Truck Accident Lawyer
Truck accidents happen every day. Commercial truck driving is one of the most dangerous jobs in the United States. And the danger does not stop with the truck drivers — it carries over to every other driver on the road.
In fact, in 2012 alone, more than 4,000 people died in truck and bus crashes. In the same year, approximately 126,000 people were injured in truck and bus crashes. Because trucks and buses outweigh the average car by several tons, the injuries associated with a collision are often more severe.
The average truck driver is under tight deadlines to transport freight from point A to point B as quickly as possible. Many trucking companies turn a blind eye to the unrealistic expectations of customers demanding fast deliveries. This leads to fast driving with very few breaks and too many sleepless nights. Combined, this can be a deadly combination.
Trucking companies often permit or even encourage their drivers to speed, drive in unsafe weather, skip rest breaks and falsify logbooks. These irresponsible trucking companies may also allow unsafe trucks on the road by failing to keep up with basic vehicle maintenance or requiring drivers to pick up trailers with unsecured or overweight loads. Ultimately, these types of trucking companies place profits above safety.
Common Causes of Serious Truck and Bus Accidents
Excessive speed is the number one factor in most truck and bus crashes. Many truck drivers are paid by the mile, so, the faster they drive, the more miles they cover, the more they get paid. This formula often results in dangerous practices that can lead to a serious collision.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) reports that truck driver fatigue is one of the leading causes of crashes. Research has shown that driving without enough sleep is similar to driving drunk. In fact, the federal government recently revised trucking regulations to require drivers to take a 34-hour rest period each week that includes two nighttime rest periods from 1:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. Despite these rules, tired truckers are on the road everyday risking their safety and yours.
Distracted driving is one of the leading causes of crashes today. Federal regulations prohibit truck drivers from texting while driving and from talking on a cell phone without a hands-free device while driving.
Unsafe Trucks, Trailers and Buses
Truck and bus companies have a duty to maintain safe vehicles. Truck drivers must do a pre-trip inspection each time they drive a commercial vehicle to ensure it will operate safely. If a truck, trailer or bus is unsafe, companies are required to take that vehicle off the road. Unfortunately, poorly maintained tractor trailers and buses with faulty brakes, bad tires and other mechanical failures frequently cause crashes.
Under federal law, tractor trailers and their cargo cannot weigh more than 80,000 pounds. Overweight trucks require more stopping time, and may be more likely to rollover in a crash.
Negligent Hiring, Training and Supervision of Truck Drivers
Trucking companies are required to investigate a new driver’s background before hiring him. This includes drug testing, contacting prior employers and investigating prior crashes and driving violations. Trucking companies also must make sure that their drivers operate safely and do not violate the law. However, many trucking companies ignore problems with drivers in favor of keeping more trucks on the road.
Driving Under the Influence
Alcohol and drug abuse by truck drivers can create dangerous driving conditions that can result in fatal crashes. Some truck drivers use illegal drugs, or misuse prescription drugs, to help them stay awake and drive more hours. Following a serious collision, truck drivers must submit to drug and alcohol testing.
You Need An Attorney On Your Side
In the event of a serious crash, the trucking companies will have their attorneys and investigators on the scene immediately.
In the hours and days following a collision, trucking company mechanics may collect valuable “black box” data from the truck involved. Without the right training, this important data may be erased, and valuable evidence can be lost. Trucking companies also may make quick repairs to get a wrecked truck back on the road. These repairs can destroy evidence of a trucking company’s fault in a crash.
A “Commercial Motor Vehicle” (“CMV”) is defined by federal regulations as follows:
Commercial motor vehicle means any self-propelled or towed motor vehicle used on a highway in interstate commerce to transport passengers or property when the vehicle—
(1) Has a gross vehicle weight rating or gross combination weight rating, or gross vehicle weight or gross combination weight, of 4,536 kg (10,001 pounds) or more, whichever is greater; or
(2) Is designed or used to transport more than 8 passengers (including the driver) for compensation; or
(3) Is designed or used to transport more than 15 passengers, including the driver, and is not used to transport passengers for compensation; or
(4) Is used in transporting material found by the Secretary of Transportation to be hazardous under 49 U.S.C. 5103 and transported in a quantity requiring placarding under regulations prescribed by the Secretary under 49 CFR, subtitle B, chapter I, subchapter C.
49 C.F.R. § 390.5.
This definition is important, because CMVs engaged in interstate commerce are subject to a myriad of federal regulations overseen by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (“FMCSA”). These regulations impose strict rules on companies that operate these vehicles, as well as drivers.
