Big trucks cause big accidents. The devastation that a fully loaded semi tractor-trailer can wreak, whether traveling below, above or at applicable speed limits, is horrendous – especially when considering an impact with a car or light truck. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that large truck accidents in Kentucky alone generally take over 100 lives each year. Trucking insurance companies and trucking companies start working these cases as soon as the accident occurs. The people injured should as well – which makes the task of hiring a competent attorney an urgent matter after a serious accident.
The probability of maximizing a recovery for the victim of a negligent truck driver or carrier increases with the work put into the case. The selection of appropriate experts in the investigation of the case is also critical and time sensitive. Substantial trucking cases are often best served by counsel hiring multiple consulting experts to assist with various aspects of the case: from accident reconstructionists, to engineers, medical experts, and others. Tim’s experience in these cases comes with every case accepted.
Cases that we handle can involve different types of commercial trucks, including:
Garbage and trash hauling accidents are very common. These large, often poorly maintained and staffed vehicles, plod our streets at all hours through the day and night. When an accident occurs, it is often very serious. Many variables come into play in accidents involving these trucks: federal and state commercial motor vehicle regulations are frequently disobeyed. Drivers are often distracted and pre-occupied. Limitations to visibility are common, resulting in dangers to other persons on the road, pedestrians and cyclists.
Oversized trucks represent tremendous dangers on the roadway. Improper marking, route planning, and insufficient escort vehicle service can contribute to causing an accident with these dangerous vehicles. Insufficient operator training, qualifications, and distracted driving can often play a part in causing an accident. Driving an oversized load down a highway is never the right time to talk on a mobile phone or engage in any unnecessary activity in the cab of the vehicle. Federal and state regulation of oversized loads is intense – oversight and even accident investigation is often lax, however. For this reason, an attorney experienced in trucking accident cases should be brought into the case as early as possible to capture and preserve key evidence.
Bobtail trucks are tractors to which there is no trailer or bed attached. These vehicles can be more dangerous than a tractor pulling a trailer. The dynamics of operating these vehicles are very different from operating a tractor with a bed attached. Bobtail trucks brake and handle differently than tractors pulling heavy loads. This is in part due to the braking systems involved. Often, operators also become careless when operating only a bobtail – taking chances that otherwise would not be taken when hauling a load.
Tanker trucks present very specific challenges. Tanker accidents have resulted in horrific explosions and dangerous environmental contaminations across the country and in Kentucky. Tank vehicle enforcement is an endorsement on a commercial driver’s license required for all drivers transporting liquids in bulk. Additionally, hazardous materials, which are often transported by tanker, require a HazMat endorsement on a commercial driver’s license permitting the driver to transport them. Hazardous materials are divided into multiple classes, based on the danger represented by the cargo. The legal responsibilities and duties of tanker and HazMat drivers are very high given the devastation that can result from the negligence of these drivers and commercial carriers hauling tankers and hazardous materials. The dynamics of a commercial tanker are unique, and the driver must be qualified to safely operate such a vehicle, as well as to otherwise deal with his or her dangerous cargo.
Bus and public transportation accidents can injure many people at the same time. These industries are highly regulated by law as a result of the dangers that these vehicles present on the roadway. Injuries are common in such accidents because passengers can move freely about the cabins, and are frequently not wearing a seat belt. Standing can also be a factor, as can entering and exiting these vehicles. Unsupervised children can also factor into injuries and even causation in an accident on a bus or other public transportation vehicle. Rollover bus accidents can be particularly deadly. Driver fatigue often plays a factor in public transportation cases (as well as in private charter bus accidents) along with a lack of sufficient driver training and supervision. Often, an accident is simply caused by a driver rushing, especially when the driver is operating on unfamiliar roadways.
Emergency vehicle accidents can result from simple driver error, to failure to follow emergency procedure and protocol, as well as a result of the errors or carelessness of others on the roadway. Failure to yield the right of way to an emergency vehicle is frequently a factor in accidents involving emergency vehicles and other vehicles on the roadway. Failure of the emergency vehicle operator to use lights and/or sirens and failure to safely operate the vehicle despite the display of lights and/or sirens are common causes of such accidents. Investigation of such accidents by both the authorities and counsel for the injured person should take place quickly, to capture and preserve any witness accounts of the incident and the operation of the involved vehicles prior to the incident. Radio recordings and phone records involving the vehicle also will need timely preservation.
The shifting of improperly loaded cargo during transit can also be a factor causing an accident in the course of transit or at the dock. Cargo securement rules are promulgated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, with the general rule being that cargo must be firmly immobilized or secured on or within a vehicle by structures of adequate strength, dunnage (loose materials used to support and protect cargo) or dunnage bags (inflatable bags intended to fill space between articles of cargo or between cargo and the wall of the vehicle), shoring bars, tiedowns or a combination of these. Particular types of cargo also require particular measures for their safe transit. These regulations can be found at 49 CFR 393, et seq. Applicable federal and state regulations are very detailed with respect to load and cargo securement.
