Handling a case involving an 18-wheeler, tractor-trailer, log truck or other commercial truck requires a special investment of time and resources and a detailed knowledge of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations.
At first glance, it may seem that truck accidents are no different than car accidents.
But, that is not the case.
Commercial trucking is a huge industry.
There are always big rigs, 18-wheelers, tractor-trailers and other large trucks on the highways and streets.
Federal and State Laws About Trucking Accident Cases
Accidents involving large trucks such as big rigs and/or tractor-trailer vehicles are subject to a myriad of federal and state laws and regulations that would not apply in a crash that only involved cars.
That is one reason it is important to have a lawyer representing you who is experienced in handling large truck accident cases.
All aspects of handling a case involving a big truck case– including investigation, discovery, technology and the laws involved – are significantly different than a standard automobile case.
A lawyer who is not equipped with the proper background knowledge, time or experience to handle a claim involving a commercial truck crash is doing a great disservice to the client he represents.
VanDerGinst Law has the experience necessary to handle even the most complex trucking accident cases.
In fact, managing partner, Dennis VanDerGinst, has been a member of the Interstate Trucking Litigation Group for the American Association of Justice since 1994 as well as having been a National Advisory Board Member for the Association of Interstate Trucking Lawyers of America.
US Department of Transportation Governs Trucking
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) provides regulations for the safe operation of commercial vehicles.
Federal rules and regulations include drivers, vehicles, Hazmat situations, companies, and regulatory guidance.
Companies and drivers must comply with rules governing such areas as fatigued driving (Hours of Service), vehicle maintenance, cargo, driver fitness, substance abuse, and many other areas.
Even though the FMCSA is charged with regulating approximately 725,000 interstate and foreign-based truck companies, it is estimated that the FMCSA is able to only audit less than 2 percent, or less than 12,000, of the total carrier population annually. This means thousands of unsafe vehicles and drivers may fall through the cracks.
Trucking Safety Initiatives
Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the commercial motor carrier to ensure that the vehicles and drivers it employs meet all federal regulations to safeguard both its employees and the general driving public, and it is the responsibility of the commercial driver to make sure he or she is in compliance with the rules.
Safety initiatives have helped to reduce the number of tractor-trailer accidents occurring yearly across the country.
Big truck driving companies that follow new regulations have helped to reduce the number of big truck accidents.
But no matter what attempts are made to prevent accidents, the increasing number of motorists and tractor-trailer trucks on the nation’s highways amounts an unfortunate number of serious and fatal accidents.
The lawyer handling a case involving an 18-wheeler or other commercial vehicles must be familiar with those rules and regulations in order to recognize a claim and effectively handle the case.
Additionally, it is essential that lawyers handling these types of cases be prepared with a broad base of knowledge about the specific technology, insurance issues, multistate discovery practices and other aspects of litigation that are unique to the commercial vehicle industry and this type of litigation.
VanDerGinst Law has that experience and the resources necessary to handle these cases.
The most common issues faced in commercial vehicle litigation include:
• Truck driver fatigue and Hours of Service
• Truck driver distraction due to electronic devices
• Rapid Response Teams and the importance of prompt investigation
• Importance of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations in Commercial Trucking cases
• Statutory background of federal trucking safety laws
• Federal Motor Carrier Regulations often cited in commercial trucking cases
What are the dangers associated with big trucks?
The American Association for Justice recently released the findings of a study of safety performance that reveals more than 28,000 motor carrier companies have violated federal safety regulations, putting U.S. motorists on the roads with trucks that have such violations as defective brakes, bald tires, loads that dangerously exceed weight limits and drivers with little or no training, or drug and alcohol dependencies.
The safety data comes from the Motor Carrier Management Information System (MCMIS), maintained by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
The study indicates that while truck accidents occur for a variety of reasons, many are preventable, and often a direct result of trucking companies violating safety standards to cut corners and maximize profits.
Among the startling findings revealed in FMCSA data:
• More than 4,000 people die every year in collisions with trucks, and 80,000 more are seriously injured.
• Though trucks make up less than four percent of all passenger vehicles on U.S. Roads, they are involved in 12 percent of all motor vehicle fatalities.
• The vast majority of people killed in trucking accidents are the drivers and passengers of the cars that get hit.
Making matters even worse, the AAJ report says not only do the trucking companies disregard safety laws, but the minimum insurance requirements for commercial trucks are completely inadequate to compensate those who have been seriously injured in a collision.
Learn More About Trucking Accidents
Full Episode Transcript
Welcome to Legal Squeaks. I’m Dennis VanDerGinst. If you haven’t already done so, please be sure to subscribe to Legal Squeaks on your favorite podcast platform.
Today I’m going to talk to you about commercial truck accidents. From a lay perspective, it may not seem important to distinguish these type of accidents from other traffic accidents, but they are very different and distinct from accidents that only involve passenger vehicles. So this is a topic that’s definitely worthy of its own discussion.
And I have a special passion about this topic because I have served on the Interstate Trucking Litigation Group of the American Association for Justice for many years, and I currently serve on the National Advisory Council for the Association of Plaintiff Interstate Trucking Lawyers of America.
As an attorney, I’ve handled numerous cases involving big rigs and other large commercial trucks. And on a personal level, I’ve had loved ones who have been involved in these accidents. So I, I know firsthand the devastation that these types of accidents can cause.
So the term commercial vehicle usually indicates any motor vehicle that’s used to transport goods or paying passengers, but when I use the term commercial trucks, I mean the types of vehicles that can really create havoc and serious accidents on the roadways. For instance, the vehicles that are sometimes referred to as big rigs or tractor trailers, semis, 18 wheelers.
