The trucking industry is huge in the United States, with an estimated 8.9 million people working on some level in the sector. Approximately 15.5 million trucks, 2 million of them tractor trailers, are in operation in the country. The average tractor trailer weighs many tons and measures 70-80 feet in length. This equates to enormous force in the event of a collision. That is why truck accidents often result in devastating damages, not just to property, but also to human lives. And very rarely is it that truck drivers suffer severe or fatal injuries in accidents; more often than not, it is the passengers in other, smaller motor vehicles that bear the brunt of the impact.
Every year, around 500,000 truck accidents take place in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). In these incidents, close to 5,000 people are killed and 130,000 are injured. The overwhelming majority of the time (98 percent) the passengers of other vehicles are the ones killed.
Commercial trucking is continuing to experience significant growth in revenues, which may double in 2015. This means more and more trucks may be on the road over the course of the next few years, which is bad news for motorists driving smaller vehicles.
The Common Causes of Truck Accidents
Although the trucking industry is expected to uphold certain standards established by federal and state regulatory agencies, some truckers and trucking companies still violate the road laws and regulations that serve to keep other motorists safe. Although not all violations result in accidents, they commonly contribute to the accidents that do occur. Some of the most common causes of truck accidents include the following:
- Fatigued driving
- Distracted driving
- Overloaded cargo
- Lack of adequate maintenance
- Inadequately trained staff
In some cases, another party besides the truck driver or the trucking company may be liable. For example, a truck driver may lose control due to flawed road design or dangerous road conditions. The governmental body that has jurisdiction over the area where the accident occurs may be held responsible for the resultant damages. In another example, the cause of a truck accident may be a defective part in the vehicle. The manufacturer of the defective part may be held liable in this case.
Truck Brake Failure
The two biggest culprits behind truck accidents caused by mechanical breakdowns are brake failures and defective tires. In fact, a recent study by the DOT found that 29.4 percent of all large truck crashes involved brake-related issues.
So, when a truck accident occurs due to brake malfunction, which party is to blame? Liability may be held by the following parties (individually or in combination):
- The Driver and/or the Owning Company
- Depowering the front brakes – Some drivers either make the choice or are encouraged by their employers to unhook or depower the front brakes and instead rely on the trailer brakes and downshifting. This is done to save on tire and brake wear and replacement costs.
- Bad brake setting and inadequate maintenance – Scheduled maintenance should be performed on the brakes without fail. Also, drivers should perform inspections of the truck’s various parts before every trip, including checking for missing or broken components, or for air leaks in the brake chamber.
- The Brake Manufacturer
- Truck braking systems must meet certain federal regulations to be approved for usage. Depending on the size and weight of the truck, the braking system must be able to provide adequate braking force, decelerate from 20 miles per hour to a stop at a particular rate, and meet the automatic brake adjustment system requirements. If an accident occurs due to defective brakes, victims can bring forward claims based on defective design or manufacturing.
- The Loading Company
- Improper loading – If cargo is not distributed evenly throughout the trailer, it may cause the brakes to overheat and malfunction.
Truck Tire Failure
Tires are just as vital as brakes, and when they fail, disaster often results. The most common causes of tire failure include the following:
- Defective Tires – Tire manufacturers are expected to produce and distribute functional products that are safe to use. All defective tires should be reported to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and recalled.
- Inadequate Maintenance – Trucking companies should maintain their tires well and check their tread depth, make sure they match in size and exhibit similar wear, and avoid mixing bias and radial tires on the same axle.
- Improper Inspection – Tires should have the right amount of pressure and exhibit little signs of deterioration. Otherwise, a blowout may result, which can cause drivers to lose complete control of their trucks.
Preserving Your Claim after a Truck Accident
Many know the basics of what to do in the aftermath of a truck accident such as receiving medical attention, filing a police report, gathering witness statements, taking photos of the accident scene and relevant items, etc. However, there are two additional ways of obtaining key information and evidence you may not know.
First, you have the option of requesting a copy of the report made by the government-hired certified truck inspector. This report is generally much more extensive than the police report and includes detailed information on the post-accident condition of the truck’s mechanical components. You must contact the appropriate government agency.
Second, you must find a way to preserve the involved truck’s black box and other on-board high tech equipment. These devices may provide vital information surrounding the accident, such as how fast the truck was going at the time of impact, when the brakes were pressed, and even whether the trucker took required breaks. Consult with a qualified truck accident attorney right away. He or she will help you swiftly secure the info before the company gets to it.
Commercial Truck Accident FAQ
Q: What is considered a commercial truck?
A: A commercial truck is a vehicle that is mainly used to complete objectives or transport commercial goods for a business. Common types of commercial trucks include 18-wheelers, tractor trailers, tankers, dump trucks, delivery vehicles, and “big rigs.”
Q: Who can I hold responsible for my truck accident injury?
A: Depending on the circumstances of your accident, you may be able to file a claim against the driver of the truck if driver error was involved, the trucking company if they were negligent in their management (hiring unqualified drivers, skipping routine maintenance checks, etc.), and/or the truck’s manufacturer, if a defective part contributed to the accident.
Q: What are the common causes of truck accidents?
A: The most common causes of truck accidents include speeding, drunken or drugged driving, improper braking, fatigue, mechanical failure, defective parts, and improper loading or overloading of cargo.
Q: What does an investigation entail in a truck accident case?
A: A premier personal injury lawyer will take immediate steps to obtain and analyze the truck driver’s log for discrepancies and violations, as well as request the maintenance history of the vehicle and the driver’s record. S/he may also bring forth expert witnesses to establish the events of the accident in cases where the trucking company is disputing liability.
Q: What are the Hours of Service (HOS) regulations?
A: The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration limits the amount of time a trucker can stay behind the wheel without taking a break. Truckers carrying property must abide by the following restrictions:
- May drive a maximum of 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours of duty.
- May not drive beyond the 14th consecutive hour after coming on duty, following 10 consecutive hours off duty.
- May drive only if eight hours or less have passed since end of driver’s last off-duty or sleeper berth period of at least half an hour (barring few exceptional circumstances).
- May not drive after 60/70 hours on duty in 7/8 consecutive days. A 7/8 day period may be restarted after 34 or more consecutive hours off duty.
If a fatigued driver causes an accident, victims may base their lawsuit on the violation of these regulations.
Q: What damages can I recover in a truck accident case?
A: In addition to medical expenses and lost earnings, a truck accident victim can recover non-economic damages such as pain and suffering, emotional distress, disability and disfigurement, loss of enjoyment of life, and damage to family relationships. In the case of a death caused by a truck accident, family members may recover for the pain suffered by the deceased loved one prior to his/her death, as well as emotional support, love, affection and care, and loss of economic support.
Q: How long do I have to file a lawsuit against the trucking company?
A: All cases in Washington are subject to a statute of limitations, which establishes the window of time after an accident in which a lawsuit can be filed. This window varies depending on the circumstances of the case. It is highly advised that you consult with a commercial truck accident lawyer as soon as possible. If you miss the deadline for your case, you will forfeit the right to pursue damages.
Q: Why should I hire an attorney for my truck accident case?
A: Most trucking companies have the resources to employ a team of legal and financial professionals who specialize in reducing and denying claims. If you don’t take the right steps after your accident, your ability to make a full recovery may be compromised. The sooner you hire a Seattle truck accident attorney, the more chance you’ll have of protecting your right to full and fair compensation. Just make sure you choose a law firm that has a proven track record of success in truck accident cases. A good attorney will not only fight to preserve your best interests, but also give you peace of mind.