers transporting property can drive a maximum of 11 hours, providing they have had at least 10 consecutive hours off duty.
- Commercial truck drivers are not allowed to drive “beyond the 14th consecutive hour after coming on duty, following 10 consecutive hours off duty.”
- Truck drivers are not allowed to drive after having been on duty for 60 to 70 hours in seven to eight consecutive days. Drivers who take more than 34 consecutive days off can restart the seven-to-eight consecutive day period.
- In cases where a truck driver uses the sleeper berth provision, he or she must rest no less than eight consecutive hours in the sleeper berth, then another two consecutive hours either off duty, in the berth or a combination of the two.
Truckers are required to log their hours of service as a way of monitoring and preventing exhaustion or fatigue. Driving while drowsy can significantly affect a trucker’s driving abilities and reaction time. It will often lead to a serious or fatal collision. Violations of state and federal trucking regulations may serve as grounds for liability in a truck accident.
5. Insurance Issues
While the state of New Jersey is a no-fault insurance state, making it easier for accident victims to recover medical expenses from their own insurance provider, it can also limit a victim’s rights to file a lawsuit following an accident.
Fortunately, the no-fault insurance limits do not apply to truck accident victims. If you sustain injuries in an accident caused by a commercial truck, you may have the right to file a lawsuit seeking damages for the pain, suffering, injuries and other harm you have been forced to endure.
Davis, Saperstein & Salomon, P.C., is able to conduct swift and thorough investigations into truck accidents. We work hard to determine the true cause of the accident as well as to uncover each of the at-fault parties. With this information, we are able to help our clients prepare their case and pursue fair and just compensation. Contact us today to learn more.