According to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA), there were 333,000 large trucks involved in traffic crashes last year (1). The majority of these semi-trailer truck accidents result from driver negligence.
Semi trucks can weigh anywhere from 16,000 to 20,000 pounds. Depending on the speed a semi is traveling, it can take up to three times longer to stop than a passenger car. Moreover, truck accidents are five times more likely to cause serious injuries and death than accidents involving two or more passenger vehicles.
State and local regulations monitor the trucking industry. They ensure semi trucks and other commercial vehicles operate safely. Regulations regarding truck maintenance, driver eligibility, and cargo capacity are but a few meant to ensure public safety.
Getting injured in a collision with an 18 wheeler is a traumatic experience. Injuries from semi truck accidents can be much more serious than those from passenger cars. If you’ve been injured it’s important to know how to prepare your personal injury insurance claim. Here’s what we cover in this section:
- Semi truck drivers’ duty of care (obligation) to other motorists
- The two state and federal regulations most frequently violated by truckers
- How to use these laws and regulations to support your personal injury claim
- Establishing proximate (legally acceptable) cause and proving negligence
- Compensable damages
Duty of Care
Drivers of passenger cars have a duty of care to each other. That duty includes:
- Keeping a proper lookout for each other
- Complying with applicable traffic laws
- Using all reasonable means necessary to avoid an accident
The courts demand a much higher duty of care for semi-trailer truck drivers. To interpret that duty and to determine when someone breaches it, the courts rely on:
- State and federal regulations in place for truckers
- Traditional evidence used to prove negligence
Because of the inherently destructive toll semi truck accidents can have, the courts strictly enforce state and federal regulations. When a truck driver violates a state or federal regulation and that violation results in injuries to others, the courts frequently consider the violation as “per se,” or automatic, proof of negligence.
Two Frequently Abused State and Federal Trucking Regulations
The best way to win your injury claim is by proving the truck driver was negligent and that negligence was the proximate cause (legally acceptable) of your injuries. In semi truck accidents, the most effective way to prove negligence is by proving the truck driver violated one or more state or federal regulations.
A violation of a state or federal regulation can all but win your case. That’s because the courts have traditionally said these violations are clear and unequivocal proof of negligence. Although additional proof will certainly help your claim, a violation of state or federal regulations is often “automatic.”
Let’s look at two of the most frequently violated semi truck regulations:
1) CDL driving regulations
Commercial semi truck drivers must have a commercial driver’s license (CDL). To obtain a CDL, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) requires a driver to pass a series of tests designed solely for commercial truck drivers. The laws vary slightly from state to state but must comply with federal DOT laws and regulations.
The larger the semi truck or tractor trailer, the more stringent the test. These regulations require a driver to have full proficiency in:
- Maneuvering, parking, backing up, etc.
- Maintenance of engines, lights, tires, etc.
- Pre-trip inspection routine mastery
- Hazardous materials containment regulations and procedure
In addition, to obtaining a CDL license, a driver must pass a drug test and a vigorous physical exam to see whether he’s sufficiently physically fit to drive an 18 wheeler.
2) Log books regulations
Semi truck drivers must keep a logbook and record such items as:
- The number of hours they drive each day and the amount of time they rest
(A driver can drive a maximum of 11 hours and then must rest for 10. Driving 60 hours or more in a seven-day period or 70 hours in an eight-day period is illegal.)
- The date they picked up their cargo “load”
- The weight of the truck rig before and after cargo is onboard
- The destination
- The date of delivery
Finding Evidence of Regulation Violations
Proving negligence in a semi truck accident is the key to winning your claim. Sometimes semi truck drivers knowingly, willfully, and recklessly violate the law. These flagrant violations can even be criminal. Using negligence, willfulness, recklessness, or criminality as evidence in your claim can result in punitive damages in addition to your actual damages.
If you have injuries from a truck accident and they’re minor, you may be able to handle your own insurance claim. The problem with self-representation in these cases is the difficulty you may have gaining access to the semi trucker’s CDL test results, his drug test screenings, his criminal background, and especially his logbook.
An experienced personal injury attorney can file a lawsuit and subpoena all that information. She can conduct pretrial discovery (getting all the other sides’ documents) and gain access to the truck driver’s actual logbook. In it, the attorney may find evidence of falsified or embellished entries. She can also take depositions (recorded statements) from the driver, his boss, and coworkers. This is all invaluable information for your attorney to build your case.
