According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, there were 253,639,386 registered vehicles on the road in the United States in 2012. Of those vehicles, 10,659,380 were single-unit (or “straight”) trucks and combination trucks (tractor trailers). These trucks were owned and/or operated by an estimated 535,423 interstate motor carriers. In 2012, the United States saw 30,800 total traffic fatalities, including 3,702 fatalities resulting from collisions with large trucks or buses.
If you or someone you love has been involved in an accident with a large commercial truck, the Richmond personal injury attorneys at the Halperin Law Center have the experience required to litigate your potential claims against trucking companies, truck drivers, brokers and shippers.
What Makes Truck Accidents So Dangerous?
Accidents involving large trucks are often more devastating, resulting in more serious injuries or death. Naturally, the vast discrepancy between the weight and size of a truck (from 10,000 pounds to almost 80,000 pounds if the trailer is loaded) and most passenger cars (about 3,000 or 4,000 pounds) accounts for this increase in severity.
The difference in the severity of the accident and related injuries, however, is only one of the differences. When there are serious injuries or death of a loved one resulting from a truck accident, the victims should seek out an attorney who is experienced in tractor trailer and commercial truck accidents. It is important that they do so as soon as they are ready, as time is of the essence in making these claims and ensuring evidence is preserved.
How We Pursue Justice On Your Behalf
An experienced truck accident attorney at the Halperin Law Center will be able to navigate the hundreds of laws and regulations involved in commercial trucking, ensure all possible theories of liability and defendants are pursued, and that your recovery for your damages is maximized. Trucking companies and their insurers usually have their own investigation teams that will respond and begin work immediately when someone is injured in a trucking accident. Unfortunately, the purpose is often to begin creating a defense to your injury claims.
With a truck accident, it is critical for your attorney to begin gathering and preserving evidence as soon as possible after the crash. The attorneys at the Halperin Law Center work with many leading tractor trailer experts and accident reconstructionists who can combat the insurance company and trucking company’s defenses.
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations
With over 10.5 million trucks on the road and the dangers inherent in the operation of large trucks, proper regulation of trucking companies, trucks, and truck drivers is critical. To that end, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (“FMCSA”) has established a very detailed set of laws, known as the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (“FMCSR”).
These regulations were developed to keep the driving public safe. In addition, the FMCSA collects, analyzes and publishes crash statistics and data in order to understand the causes and possible ways to prevent commercial motor vehicle injuries and fatalities in the United States.
Motor Carrier Management Information System
Another useful tool developed and maintained by the FMCSA is the Motor Carrier Management Information System, or “MCMIS.” The MCMIS provides detailed information regarding the safety and fitness of the roughly 535,000 motor carriers who are subject to the FMCSR and Hazardous Materials Regulations.
Available information includes crash, census, and inspection files. Crash files contain information regarding trucks and buses involved in accidents, while the census file (which is updated weekly) includes descriptive information regarding each motor carrier. Each motor carrier’s inspection file contains data from both Federal and State inspections of the carrier’s operations, trucks and drivers. This system is available to any member of the public.
Common Causes of Truck & Tractor Trailer Accidents
There are many causes of trucking accidents and violations of the FMCSR are often the root of the problem. Given the large number of regulations included in the FMCSR, there are hundreds of potential violations that could lead to an accident. These violations might involve the driver, the truck itself, the driver’s actions, or actions of the trucking company.
Some of the most common causes of large truck accidents include, but are not limited to:
- Driver fatigue
- Lack of proper driver training
- Lack of driver experience
- Use of drugs or alcohol
- Excessive rates of speed
- Defective equipment
- Trucks that are overloaded
- Trucks that are not properly loaded or secured
- Failure to properly maintain truck, trailer and equipment
- Weather conditions
- Driver error
One of the most common factors contributing to truck accidents is driver fatigue. By some estimates, up to 30% or 40% of large truck accidents involve a fatigued truck driver, making it a major issue. Fatigue negatively impacts a driver’s ability to properly operate a truck and their level of alertness. Many things cause and contribute to driver fatigue. Truck drivers often suffer from sleep deprivation and disrupted sleep cycles due to the nature of the work. In addition, drivers may be driving more hours than allowed by law and fail to take appropriate rest breaks.
Many trucking companies are in competition for business across the country and want to improve their profits, often resulting in unrealistic deadlines and schedules for the drivers. In order to meet the difficult demands of the trucking company, many drivers will not rest so that they can make their deliveries faster, pick up more loads, and drive more miles.
Many truck drivers are paid by the number of miles they drive, which means they are not getting paid during their required rest breaks or time spend performing necessary maintenance inspections. This system can lead to drivers flouting the laws in order to increase their pay, which is very dangerous for other motorists. To combat fatigue and drive longer, some drives will even use stimulant drugs such as methamphetamine to keep them awake, which adds to fatigue the additional dangers of drug side effects (such as paranoia or poor judgment).
Under Federal law, drivers and trucking companies must abide by the FMCSA’s “hours of service” regulations. Drivers are required to keep a logbook in order to record the amount of time they spend driving and their break times to ensure compliance. The FMCSA made changes to the hours of service rules in 2013, cutting the maximum number of hours a driver can work in a week from 82 to 70, and requiring a 30-minute rest break between all 8-hour driving periods. Both the truck driver and the trucking company may be held liable for accidents caused by driver fatigue.
Lack of Driver Training and Experience
Commercial truck drivers are required to have special training and undergo testing in order to obtain a commercial driver’s license (“CDL”), which is a pre-requisite for operating a commercial truck. Of course, the driving test and driver education courses cannot fully prepare a driver for real-life road, weather, and driving situations or conditions. The consequences related to lack of experience and proper training include the inability to react properly to emergency situations or weather conditions, poor driver decisions, and a failure to comply with Federal and State regulations and safety procedures.
