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Man-with-Arms-Behind-HeadHave you ever driven right next to a big commercial truck, like an 18-wheeler, semi-truck, tractor-trailer, or big rig? Have you seen a big truck crash into another car? Have you worried what would happen if that car was yours and you were driving? If you answered yes, you’re probably not alone. In fact, if you get hit by any type of vehicle, 18-wheeler included, it’s common for lots to be going through your mind. In the event you or a loved one has been hurt in a wreck with a truck, here are common questions that may be on your mind.

What should I do first after a truck accident?

Immediately after the accident, police likely came to the scene. In most states, like Tennessee, the law requires police to be called after an accident causing personal injury or property damage. The police should take statements from the parties, photos, and witness statements. However, you should still document everything you can, including witness information, pictures of the vehicles, pictures of your injuries, and any other relevant information. For instance, if you suffered bruising or scarring, make sure to photograph those areas. Further, sometimes witnesses are left off of a police report. If you get their information, your attorney can contact that person to get his or her version of events. It is always beneficial to secure as much evidence as possible after a crash involving a semi-truck.

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If someone else causes you to get hurt or suffer losses, all states, Tennessee included, have laws that allow you to get reimbursed, or “made whole.” These are known as compensatory damages, and they are designed to put you in a place as if the accident never happened in the first place. While most people would prefer to turn back time and never have to be involved in a wreck in the first place, we know that is not possible. That is why financial damages are the recourse, under Tennessee personal injury laws.

In some situations, lawmakers have determined that compensatory damages are not enough. Instead, a plaintiff can obtain a different class of damages that serve a different purpose. These are known as punitive damages, and they are designed to punish the at-fault party for his/her conduct. Punitive damages are important to consider in truck accident cases, especially when injuries are severe and permanent.

Punitive Damages Law in Tennessee

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Distressed-Girl-Next-to-Wrecked-CarNobody wants to face a collision with a commercial truck. While an accident with any vehicle can cause someone to get hurt, accidents involving large 18-wheelers, semi-trucks, and tractor-trailers can escalate the situation. For starters, the size disparity between these vehicles and the cars commonly driven by private citizens is vast, as big rig trucks can weigh 70,000-80,000 pounds, while the average four-door sedan weighs around 4,000 pounds.

While a truck accident victim can cause injuries ranging from minor scrapes to wrongful death, certain injuries are more common than others. Below are five types of injuries commonly suffered by people hurt in truck accidents.

Back and Neck Injuries

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You’ve probably heard the phrase “black box” in terms of aircraft and planes. Any time a plane crashes, black box data can be reviewed to gain insight as to what happened in the moments leading up to the crash. This is particularly valuable to assist in recreating the crash, getting to the bottom of what happened, and learning how to correct potential mistakes in the future. What you may not know is that most large commercial trucks, like 18-wheelers, come equipped with a black box as well.

What Is a Black Box?

Black boxes are often referred to as Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs). They are designed to detect certain actions and data that can provide insight into how and why a collision occurred. They record this information, and data gained from the 5-10 seconds before the crash can be critical when it comes to investigating the accident. Federal trucking regulations instituted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) require interstate commercial trucks to be equipped with ELDs. In addition to preserving information about a crash, these devices serve another valuable purpose – they can monitor driving time to ensure that truck drivers comply with federal hours of service guidelines, which are rules put in place to limit truck driver fatigue.

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At all times, drivers must exercise caution behind the wheel. This principle applies no matter what type of vehicle you are driving, no matter what day of the week, and no matter what time it is. Private citizens must also follow the rules of the road set forth by the city, county, and state within which the vehicle is being operated.  Interstate truck drivers, on the other hand, must also follow federal trucking regulations set forth by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). The FMCSA is the “lead federal government agency responsible for providing safety oversight of commercial motor vehicles (CMVs),” and its mission is “to reduce crashes, injuries, and fatalities involving large trucks and buses.”

In order to promote safe driving during inclement weather, the FMCSA lists five tips that truck drivers should take into account and follow.

  1. Reduce Your Driving Speed in Adverse Road and/or Weather Conditions
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While some factors that affect the likelihood of accidents are within a driver’s control (like speed, obeying rules and regulations, and mechanical issues), other factors are not.