Examples of commercial motor vehicles include:
- Tractor trailers (also known as “18-wheelers,” “semi-trucks,” “big rigs,” and “Mack trucks”)
- Double or triple tractor trailers (consisting of the “cab” or “power unit” attached to two or three trailers)
- Tanker trucks
- Box trucks
- Dump trucks
- Flatbed trucks
- Car carrier trucks
- Garbage trucks
- Certain heavy-duty pickup trucks
- 15-passenger vans
- Bobtails (the cab portion of a tractor trailer driven without a trailer)
While this list is not exhaustive, it provides examples of CMVs that people interact with on our roads every day. When a driver, passenger, or pedestrian is involved in a crash with a CMV, it is important to consult a knowledgeable attorney to help navigate the complexities of investigating and prosecuting a trucking accident case.
Some of the most important evidence in a catastrophic trucking or bus accident can be damaged, lost or destroyed in the hours or days following a collision. Sometimes this evidence is lost or destroyed accidentally, by people who are working to clean up an accident scene, get a highway reopened, or put a vehicle back on the road.
However, in some instances trucking companies will turn a blind eye to their duty to preserve evidence related to a crash. For these companies, getting their truck and driver back on the road and making money is the top priority.
Critical evidence may vary depending on the circumstances of the crash. Generally, the following items are important in pursuing a lawsuit in a trucking accident case:
- Photographs of the accident scene and vehicles. In a serious trucking accident, police investigators often take photographs of the accident scene and vehicles as they appear when first responders arrive. Some police departments have officers that are specially trained in documenting large truck and bus crash evidence. However, not all police departments have the funding or manpower to train officers in the best techniques for photographing the most important elements of the accident scene. This can create challenges for victims of trucking accidents who may be relying on a police report and police photographs as evidence of how the accident scene looked when the crash happened.Some trucking companies provide basic training to teach their truck drivers how to document the vehicle and roadway conditions at the scene of the accident. Unfortunately, some companies will encourage their drivers to avoid taking photographs of anything that would be incriminating to the truck driver or trucking company. This often means that evidence collected by the trucking company will tell the story the way the trucking company sees it.Certain trucking companies—especially large companies that operate 18-wheelers all over the United States—employ rapid response teams to investigate serious trucking accidents. These rapid response teams frequently include a professional accident investigator to document evidence at the scene, and an attorney or other company representative experienced in interviewing witnesses. These teams are on call for the trucking companies 24/7. If a catastrophic truck accident occurs at 2 a.m. on a rural country road, this rapid response team will descend upon the accident scene within hours, ready to collect evidence and take witness interviews. Because these investigators only represent the interests of the trucking company, they may attempt to influence eyewitnesses or “spin” the story of how the crash happened in their favor to avoid liability.
- Forensic mapping of the accident scene and vehicles. Similar to photographic evidence, forensic mapping using either a total station or 3D laser scanning technology can be crucial to reconstructing the events of an 18-wheeler crash. Some police departments have officers trained to use this technology to document evidence, and they will use it for serious crashes—when someone is severely injured or killed. However, due to the high cost of purchasing this technology and training officers how to use it, many police departments do not have this capability. Victims of severe trucking accidents can hire experts with extensive experience using this technology to collect evidence that will tell the story of how the accident unfolded.
- “Black Box” data. Many people are familiar with the term “black box” from new stories about investigations of airline crashes. But, most people do not realize that most tractor trailers, and even many passenger vehicles, also have black boxes. Commonly known in the trucking and automotive industries as electronic control modules (“ECMs”), these black boxes often contain vital information about each driver’s actions in the moments leading up to a crash. However, these black boxes do not contain infinite storage, so they are constantly overwriting old data. This means that information about when brakes are applied, vehicle speed, and other critical information can be overwritten if a truck or car is improperly moved from an accident scene. For victims of trucking accidents, it is important that any 18-wheelers involved in the collision be towed from the scene and stored in a secure location until a qualified investigator can download the black box data.