Management of driver fatigue is a critical, but often overlooked, component of driver training and safety. All of these problems can easily lead to a truck accident that causes serious personal injury or, unfortunately, fatalities. If motor carriers fail to hire experienced drivers or fail to provide ample training to their drivers, they may be liable for damages suffered by the victims.
Use of Drugs or Alcohol
As discussed above, some truck drivers use stimulants (such as methamphetamine) to combat fatigue, drive more miles, or make more trips than they should. Being under the influence of drugs or alcohol while operating any motor vehicle is incredibly dangerous and deadly. An intoxicated driver with a large, heavy truck is even more dangerous and deadly.
As such, the FMCSA conducts an annual survey to measure the use of controlled substances by truck drivers. This is done by random and non-random (pre-employment, post-crash, follow-up, return to duty, etc.) testing of drivers.
Motor carriers who employ CDL drivers must have an alcohol and drug testing program (part 382 of the FMCSR). Current regulations mandate that at least 10% of drivers be randomly tested for alcohol and at least 50% be randomly tested for drugs each year.
In addition, drivers must also be tested when any of the following occurs:
- The company is contemplating hiring a driver (drug testing only)
- The driver was involved in an accident that resulted in a fatality or receives a citation when there was an injury
- There is reasonable suspicion that the driver is using alcohol or drugs while at work
- A driver has tested positive and has completed the required education and treatment process and is ready to return to work
The use of alcohol or drugs by truck drivers can cause the driver, the trucking company and even brokers or shippers to be liable for damages and injuries caused by an accident. Hiring unsafe drivers or trucking companies can result in liability for the broker who arranged the transportation on behalf of a shipping company, or for the shipper themselves. Information regarding the safety history of a truck driver or motor carrier is readily available, for free, to all brokers, shipping companies and trucking companies through the FMCSA’s Motor Carrier Management Information System, discussed above. The failure to properly investigate the safety record of a driver or motor carrier can have disastrous and deadly effects.
Overloaded and Improperly Loaded Trucks
Properly operating and controlling a large truck is a very difficult task. If a truck is overloaded (carrying too much weight) or not loaded properly (with weight distributed unevenly), it becomes even more difficult for the truck driver to control the vehicle. As with everything else related to truck safety, the FMCSA has rules that govern weight and securement of a truck’s cargo or load. A truck’s load must be secured or immobilized by equipment of appropriate strength, dunnage bags (bags which inflate and are meant to fill the space between cargo or the cargo and the wall of a trailer), shoring bars, tie-downs, or any combination thereof.
If a truck’s cargo is not properly secured, it may move and shift on the truck or inside the trailer. This movement can result in shifting that can cause or contribute to a crash. Cargo can also become loose during transit and fall off of the truck, striking other vehicles or causing accidents as cars try to avoid hitting the debris. In accidents like these, liability could rest with the truck driver, the shipper, or whoever loaded the truck. It is the driver’s responsibility to continue to check the load and ensure it is properly secured during the trip.
The FMCSR requires that commercial trucks be inspected on a regular basis to ensure that they are in a safe and fully operational condition. Inspection and maintenance of the trucks must be documented and the records must be maintained. Equipment failures on large trucks can have catastrophic consequences, injuring the truck driver and others on the roadway.
A truck and its critical parts must be inspected both before and after it is used – every single time. Motor carriers must keep their trucks in compliance with all safety regulations, and drivers are also responsible for checking their truck and its equipment. If any problems are found, repairs must be made immediately. If a vehicle remains unsafe, it must be taken out of service.
Unfortunately, there are many instances where motor carriers and drivers will leave unsafe trucks on the road due to the high cost of repairs and economic pressures. Equipment failures due to a lack of inspection and repair frequently cause accidents from causes such as missing lights or reflective markers, defective or worn tires, defective or worn brakes, etc. In addition to liability for the driver and motor carrier, third-party maintenance and repair companies could also be liable for injuries sustained in accidents caused by defective equipment, as well as truck and truck part manufacturers.
Driver error encompasses multiple possible mistakes that could be made by a truck driver for various reasons. Errors committed by drivers are a major factor in truck accidents and can be compounded by many other variables, including bad weather conditions, poor road conditions, driving while fatigued, driving at night, use of alcohol or drugs, lack of sufficient experience and a lack of proper training.
The following are common types of truck driver error:
- Failing to obey highway signs
- Failing to pay full time and attention to the road
- Overcorrection in attempting to avoid a road hazard
- Operating the truck while texting
- Using a cell phone while driving
- Following too closely to another vehicle
- Operating the truck in restricted lanes
- Improper passing
- Failing to yield the right away
- A host of other violations
Excessive speed is often a factor in crashes caused by driver error, and could be a result of the driver trying to meet unrealistic deadlines set by trucking companies, brokers and shippers. Driver error can also be a result of a driver being medically unfit to operate a commercial truck. There are medical conditions which, by their very nature, create a safety hazard for truck drivers, which is why commercial drivers are required to undergo medical evaluations and testing (including drug and alcohol testing) to ensure their fitness. Regardless of the error(s) made by the truck driver, the driver, motor carrier, broker and shipper could all be held liable for injuries sustained in a crash caused by driver error.
History of Success Helping Clients Throughout Richmond
The Richmond truck accident lawyers at the Halperin Law Center have the experience and knowledge needed to manage your tractor trailer case from intake through resolution, including trial if necessary. With over 30 years of experience representing clients throughout Virginia, our lead attorney has been chosen as one of the Top Injury Lawyers in Richmond. With a track record of success, we believe so strongly in our approach that we do not charge any legal fees unless we win on your behalf.
A proven track record of success in negotiating settlements and winning large verdicts for our clients.