The number of cars on the road, weather conditions, and drunk drivers are factors that drivers can’t control. At certain times of year, these three factors can all come into play and create a perfect storm. During the holiday season, there are approximately 36% more vehicles on the road, and as a result of holiday parties and gatherings, more drivers are impaired by alcohol as well. Thanksgiving can be a particularly dangerous holiday, but during the Christmas and New Year period, the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports that the average number of fatalities involving an alcohol-impaired driver rose 34%.

While drivers must be alert and monitor factors like weather and other drivers, they should also be wary of the particular roads they travel. Even when it isn’t the holidays, some roads and interstates are more dangerous on average than others. For example, US Route 62 is the only US Highway that connects US and Mexico. It has a top 15 fatal crash rate for US highways. Across the Southeast, there are many dangerous roads that require truck drivers to take extra care when navigating. Certain roads in each state are more susceptible to truck accidents than others.

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Spine_3D-Illustration-SmallWe all know commercial trucks, including include 18-wheelers, semi-trucks, tractor-trailers, and dump trucks, are some of the largest vehicles on the road today. But did you know they can weigh 60,000 – 70,000 pounds more than the average sedan?

Those who are involved in accidents with big rigs and large commercial trucks typically bear the brunt of the impact. Consequently, injuries suffered in a truck accident can be more severe than those suffered in a car accident. Some of the most common injuries suffered in truck accidents involve the neck and back, ranging in severity from whiplash to paralysis. Many truck accident victims who suffer neck and back injuries require extensive medical treatment as part of the recovery process. Sometimes, permanent disability may result.

Anatomy of the Human Spine

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Checkpoint-Ahead-Sign-SmallBig rigs are dangerous enough on the road as is, but when a drunk trucker gets behind the wheel, the potential consequences only increase in severity. In Philadelphia, a pedestrian suffered catastrophic injuries when he was hit on the side of the road by a commercial truck operated by a drunken driver. The plaintiff argued that trucking company J.B. Hunt negligently hired an outside contract driver by not thoroughly checking his background, which included a history of DUI incidents.

The jury heard arguments from both sides and deliberated for three hours before ultimately finding J.B. Hunt 40% responsible for the accident and the driver 60% responsible. In addition, the jury awarded the plaintiff $15.5 million in damages. The verdict accounted for $12.2 million of economic damages and $3.3 million for loss of consortium for the plaintiff’s wife.

This case highlighted several issues that may arise in a trucking accident case:

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Truck-Driver-on-CB-RadioIt is well-known that accidents involving an 18-wheeler, semi-truck, or large commercial truck can produce dire consequences. Big rig trucks are significantly larger (in size and weight) than most private-passenger vehicles driven on the road. When a truck collides with a smaller car, occupants of the smaller car can suffer serious injuries that require extensive medical treatment and rehabilitation. While this is certainly true for impacts that occur at high speeds, the same can be said for impacts at low speeds, considering the size differential.

Of course, trucking accident victims should call the police to the scene and seek medical treatment for their injuries and pain. But what happens after that? How can a victim get reimbursed for medical bills, time off work, and other losses suffered? For many people, the only way to recover such losses is by asserting a claim against those responsible for the collision. If a commercial truck driver was at fault, a victim may be able to recover under a variety of legal theories.

Driver Negligence

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18-Wheeler-SmallIn a traditional auto accident case, evidence regarding how the collision occurred can come from many sources – statements of the drivers, the police officer’s investigation, witness testimony, analysis of the property damage, nearby surveillance footage, and more. When a commercial truck or 18-wheeler is involved, the number of potential sources of information increases exponentially. Thus, an experienced truck accident lawyer will want to take certain steps to make sure certain evidence remains preserved and is not intentionally destroyed or allowed to disappear in the trucking company’s ordinary course of business. One such step is to send a spoliation of evidence letter to the trucking company and its insurance carrier(s).

Evidence to establish liability in a truck accident case can come from a variety of sources, including:

  • The truck itself: Following an accident, a truck may be taken out of commission, depending on the damage. If the truck was towed, the trucking company may immediately retrieve the vehicle, repair it, and put it back on the road. Photographs of the damaged truck and measurements can come in handy later in the case.