When improper cargo securement occurs, the cargo becomes subject to movement. With a tractor trailer weighing up to 80,000 lbs., the weight of cargo, when it moves, creates a shift in the vehicle that can cause a wreck. These are load and cargo shift cases. Additionally, cargo can simply come loose due to insufficient tie-down and blocking, and fall off of these vehicles. Catastrophic results often occur on the highway due to such accidents. Drivers of such cargo may have violated legal duties relating to the loading and securement of the cargo, as may have whomever shipped and/or loaded it. Documentation of the load and the accident, as soon as is possible after an accident, is critical since memories will fade and evidence otherwise may be lost.
Driver’s of commercial trucks are required to be properly licensed, trained, and in health sufficient for the safe operation of the vehicle. Record keeping is required by federal and state law for motor vehicle carriers that document a driver’s qualification and fitness for duty. Drivers have illegally procured health cards showing fitness for duty and falsified health cards so as to continue driving illegally despite their health problems. However, certain medical conditions make it too unsafe for a driver to continue operating a commercial motor vehicle weighing 80,000 lbs and potentially carrying hazardous cargo. Carriers have a duty to confirm the legal fitness of drivers used, as well as to properly credential, train and supervise drivers. Specific regulations relate to drug and alcohol testing of drivers involved in a commercial motor vehicle accident as well. Whether the driver of a commercial vehicle was fit to drive the vehicle in issue can become the focus of investigation as a root cause of the accident, both in causes of action against the driver, the driver’s employer/carrier, and even with respect to brokers and shippers of the load carried at the time of the accident.
Fatigued or drowsy driving is a serious problem that leads to thousands of automobile crashes each year. Factors contributing to such accidents include driver sleep disorders, sleep loss, sedatives or other medication that can cause drowsiness, alcohol or other intoxicating drug use, or driving in excess of permitted hours of service. Investigation in such accidents will be personal to the driver involved – including potential discovery of the driver’s personal health records and driver qualification file. A typical crash related to sleepiness has the following characteristics: the problem occurs during late night, early morning or mid-afternoon; the crash is likely to be serious; a single vehicle leaves the roadway; the crash occurs on a high-speed road; the driver does not attempt to avoid a crash; the driver is alone in the vehicle. Commercial drivers are not permitted to drive while fatigued, and should be able to recognize the symptoms of fatigue, and safely pull over and rest. Industry pressures, cost considerations and other factors routinely, however, lead to drivers illegally driving while fatigued, and causing serious, often deadly accidents on the highway.
Tractors, trailers and other components of the commercial motor vehicle rig are required by law to be in safe, operational condition. Failure of safety equipment can lead to a catastrophic accident – injuring the driver of the truck through no fault of his or her own, or others on the roadway. Regulations govern inspection before and after the truck and equipment is used – every time. Repairs must be made when found, and an unsafe vehicle must be taken out of service. However, economic pressures often lead dangerous drivers and carriers to keep unsafe vehicles on the road, or to perform shoddy repairs. Periodic inspection and maintenance is required. Inspection and maintenance must be documented. The attendant maintenance records must be maintained for the vehicle. Because maintenance is often outsourced to a third party, cases involving equipment failures often require early litigation so as to properly identify all necessary defendants. Engaging a competent mechanic can also be necessary in equipment failure cases. Equipment failures are frequently involved in accidents, including defective brakes, defective safety equipment (including rear safety illumination markings that can cause a driver to rear-end a truck stopped in the roadway when missing or obscured).
Brokers and shippers must choose responsible motor vehicle carriers to commercially transport goods. Hiring a known unsafe driver or carrier, or failing to properly investigate a carrier, can lead to liability on the part of the broker that arranged the transportation for the shipper, or for the shipper itself. Additionally, the shipper may dangerously load the vehicle, and have resulting liability. These types of claims are becoming more frequent, and these entities can provide an additional source of recovery beyond the driver and involved carrier.
Truck drivers work hard. Though there are unfortunately dangerous drivers on the road, there are also plenty who are safety conscious. We represent safe truckers. These truck drivers get hurt and killed, and often a third party is at fault. Many automobile and truck drivers do not give a truck the room and respect it deserves on the highway. Truckers also hurt truckers – from rest-stop injuries (running over a pedestrian at a fuel stop), to making poor decisions with respect to passing or otherwise operating the vehicle. Truck drivers deserve Justice too – we represent safe truckers when they get hurt.
If you’ve been injured, call now and get the justice you deserve.
© Tim Lange 2017