- The vehicles involved in the crash. Because of the size and weight differences between an 18-wheeler and the average passenger vehicle, it is possible for a serious collision to cause catastrophic damage to a victim’s car, truck, or SUV, while the tractor trailer involved has relatively minor damage. This often means that a trucking company will push to repair the truck as quickly as possible to get it back on the road, because a truck that is sitting still is not making the company any money.Additionally, truck drivers may be pressured by trucking companies and shipping brokers to continue to their next delivery if the damage to the truck seems relatively minor. When an 18-wheeler is repaired quickly or put back on the road right after a serious crash, physical evidence demonstrating the trucking company’s fault can be damaged or destroyed. Therefore, it is critical for victims of large truck accidents to protect their rights by insisting that the truck be held in a secure location, protected from damaging elements, until an investigator can inspect the truck.Finally, victims of a serious collision may be at risk of losing important evidence if their own car is not stored in a safe place. Trucking accident victims may sell their vehicles for salvage to avoid storage costs. If this is done before investigators have taken photographs and thoroughly examined the vehicle, the victim may lose important evidence helpful to prosecuting a case.
Truck drivers must follow many of the same rules of the road that the driver of a standard “four-wheeler” (the trucker term for passenger car) must follow. Truckers are prohibited from speeding, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and disobeying traffic signals. However, because tractor trailers are larger and can cause more damage on the roadways, the federal government has established a complex series of regulations to govern the companies and drivers that operate large trucks (also known as commercial motor vehicles). These regulations are called the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (“FMCSRs”). They are established by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (“FMCSA”), which is a branch of the United States Department of Transportation.
The FMCSRs apply to all commercial motor vehicles that operate interstate (in other words, between states). This means that the federal regulations apply to the majority of 18-wheelers on the road. The FMCSRs outline a variety of requirements for both truck drivers and trucking companies. Some of the more notable regulations require the following:
- A truck driver’s workday is limited to 14 hours. Within that 14-hour period, a truck driver may drive 11 hours, with a mandatory 30 minute break within the first 8 hours of a shift.
- After a 14-hour workday, a truck driver must take a minimum 10-hour break to rest. For long-haul truck drivers (“over-the-road” truck drivers), this usually means sleeping in the sleeper berth in the cab of their truck.
- Truck drivers must keep accurate logs indicating when their workday started, any rest periods taken throughout the workday, and any time spent “on-duty” but not driving.
- Truck drivers must perform a pre-trip inspection of their vehicle prior to driving it. This includes a visual inspection of the major safety systems on the truck, such as the brakes.
- Truck drivers must submit to a basic medical examination every two years to ensure they are physically capable of safely operating a large truck.
- Truck drivers are require to submit to drug and alcohol testing after a crash if they are in a crash that involves a fatality, the truck driver was cited and an injured person required immediate medical treatment away from the accident scene, or any vehicle was towed from the scene because of disabling damage.
This brief outline provides a few examples of the complex regulations at issue in a serious truck or bus crash. Baron & Budd helps the victims of serious trucking accidents navigate these complicated rules to get the recovery they deserve.
Truck drivers must obtain a Commercial Driver’s License (“CDL”) to be legally qualified to drive a commercial motor vehicle like a tractor trailer, bus, or tanker truck. In addition to basic CDL written and driving tests, many truck drivers must take additional tests to receive endorsements to their license. For example, a driver who wants to drive a truck with air brakes must take an additional exam to understand how those brake systems operate and how they impact the way a truck must be driven. A driver who wants to drive a large bus must take an additional exam that addresses issues related to bus passenger safety.
Each state has its own CDL training manual and requirements. However, these CDL manuals are based on federal law, which establishes guidelines all truck drivers must follow to safely operate their vehicles.
One important rule that applies to all truck drivers, regardless of what type of truck they are driving, is the so-called “12-15 second rule.” Under this rule, truck drivers are supposed to keep a lookout of 12-15 seconds ahead of their current vehicle position. This rule is important because it requires truck drivers to be aware of their surroundings, and to anticipate potential hazards.
These hazards could be anything from debris in the roadway that the truck driver must avoid, to a line of cars suddenly stopping in highway traffic. Because it takes several hundred feet to stop a tractor trailer operating at highway speeds, it is crucial that truck drivers keep this 12-15 second lookout. Unfortunately, when negligent truck drivers fail to keep a safe lookout, their lack of attention can cause other drivers and pedestrians serious injuries.
Another important rule that applies to all truck drivers is a ban on texting while driving. Although some states now prohibit texting while driving for all drivers, federal law strictly prohibits any commercial motor vehicle driver from texting while driving. This rule also prohibits truck and bus drivers from talking on a cell phone without a hands-free device while driving. In fact, a truck driver can be cited for dialing a cell phone (if dialing requires more than pushing one button), and for reaching for or holding a cell phone while driving.
This is just a small sample of the additional rules that truck and bus drivers must follow. If you or a family member suffer serious or fatal injuries in a truck or bus crash, the attorneys at Baron & Budd can help you determine if the truck driver violated any state or federal laws.