Truck Accident Laws for Commercial Trucking

04/22/2019
By Logan Quirk

Special truck accident laws are vital for protecting victims injured in commercial truck collisions. The size and weight of large commercial trucks greatly increases the potential for serious damage and injuries when they collide with passenger vehicles. The number of trucks traveling across the country every day also increases every other driver’s risk of being involved in a collision with one.

It’s easy to tell from a large truck’s appearance that it’s bigger and heavier than any passenger vehicle. It’s longer and taller. What drivers don’t see is the freight that it’s carrying in the trailer. Legally, an 18-wheeler can have a weight up to 80,000 pounds. That’s twenty times the weight of the average passenger vehicle.

It isn’t just the size and weight of the trucks that put every driver at risk of serious injuries. It’s the sheer number of trucks on the roads and highways that make a collision more likely. Although they are a necessity for transporting all types of goods, the drivers, owners, and trucking companies behind them don’t always follow the laws like they should.

commercial trucking

Why Commercial Truck Collisions Are So Common

The design of the truck places some challenges on the driver. They sit higher off the road and reduce the driver’s field of vision. Drivers of other vehicles often think the truck driver can see them from any position. It’s easy to get lost in a truck driver’s blind spot when they aren’t paying attention to the traffic around them.

A large truck also operates differently than a passenger vehicle. For one thing, they take longer to stop. One reason is the heavy weight of the truck combined with the speed they are traveling. As the weight and speed increases, so does the distance they need to stop.

Another reason it takes longer to stop is that they have a different type of brakes than passenger vehicles. Most modern cars use hydraulic brakes that are liquid. Semi-trucks use air brakes. The brakes don’t work until the air reaches all of the brakes, creating a lag time.

The trucks aren’t the only reason collisions happen or the main reason for enacting special truck accident laws. Often, it’s the actions or inactions of the driver that cause a collision.

Companies often offer financial incentives to drivers who deliver their freight to its destination faster. Adding a little more money to their paycheck becomes a top priority; not looking out for the safety of other drivers.

Drivers don’t always take the necessary precautions to ensure they are alert. Driving fatigued, distracted, or under the influence impacts their road awareness and their ability to stay safe. When safety isn’t a top priority, wrecks are more likely to happen.

We don’t always hear about accidents involving commercial trucks because they are scattered across the country. That doesn’t mean that they don’t happen every day. Collisions between commercial trucks and passenger vehicles are so common and serious that special laws have been put in place to govern them. When the truck driver is liable for the wreck, regulations of the Department of Transportation (DOT), the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), traffic laws, and civil liability rules all come into play. In spite of the regulations on trucking, the number of collisions reached an all-time high in 2017.

Who Is to Blame?

When severe injuries occur, the first question to consider is “who is liable?” for the collision. Sometimes, it isn’t the party people often think. Whoever was negligent in their actions is liable for the damages and injuries of the other party. Even when it seemsthat the truck driver is the liable party, someone else might be at fault. It’s important to identify all of the people who might be at fault early in the case. A statute of limitations limits the amount of time that an accident victim has to file a lawsuit. Some potential parties include:

  • Driver
  • Truck Owner
  • Trucking Company
  • Business Entity
  • Parts Company
  • Mechanics Company
  • Maintenance Crew
  • Manufacturer
  • Government Official
  • Driver of a Third Vehicle

In some cases, two or more entities might share liability in the lawsuit. For example, the trucking company that hired an unqualified truck driver was negligent in their acts. The truck owner might have failed to use quality repair parts or perform required maintenance. If a faulty part led to the collision, the manufacturer might be to blame. The plaintiff almost always names the driver in the lawsuit, but other parties might be equally or even more at-fault. The truck accident law in California gives plaintiffs the right to pursue compensation from anyone whose negligence contributed to their injuries.

Truck drivers contribute to collisions in many ways. They might take over-the-counter medications to help keep them awake. In spite of stricter regulations on how long a driver can work behind the wheel without a break, many push themselves beyond the point of fatigue to get to their destination quickly.

Illicit drug use is also a problem in the commercial trucking industry. Although the driver might make the decision to get behind the wheel while under the influence, the trucking company might be negligent by not performing required drug tests.

The crew responsible for loading the truck can also be negligent. They might fail to distribute the load evenly or secure heavy items that shift and put the truck off balance. An improperly loaded truck that is driven by a speeding driver is a danger to all vehicles on the road. If a collision occurs, both the negligence of the speeding driver and the loading crew are to blame.

Truck drivers have a great deal of responsibility. They must receive training that makes them safer drivers. Not only are they expected to follow the normal traffic laws, but also to adapt to changing conditions that make safe roads more hazardous. For example, going the speed limit on a safe, dry road is following the law. Failing to reduce their speed when that road has ice or snow on it is irresponsible. It is also negligent when their actions lead to a wreck.

