Truck accidents are not uncommon since there are over 3 million truck drivers in the US and approximately 15.5 million trucks in operation. Statistics indicate there are about 500,000 accidents yearly involving 13trucks with 5,000 fatalities.
When a tractor-trailer and a passenger vehicle collide, the results can be devastating, given the enormous disparity in size and weight of these vehicles. For instance, a typical passenger car weighs around 5,000 pounds while a fully loaded tractor-trailer approaches 80,000 pounds.
Properly evaluating a truck accident case requires an experienced tractor trailer accident lawyer to review the factors that insurance companies and, if necessary, juries use to determine the compensation that may be paid the victims or the victims’ families.
Causes of Truck Accidents
Trucks are commercial vehicles and most are involved in interstate travel or commerce, meaning that federal and state regulations govern the operation of trucking companies and drivers. Regulations for drivers require and dictate medical and drug testing, hours of operation, rest periods, and training. Trucking companies must comply with size and weight regulations, loads, maintenance of logs including electronic logging devices, drug testing practices and policies, hiring standards, and other rules.
More importantly, commercial drivers and companies are held to a higher standard of care in an accident since they transport huge loads (and people), some of which is hazardous, and because of their large size that poses such a risk to smaller vehicles in an accident. Truck regulations are always an issue to be reviewed in an accident to see if drivers and their companies were in compliance.
Factors that commonly arise in truck accidents include:
- Fatigue–during the maximum 14 hours on the road per day, drivers can only operate the vehicle for 11 hours. Drivers are then required to take 10 hours off before resuming. In many cases, there are hour violations as drivers are pressured to deliver their loads more quickly in less time
- Distracted driving—truck drivers, although professionals, are sometimes just as susceptible to texting or otherwise using their cell phone while driving as any other driver. Communicating with dispatch or other drivers while driving poses its own risks
- Alcohol and drug use–use of alcohol or drugs while driving is a major concern. Long-distance driving is tedious and drivers are tempted to drink or use drugs such as cocaine or methamphetamines to stay awake or prevent boredom
- Equipment defects–faulty steering or braking systems, bad tires and other flaws in equipment can lead to tragic accidents such as a runaway truck or one that is unable to stop fully or in time to avoid a collision
- Unsecured loads–who has not seen material on the roadway that has fallen off a truck?
How are Truck Accidents Evaluated?
A tractor trailer accident lawyer will scrutinize a number of issues when evaluating your truck accident claim:
How was the truck driver responsible for the accident? Was he speeding, distracted, fatigued, were drugs or alcohol in the driver’s system, or was it equipment failure? An examination of the electronic control module, also known as the black box, can provide speed history, heavy braking behavior, hours driven, fast acceleration and other data. There may also be eyewitnesses to the accident. In serious accidents, a tractor trailer accident lawyer may use an accident reconstruction expert to prove liability.
The trucking company’s potential liability is examined as well. If the driver had a poor driving record or was using alcohol or drugs, what was the hiring protocol and was there a drug and alcohol policy? If so, how was it enforced? Was the truck serviced and when and by whom?
- Other parties
If an equipment malfunction, could a repair shop, equipment or truck manufacturer be responsible? If a road defect, there could be municipal liability as well.
- Nature and extent of the injuries
Did the victim or victims suffer permanent injuries? What are the medical costs? Are future medical expenses and procedures likely? How have the injuries affected the victim’s lifestyle, employment and future earning capacity? Will the victim be on pain medication indefinitely?
- Causation issues
In serious injury cases, issues may arise as to whether the victim had a pre-existing condition that was caused by something other than the accident. For example, a herniated disc or knee condition may be alleged by a defense insurer or attorney to be due to the natural degenerative process or was caused by a previous accident or event. Expert medical testimony may be needed to link the injury or at least its aggravation, if pre-existing, to the truck accident.
If fatal, what was the character of the victim? What is the economic loss to the victim’s immediate family? How long was the victim’s work-life expectancy? Did the victim survive for a time before succumbing?
Every accident is unique so judging someone else’s accident and compensation to your own is not an accurate method of determining your own potential compensation, though it can be a guide.
Damages in Truck Accidents
As indicated, compensation for a truck accident depends on many factors. If liability is proved, then you are entitled to damages, which may include:
- Past and future wage losses
- Past and future medical expenses
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of earning capacity
- Diminution in enjoyment and quality of life
- Spousal claim for loss of consortium
In a fatal accident, a claim may be brought by the administrator for the decedent’s estate for the benefit of immediate family members (spouse, children, parents). Damages include:
- Medical expenses for final treatment or care
- Value of income the decedent could reasonably have expected to earn in his or her lifetime
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Pain and suffering of the decedent if observed to have visibly suffered before succumbing
- Value of the care, companionship, comfort, guidance, advice and counsel the decedent would have provided to family members
- Punitive damages if the defendant’s conduct was grossly negligent or exhibited a willful indifference to the safety of others
Massachusetts has a 3-year statute of limitations, or deadline, for filing a personal injury or wrongful death claim.
Contact Tractor-Trailer Accident Lawyer Neil Burns
Neil Burns is a highly experienced and successful tractor-trailer accident lawyer who has represented accident victims throughout the commonwealth for over 25-years. Contact his office for an in-depth analysis of your accident case and for the quality representation your claim requires.