Trucking and Commercial Vehicle Accidents

Large commercial “big rigs” or “18-wheelers” are the biggest, heaviest vehicles permitted on our nation’s highways. Because of their sheer size and weight, they can become unstable at highway speeds unless all rules are strictly followed. If not, accidents may occur and almost always results in serious injury and/or death. State and federal agencies have tried to minimize the risks by enacting extensive regulations for the trucking industry.

Nevertheless, many trucking companies and private drivers still refuse to follow basic safety and maintenance rules that have been put in place. With the difficult economy, there has been less demand for trucking combined with higher fuel prices. As a result, routine maintenance is delayed, and drivers are pressured to get their loads to their destinations quickly, no matter what. As a result, truckers are forced to drive longer and perform vehicle maintenance only when absolutely necessary just to survive. When a trucking company or trucker consciously decides to push the limit or disregard the rules, that is a choice, not an “accident” and your family should not suffer because of their bad conduct.

Trucking Accidents are Different: They’re Not Just ‘Larger’ Car Accidents

Since tractor trailer, “big rig” or “18 wheeler” accidents almost always cause serious injury or death, an experienced trial attorney will advise that a lawsuit needs to be filed in order to fully develop the evidence needed to obtain the best financial outcome. Through trial discovery and depositions, the operational records of the trucking company and complete history and information about the at-fault driver will be fully exposed. When litigating cases worth hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars, every aspect of a complex injury case must be considered. Listed below are some of the differences between litigating tractor trailer accidents and automobile cases:

First, interstate trucking companies are governed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration which publishes mandatory, strict regulations. If a tractor trailer driver violates these safety regulations, an experienced tractor trailer accident lawyer will request a jury charge on “negligence per se.” This means that if a rule is broken, the judge will instruct the jury that the trucking company can be held responsible for the harm caused.

Next, all new and many older tractor trailers have advanced computer systems onboard similar to an aircraft “black box.” Others have on-board radar and satellite tracking data that can reveal a great deal of information about an accident. Just as in plane crashes, a review of this data can show a truck’s speed, direction, whether brakes were applied, whether speed control was engaged, as well as other critical information about the truck’s operation. The best part is that this data is completely objective. Truck drivers may be killed in the crash or not be willing to give information. Some will even attempt to lie in order to protect themselves or the company. These records eliminate all doubt and must be preserved quickly to protect this vital evidence for trial.

Common Causes of Trucking Accidents

When truck drivers and trucking companies do not follow these basic safety regulations, the likelihood of serious accidents increases dramatically. While each case is unique, some of the more common causes of large truck accidents include:

  • Driver inexperience
  • Driver fatigue
  • “Super-Single” Tire Failure
  • Speeding
  • Careless or reckless driving
  • Driving while impaired (alcohol and/or drugs)
  • Overloaded trucks
  • Improperly loaded trucks
  • The Lure of More Money
  • Improper maintenance
  • Improper safety parts
  • Improper supervision or training
  • Lack of Qualified Drivers

In cases where deaths occur, the state agencies for highway safety will often conduct an in-depth investigation into an accident. However, even these studies may not answer all questions. It may be necessary to retain a collision reconstruction expert with an engineering background or other specialized skills to go back and review or even reinvestigate the accident in full. At a minimum, the driver and risk manager of the trucking company should be deposed, and an exhaustive review of all operational documents should be performed. The average car accident lawyer is simply not trained to handle these more serious cases.

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