If the trucking company knew about the driver’s negligent behaviors, they are negligent for the accident they caused. It is their responsibility to hire trustworthy truck drivers who don’t have a history of bad driving practices. Keeping a driver after previous incidents can make them liable for the impact their current behavior has on another person’s life.

Sometimes the driver’s actions or omissions don’t cause the wreck. The inspection crew might not have inspected the truck properly. The maintenance crew might have omitted a repair they didn’t think was necessary. They might have made the required repair using faulty parts produced by the manufacturer.

One of the most common causes of accidents occurs when a damaged tire breaks apart, causing the driver to lose control of the truck. Federal trucking laws demand that truck tires get inspected and maintained to prevent them from getting damaged.

Although it may take a lengthy investigation to prove which parties were negligent, the plaintiff should include anyone in the lawsuit who might have contributed. Waiting too long will result in the statute of limitations expiring and their no longer having the legal right to add them to the suit. It’s up to the injured party to prove that the other party or parties were negligent and that they caused the collision and their injuries.

truck accident laws

Comparative Fault Law

California is a comparative fault state. That means that the courts might determine the plaintiff in a personal injury case is partially at fault for their own injuries. This shared liability can reduce the amount of compensation they can receive. For example, if the court determines the plaintiff is 50% liable for their injuries and the total amount of damages is $10,000, they can still receive $5,000 in compensation.

Any time a person gets injured in a collision with a large commercial truck, they need to hire a personal injury attorney to represent their rights. There is a limited amount of time to determine who to name and how much they should pursue in damages.

Proving Damages

Once the plaintiff identifies the defendants, the next step is to determine damages. This doesn’t come from a random number the plaintiff picks out of the air. It is important to note that the type of damages that occur in a truck accident are often much larger than those resulting from a car accident. A personal injury attorney uses a formula to determine a fair amount to ask for based on any or all of the following types of damages:

  • Lost Wages
  • Lost Future Earnings
  • Loss of Consortium
  • Punitive Damages
  • Medical Bills
  • Pain & Suffering

What You Need to Know About Filing a Personal Injury Lawsuit

The statute of limitations for filing a personal injury lawsuit is usually two years. Several factors can shorten or lengthen the time you’re allowed to file. For example, if you file a claim against the state of California, you might only have six months.

Although you can still obtain compensation if you were partially at fault in California, don’t admit fault at the accident scene. You never know if the truck driver was driving under the influence, on a suspended license, or driving while distracted. Never assume that you know who is responsible for the accident, even though it seems obvious.

Talk with a personal injury attorney right after the wreck. Find an attorney who knows the state’s truck accident laws and all the nuances that apply to your case.  Your attorney will evaluate your case and let you know what types of compensation you might be able to collect. Recovering from a serious collision is a financially and emotionally difficult event. Your injuries can impact every area of your life. Make sure you get the justice and the compensation that the law allows for victims of commercial truck accidents. Get an experienced truck accident attorney on your side.

When a Commercial Truck Collision Results in Wrongful Death

Many of the truck collisions that occur each day result in fatalities. When a person’s injuries are so severe that they result in death, their loved ones might have the right to recover damages. Some of the damages they can collect for a wrongful death include funeral & burial expenses, loss of their loved one’s income, and a loss of their companionship and support.

If a loved one’s injuries initially require hospitalization and treatment prior to their death, the lawsuit might become more complex. The damages will include the personal injuries that required medical treatment and the death that resulted when the treatment failed. It’s important to discuss all the details of a case with an experienced personal injury attorney.

No one can put a price on the loss of a family member. Getting compensation isn’t about taking revenge on the at-fault party. California’s truck accident law allows wrongful death lawsuits to get compensation for expenses that add to a family’s burden. Dealing with the emotional loss is bad enough. Adding financial problems that arise when a primary wage earner is no longer there only adds to the pain.

Preparing for a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit begins immediately after the collision. The plaintiff will collect information about the crash, the truck driver, and the company that owns the truck. They will obtain an accident report and gather witness information. One of the most important things they will do is get medical treatment and follow all their doctor’s recommendations. It’s important to get the treatment they need to heal and improve their quality of life.

Truck accident law is complex and there are many exceptions to the rules. No one should attempt to navigate a lawsuit without expert legal advice. When it comes to evaluating your truck collision case, there’s no better time than now.

Contact Quirk Law Group to get 24/7 real-time assistance. Learn your rights and get an experienced personal injury attorney on your side. You have the right to pursue compensation for your injuries from the person or persons whose negligence caused them.

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