Similar concerns would exist for tanker trucks, busses, box trucks, any large truck of that nature. These vehicles are held to a heightened safety standard due to that size and power.
Drivers are required to undergo specific training to operate them, and the vehicles themselves are subject to regular inspections. Accident cases involving those types of vehicles can be considerably more complex than a regular car accident might have been. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, between 2000 and 2018, nearly 90,000 people died in the United States because of crashes involving large trucks and busses. During that same period of time, over 1.8 million people were injured in accidents involving big trucks and busses.
Now, obviously, people can be injured or killed in regular traffic accidents as well. You know, it doesn’t have to involve a commercial truck, but the risk of death or serious injury resulting from these accidents is much higher due to the size and weight of these types of commercial vehicles. Don’t get me wrong, the overwhelming majority of truck drivers are safe and thoughtful drivers. In fact, I’ve got several family members who either are currently or have in the past been over the road truck drivers. In addition, most trucking companies adhere to the applicable state and national regulations regarding training and supervision of drivers and the inspection and maintenance of vehicles.
And accidents involving large trucks are often, you know, not their fault, often it’s the fault of people driving smaller cars around them who fail to take into account the size of the trucks, the lack of maneuverability, or the large blind spots that some, sometimes exist with trucks, especially older trucks. But having said that, large truck drivers do cause their fair share of accidents as well. And one of the main concerns with this type of vehicle is that given the fact that it has extremely high inertia, it means that it takes longer for it to stop.
And if a driver doesn’t leave adequate room between that commercial vehicle and the car in front of it, he or she might end up rear ending someone with disastrous consequences. So, like I mentioned, regular maintenance of big rigs and other large commercial vehicles is extremely important, and that’s because commercial vehicles are required to adhere to certain safety standards for their air brakes. Large commercial vehicles are notorious for brake problems, and inspecting the vehicle after an accident can reveal important information about the state of its braking system, including brake lining adjustments and durability tests.
Equipment malfunction is often a contributing factor in these types of accidents. Trucking companies have to keep a record of the vehicle maintenance, but they’re allowed to discard those records after a certain period of time, you know, and it’s very, very common that those records are crucial to evaluating accident cases. So it’s really important to gain access to them right away before all the relevant maintenance records are either destroyed or discarded somehow.
Another source of negligence might be the company who loaded and secured the cargo in the tractor trailer. Sometimes loads are too heavy or they’re not properly secured so that they shift when the vehicle is moving or making turns. And that causes the vehicle to become unstable and perhaps tip over or again, get the momentum going in such a fashion that they cannot, the driver loses control of the vehicle causing an accident.
Speaking of the driver losing control, driver error may be a cause, obviously, of big rig accidents as well. Truck drivers have the same distractions as other drivers on the roadways, including sometimes being distracted due to texting or phone usage. But in addition to those other typical distractions that we all face when we’re driving, truckers can have long hours on the road, which can cause fatigue, which often, often is going to contribute to accidents.
In addition, there’s there’s the stress of constantly rushing to meet deadlines with respect to deliveries, and that can play an adverse impact on physical and mental health. Intoxication can be a part of the puzzle. It’s always good to do an extensive search into the driving histories in order to determine what the exact nature of the delivery was, and that can be useful for building a case.
If an operator, for instance, has a poor driving record, it’s much more likely that the accident was a result of his or her human error. Speaking of drivers, a commercial driver’s license, CDL, is the driver’s license required to operate large, heavy or placarded hazardous material vehicles and commerce. The Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act established the minimum requirement that must be met when a state issues a CDL. And there are different classes of licensure and endorsements which are going to determine what types of vehicles a person is allowed to operate.
Sometimes there are other outside factors that contributed, that may contribute to these types of accidents, including weather conditions, road conditions, road work, dangerous roadways. These are all factors that need to be evaluated to see what impact they may have had on any given scenario when we’re talking about an accident involving a large truck, or a big rig or, you know, a tanker truck, for instance. Speaking of injuries from a commercial vehicle accident can also be complicated.
Obviously, there’s the risk of serious bodily injury or death, but if the vehicle was carrying a harmful substance such as chemicals, then the victims are at risk for suffering a myriad of other medical problems.
In the worst case scenario, sometimes the cargo might even increase the risk of cancer or respiratory problems, which could affect the person’s quality of life and employment opportunities for the rest of his or her her life. So there are a number of things that are pertinent to large truck accident cases that just don’t usually arise in your typical passenger vehicle car accidents.
That’s why it’s important that if you’ve had an accident that involves this type of consideration, that you have an attorney helping you, that is familiar with the rules and regulations that impact these types of accidents, I hope this information has been useful. And I also hope you never have to use it.
If you have any questions, VanDerGinst Law is always honored to help.
Again, please be sure to subscribe and review Legal Squeaks as well as our other podcast, Uncommon Convos.
Also, check out legalsqueaks.com, where you can suggest topics for upcoming podcasts.
So please have a great day. Stay safe. And I love you all.
What can I do?
If you feel you have a claim, VanDerGinst Law would like to talk to you.
Contact VanDerGinst Law today.
We have knowledgeable and experienced attorneys who can help guide you through the complexities of your case and help you obtain the financial compensation you deserve.
The consultation is free and there is never a fee unless we win.
Call VanDerGinst Law at 800-797-5391.
The law is tough, being injured is tougher. We’ll make it easier for you.
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