Nearly 11 million commercial trucks are on the road in the United States. Trucks can be 70 to 80 feet long, and weigh up to 80,000 pounds. By comparison, the average car weighs 5,000 pounds. When you combine the size and weight of trucks with a compensation system that encourages drivers to stay on the road at all costs, and understaffed and underfunded regulators, you have a recipe for disaster. Trucks are involved in more than 10% of all fatal crashes nationwide. In Georgia alone, in 2011, there were over 150 fatal accidents involving trucks. Trucking accidents can be complex events. Often there are multiple vehicles involved, severe injuries, and substantial damage to property. If you are involved in a trucking accident, you need to know how trucking accidents are different from other accidents.
While much of this information applies in all states, if you are injured in an accident in a state other than Georgia, you should talk to a personal injury lawyer there.
Federal Laws Apply
All states, including Georgia, have state laws that regulate all drivers and additional laws that apply only to commercial drivers, like truckers. However, federal laws also govern commercial trucking. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (part of the US Department of Transportation) imposes certain standards on trucking companies, owners, and drivers via federal regulations. Different rules may apply to interstate truckers (those that are traveling from one state to another) and intrastate truckers (those that are only traveling within Georgia).
Since truckers make their living as drivers, more is expected of them. As a general rule, under both state and federal law, trucker drivers are expected and required to exercise greater caution than other drivers. For example, in many states, including Georgia, while all drivers are prohibited from driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 or greater, truck drivers may not drive with a BAC of .04 or greater. Trucking companies must also periodically test their employees for drug and alcohol use. Vehicles must conform to certain safety regulations, and a driver whose truck is stalled on the road must follow specific protocols. Additionally, federal regulators with the Motor Carrier Safety Administration can prohibit commercial drivers who do not follow the rules from working interstate and can shut down trucking companies as a result of regulatory violations. Trucking is a highly regulated industry and truck drivers and companies who fail to follow state and federal laws and injure others can be considered negligent.
More Possible Defendants
When it comes to truck accidents, there are a variety of people or companies who may be responsible for the victims’ injuries, including the driver, the owner, the person or company that leased the truck from the owner, the manufacturer of the truck, or any part of the vehicle that may have contributed to the accident. Improper loading of a truck’s cargo can cause the truck to tip or roll over, turning it into an 80,000 pound menace. You may also need to determine who loaded the truck’s cargo and who secured the load. Since there are so many potential defendants, you need an attorney to investigate who owns the truck, who leases the truck, and who inspected and maintained the truck. Oftentimes, these companies will fight among themselves, pointing fingers at one another in an effort to avoid liability for injuries.
As with many accidents, oftentimes, there is more than one factor that contributes to a trucking accident. However, the most important contributing factor in the vast majority of trucking accidents is driver error. Driver error comes in many forms, including speeding, inattention, taking prescription and over-the-counter medications, alcohol use, and unfamiliarity with the road. In any accident in which a person is killed, the driver must be tested for drugs and alcohol, but in all accidents, you need to find out whether the driver was taking drugs or alcohol.
For commercial truckers, a common cause of driver error is fatigue and sleep deprivation. Drivers make their living based on the number of miles they drive and are not compensated for any other time they spend on the road, such as during loading or inspections. What sort of incentives does that create? Common sense tells us that a driver is going to try and cover as many miles as possible. While there are federal rules that govern how many hours a driver can work each day and each week and also mandates lengthy rest periods, driver surveys show that many drivers work longer hours. If you are in an accident that involves a truck, you need to determine how long the driver had been at the wheel and whether the driver followed federal rules governing hours of service. All drivers are required to maintain service logs, but other documents, such as delivery records, can help you determine if the service log is accurate.
More Severe Injuries
Although trucks are only involved in a small percentage of accidents nationwide, trucking accidents are more likely to cause severe injuries or death. This is a result of the large size and heavy weight of most trucks.
Punitive damages are damages above and beyond medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering. Punitive damages are intended to punish wrongdoers who act in ways that pose a threat to others. Mere negligence is not enough to trigger a punitive damage award, but evidence that a truck driver or trucking company has acted with reckless disregard for the safety of others, or has a history of safety violations may be relevant to establishing that the defendant acted particularly heinously.
You Need to Preserve Evidence
Any complex event like a truck accident will generate a lot of evidence. However, by law, driver logs only have to be maintained for a few months and then they can be destroyed. Many commercial trucks are equipped with GPS and inclinometers (devices that provide information about the angles of a slope and how to round corners safely), and today, some trucks are even equipped with black boxes, similar to those found on airplanes, that can record how fast the truck was moving at the time of the accident and can even tell you how long the driver has been at the wheel. Obviously, if you are in a trucking accident, it is imperative that this sort of evidence be preserved and analyzed before it disappears.
You Need to Fight Back
If you are the victim of a trucking accident, you need to fight back to protect yourself. Each of the various possible defendants will have an experienced lawyer to represent their interests, and you need a personal injury that has successfully handled trucking accidents in the past to represent your interests. A lawyer will able to explain the law to you and what to expect in court, and should be able to help you get medical care if you need it. An attorney can fight for your rights so that you are compensated for whatever injuries you suffer.