The Answer May Surprise You. Trucking Accidents Can Be Quite Complex.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration reports 119,000 injury-related crashes involving large trucks in 2016.
The sheer size and weight of a truck, when compared to an automobile, means these injuries are often more serious.
In fact, 4,440 of these crashes ended in a fatality. While the damages incurred can be great, the complexity of recovering the damages you deserve can be even greater.
That’s because these cases involve more than one party and often more than one insurance policy.
What should you do if you are the victim of a large trucking accident? Particularly if the driver is an independent contractor rather than employed by the trucking company?
The best course of action is to find a skilled truck accident attorney.
Is The Driver or the Company at Fault?
“You almost always want to look at both the driver and the trucking company,” advises CEO Dennis VanDerGinst of VanDerGinst Law, P.C.
“If the driver’s actions caused the accident because the driver is an employee or agent of the company, the company can be liable as well.”
The company who hires the driver is liable under the legal doctrine of “respondeat superior.” This is a Latin phrase translating to “let the master answer.”
In fact, the company is often liable for more than just the driver’s negligence.
“This could be the case if the company hired an unqualified driver or if they didn’t supervise the driver. It’s also the case if they failed to properly maintain the truck causing or contributing to the accident,” explains VanDerGinst.
Can Anyone Else Be At Fault?
Additional parties beyond the driver and the trucking company could be found liable.
For example, the owner of the truck itself may be different than the owner of the trailer, or there may be a third-party company who is responsible for loading the truck, and negligence in these actions could have contributed to the crash.
“Fault frequently lies with a number of parties, and sometimes multiple insurance companies must pay a portion of the damages,” says VanDerGinst.
If dealing with multiple insurance companies isn’t complex enough, add to the mix the complicated federal regulations. These govern interstate traffic and the abundance of evidence that’s involved in a large trucking accident.
“There are pieces of evidence that one must secure right away, especially the logs truckers are required to keep,” notes VanDerGinst, “as well as GPS records and onboard crash records from the truck. Think of all of this like an airplane’s black box.”
What Steps Do I Take If I’m Involved in a Trucking Accident?
If you are the unfortunate victim of an accident involving a large truck, you should immediately contact emergency personnel and the police so you can receive prompt medical attention, an investigation, and a police report can begin.
Do not speak to any representatives from the opposing parties’ insurance companies.
Instead, contact a qualified attorney at VanDerGinst Law who can guide you through the complexity of dealing with multiple insurance agents, mounds of evidence and complicated regulations to secure your rightful damages.
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.
Contact VanDerGinst Law
If you or a loved one have suffered an injury due to a truck accident, contact VanDerGinst Law today.
VanDerGinst Law has a team that has extensive experience dealing with trucking accidents.
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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