In a semi truck accident case, crucial evidence to proving negligence is knowing:
- Whether the driver’s CDL license was active or suspended
- Whether the driver has a criminal record
- How many prior tickets the driver received
- How many accidents the driver was in
- The driver’s financial background, including outstanding debts and judgments
- Whether the driver’s cargo load was over the legal limit
- Whether the driver was driving over the allotted legal number of hours
- Whether the driver veered from the intended route and destination
- Whether the driver was under the influence of narcotics or medication
- Whether the driver was drunk or high from alcohol or drugs
Additional Evidence of Negligence
There are additional ways to bolster your injury claim. They’re the more traditional methods of acquiring evidence of negligence and proximate cause. Proximate cause simply means the semi truck driver’s negligent actions were the logical and foreseeable reason for the accident.
Another way of explaining proximate cause is to say, but for the driver’s negligent actions, the accident wouldn’t have occurred. His negligence was the direct and proximate cause of the accident and your injuries. Here are some ways to strengthen your claim by gathering evidence of negligence and proximate cause.
If you’re in a collision with a semi-trailer truck, make sure you:
A. Call the police
Nine out of 10 times a collision with a semi truck will block traffic or substantially reduce the flow of traffic. Additionally, you or your passengers may have injuries. A police report can be one of your most important pieces of evidence. The police report will include:
- The semi truck driver’s contact and personal information (If he works for a trucking company, make sure you ask the police to get that contact information as well.)
- The name of his insurance company and that of his employer
- A diagram of the accident scene
- Witnesses’ names and contact information
- Weather conditions
- Notations of any tickets the truck driver received
B. Take photographs
Use your camera or cell phone to take photographs of the accident scene. Include photos of the truck and your car. Specifically photograph the point of impact. Look for skid marks as well. Try to photograph the truck driver and any witnesses. Look for damaged signs or other evidence of the collision.
C. Take notes
If you don’t have a memo pad, write on any paper you can find. If not, type the information into your cell phone. Write down your observations at the scene. Be sure to note admissions the truck driver may make like, “I’m sorry,” or “I didn’t see you.” The same goes for witnesses who may have heard admissions the driver made. As soon as possible, transfer all your notations into a journal.
D. Get contact information and statements from witnesses
Witnesses and their statements are invaluable. The police may not have spoken with all of them. If they did, it’s unlikely the officers took down much of what they said. Be sure to get as much contact information as possible. You may want to get back to these witnesses sometime after the road workers clear the accident. Make sure you write down what they saw, especially if they saw the trucker run a red light, fail to yield to you, etc.
E. Look for surveillance cameras
Look for surveillance cameras close to the accident scene. Note their location. You can find them attached to businesses, schools, or city- or state-owned light poles that take photographs of intersections or railroad crossings. Try to convince the video owners to give you a copy. If not, your attorney can later subpoena them if a lawsuit becomes necessary.
F. Return to the scene
The next day, if you’re well enough, return to the scene. If you can’t, have a friend or family member help. You want to measure skid marks and photograph any signs or other solid objects that someone may have moved since the day of the accident.
If you follow the guidelines set out above, you’re probably well prepared to begin negotiations for your personal injury claim. You’ll want compensation for all the damages you suffered because of the semi truck driver’s negligence. If your injuries are soft tissue, you can probably negotiate your own claim. However, if you’ve suffered hard injuries, meet with an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible.
Soft tissue injuries include:
- Abrasions, contusions, and lacerations (scrapes, bruises, and cuts)
- Sprained or torn ligaments, tendons, or muscles
- Minor burns
- Whiplash and back strain
Hard injuries include:
- Fractured and broken bones
- Multiple disk hernias
- Second- and third-degree burns
- Organ damage
- Internal bleeding
In addition to compensation for your injuries, you should get money for:
- Out-of-pocket expenses for things like prescriptions, bandages, crutches, etc.
- Costs of gasoline and parking fees when commuting to medical treatment
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering and emotional distress
- Loss of consortium (loss of intimacy with your spouse)
- Loss of companionship and mentorship with loved ones like children and grandchildren
See an example of a truck accident demand letter here.
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