Large trucks are the most dangerous vehicles on the road. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), each year more than 4,000 people are killed in truck accidents nationwide. Because of their size, speeds, limited visibility, and other factors, large trucks present a danger for the rest of us on the road. In addition, because they often involve catastrophic injuries, the insurance companies who insure them vigorously defend these cases in an effort to minimize their exposure. It is important to find a law firm experienced in these types of cases and our attorneys have been named as the “Best Truck Accident Lawyers” here locally by Expertise.com for the last two years.
Too often law firms treat truck accidents the same as other automobile accident cases. However, the laws and standards at issue in these cases can differ greatly and this can end up hurting your case. Different rules apply to accidents caused by drivers with a commercial driver’s license (CDL), which a driver must obtain in order to operate a tractor-trailer truck or other large vehicle weighing more than 26,001 pounds. Many of the laws at issue in these cases involve federal regulations, including Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations. Federal laws are enforced by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which is the part of the U.S. Department of Transportation that regulates the trucking industry. Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations in particular has many rules that apply to the industry. For example, there are laws covering:
- How many hours drivers can work before they must take a break. These rules are known as Hours of Service (HOS) regulations and can be found in Title 49, Part 395 of the Code of Federal Regulations. Under HOS rules, drivers carrying cargo (different rules apply to CDL drivers carrying passengers) must limit their driving to:
- 11 hours maximum after a 10-hour break
- 60 hours in seven consecutive days
- 70 hours in eight consecutive days
- 30-minute break after driving 8 hours without a 30-minute interruption
- What qualifications drivers must have to operate a commercial truck. These rules can be found in Title 49, Part 391 of the Code of Federal Regulations.
- Which activities drivers are prohibited from doing behind the wheel, including texting while driving, even if drivers are allowed to text in that state. These rules can be found in Title 49, Part 392 of the Code of Federal Regulations.
- When drivers and trucking companies must inspect and repair commercial vehicles. These rules can be found in the inspection, repair and maintenance section of Title 49, Part 396 of the Code of Federal Regulations.
That’s why it is especially important to find an attorney experienced in these cases as soon as possible. Our attorneys know what to investigate and what information to look for before it is lost or destroyed, including:
- The driver’s Hours of Service (HOS) logs, which show how long the truck driver was on the road and when the driver last took a mandatory break.
- The black box data recorder, also known as an electronic control module (ECM) or event data recorder (EDR). This device records things such as GPS coordinates and the route the truck was traveling before the crash, when the driver last took a break, if the driver attempted to slow down before the collision, what the speed was at the time of the crash and if the driver was wearing a seatbelt.
- The driver’s driving history and if the driver who caused the crash had a history of reckless driving or causing other incidents.
- The trucking company’s inspection and loading records to make sure it was properly inspected and loaded, especially if the company had been punished for safety violations or other infractions in the past.
- The trucking company’s maintenance records, to find out when the company last did a safety inspection on the vehicle and to make sure it was in proper working condition at the time of the crash.
An investigation into these issues can help determine what one or more factors caused the crash. In these types of cases, the collision can be caused by a variety of factors including:
- Driver Fatigue or Inattention: Driver fatigue is a cause of truck accidents. If drivers violate hours-of-service regulations and drive longer than permitted, this may lead to drowsiness and inattentiveness, potentially resulting in a collision with another motor vehicle.
- Improper Braking: Passenger cars can brake faster than most large trucks. Loaded tractor-trailers take up to 20-40 percent farther than cars to stop and the discrepancy is greater on wet and slippery roads or with poorly maintained brakes. Reduced braking capability increases the risk of a potential collision if a truck driver is unable to stop in time.
- Blind Spots: Tractor-trailers have large blind spots, much larger than other passenger vehicles that can increase the likelihood of a crash with a smaller motor vehicle. If a truck driver cannot see another vehicle in their blind spot, they may attempt a maneuver that causes a collision with that vehicle.
- Improper Repair or Maintenance: Mechanical problems, whether caused by a defect or inadequate maintenance, can contribute to a truck crash. Issues can include faulty brakes, improperly inflated tires (prone to blowout), faulty steering, and more.
- Improper Loading: Failure to properly load a vehicle or trailer can result in a dangerous condition impacting not only the vehicle’s performance but the safety of the trailer and the stability of the cargo being transported.
In addition to determining what caused the crash, it is important to investigate, gather evidence and determine who may be responsible for that conduct as well.
- The Truck Driver: Truck drivers can be held responsible if the accident was caused by driver error, intoxication, distracted driving, driving too many hours, or by otherwise violating the law or driving in a careless or negligent manner.
- The Driver’s Employer: Employers can be held liable if the accident was caused by overscheduling the driver or by failing to train the driver correctly.
- The Tractor and Trailer Owner or Maintenance Company: Trucking companies are also required to inspect trucks regularly. If a trucking owner or maintenance company hired to perform repairs and maintenance, fails to properly inspect, repair and maintain a truck, which leads to an accident, these parties can also be held responsible.
- The Vehicle or Parts Manufacturer: The manufacturer of the truck or its parts can be held liable if a design or mechanical defect caused the incident.
- The Company that Loaded the Cargo: If the failure to properly load a truck or trailer results in a dangerous condition that causes a crash, the company responsible for loading the cargo can be held liable under the law.
Contact Schiffmacher Cinelli Adoff LLP to be sure you are represented by attorneys who have experience handling truck accident cases. Please call us at 716-815-4722 or fill out the contact form for a free consultation.