The Basics of Truck Accident Law
Just like the vehicles themselves, truck accident law is more complicated and "heavy-duty" compared to accidents involving passenger cars.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration keeps tabs on the number of fatal truck accidents each year. Heavy trucks-particularly those pulling trailers-are consistently responsible for 8 percent of all crash fatalities in the United States each year, even though they comprise only 3-4 percent of all registered vehicles. Clearly, accidents involving trucks are more likely to be deadly and cause more damage, especially if they roll, jackknife, or catch fire.
There are many causes of truck accidents which may lead to a lawsuit:
- Driver fatigue
- Not braking in time
- Fuel fires, which can be caused by batteries placed in a precarious position
- Truck driver inexperience
- Overloaded or improperly loaded trucks
- Lack of proper maintenance
Truck Accident Law
Because trucks often travel through more than one state, both federal and state laws may have jurisdiction in truck accidents. For example, federal regulations called Hours of Service Rules dictate how often truckers must stop to rest and sleep on trips. Federal law also requires drivers to record their driving information in drivers logs, which may document:
- Violations of sleep requirements
- Negligent driving
- Potentially illegal, intentional misconduct on the drivers part
Federal regulations also require trucking companies to carry various levels of insurance, depending on what type of materials are being hauled.
State laws, such as speed limits, also come into play in trucking accidents.
Proving fault in a trucking accident lawsuit may prove to be more difficult than in an ordinary car crash. That is because there are many more potential defendants, the parties being sued. Besides the driver, the trucking company, the owner of the trailer, the manufacturers of the truck and truck parts, and others may all bear responsibility for the accident.
After a trucking accident, law enforcement and other investigators will usually take a close look at the events that occurred leading up to and during the accident. This is where the drivers log comes into play. For example, investigators will want to know how the truck was maintained and loaded and whether it was properly inspected and tested according to industry standards. Investigators will also be interested in the drivers training and credentials, along with his physical and mental state.
An attorney who practices in truck accident law will want to see if the trucking company can be held responsible for the actions of the driver, under what is called a respondeat superior theory of law, which is also known as vicarious liability. This allows a third-party to be responsible for the accident even if the third party was not on scene.
However, the trucking company may turn around and try to prove that the driver was an independent contractor, not an employee, or that the driver was not on company time but driving the truck for personal use.
Because of the complexity of trucking accident law, it is crucial to have an attorney advise about any lawsuit you may want to pursue.
Evidence in Truck Accident Lawsuits
If you have been involved in a truck accident and decide to go ahead with a trucking accident, personal injury lawsuit, your attorney will want to identify and review all evidence during the discovery stage of the litigation. In discovery, attorneys will gather documents and interview witnesses and others who may have information about the accident. Evidence can include:
- Trucking logs
- Witness statements and observations
- Cell phone records of the driver
- The drivers personnel file
- The trucking companys safety record
- The truck drivers safety record and driving record
- Documentation of the drivers training and qualifications
If, during discovery, information emerges that shows the trucks equipment failed, you then have a products liability lawsuit, which may require the search for other, similar accidents that involved failure of the same equipment. The products liability case may be against the manufacturer for producing shoddy equipment, the trucking company for not discovering the malfunction before it caused injury, or both.
As the victim of a trucking accident, the law allows you to collect several types of monetary damages if you are successful at trial. They include:
- Economic damages, which covers your medical and rehabilitation expenses as well as loss of earnings in the past and earning capacity in the future
- Non-economic damages, which cover pain and suffering, disfigurement, emotional distress, and loss of spousal companionship
- Punitive damages, to punish the party at fault if it acted in bad faith
- Double or triple damages, if there are special circumstances, such as the driver being drunk at the time of the accident
If your trucking accident attorney has filed a lawsuit on your behalf against any of those potential defendants, you may at some point receive a settlement offer. Should you take it? Your lawyer will give you a good idea of what your case could fetch at a jury trial and how long it will take to get there. You will have to weigh that information against your need for the money. While your attorney can give you advice, the decision on whether to settle the case is yours alone.