Articles Posted in Trucking Accidents

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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.
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Semi-Truck_Under-Hood-Large-SmallAccidents involving 18-wheelers can be complicated. These vehicles have become highly specialized in recent years, and drivers are supposed to go through proper training before being allowed to operate them on public roads. One such requirement is obtaining a valid Commercial Driver’s License (CDL). In certain circumstances, special endorsements are required, such as for those who drive trucks with double trailers, triple trailers, tanks, trucks carrying hazardous materials, and passenger vehicles. Elevated standards are in place for commercial truck drivers because accidents involving them can produce catastrophic injuries like paralysis, brain trauma, spinal cord damage, and permanent scarring.

Big trucking companies know how much is at stake following a catastrophic accident. They are known to expend significant resources into defending such claims from the outset. If a victim cannot obtain the proof needed to establish liability, that person may end up uncompensated for medical bills, time off from work, and the cost of future surgeries and medical treatment. Thus, it is critical to conduct a thorough investigation.

Of course, the facts of a truck accident itself should be examined by obtaining the police report and reaching out to independent witnesses. However, it is necessary to dig deeper, and hiring an experienced truck accident attorney can go a long way in ensuring critical information is uncovered and identified. The following information could be revealed through an investigation and prove useful during the case:

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ThinkstockPhotos-469854760-SmallDriving next to a big rig truck makes many apprehensive, as colliding with one can cause devastating results. This happened to a 37-year-old Florida man in 2014, when a tractor-trailer crashed into him and caused a broken right hip and knee. The defendant driver was working at the time of the collision, and the wreck occurred as the trucker pulled out of a private driveway and crashed into the victim. His case recently went to trial.

The trial lasted two weeks, and the victim testified that he was still experiencing pain and expected to require $500,000 in future surgical costs. Further, liability was hotly contested. Both sides vigorously argued that the other was responsible for the accident. Ultimately, the jury assessed 70% fault against the trucker and 30% against the victim. Based on comparative fault rules, the jury’s award of $3 million was reduced to $2.1 million.

This case highlighted certain issues that can arise in truck accident cases:

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Jackknifing can refer to the situation in which an 18-wheeler or tractor-trailer skids, and the trailer swings out onto the side of the cab, forming an “L” or “V” shape mirroring that of a pocketknife. Essentially, the cab moves forward but the trailer swings wide. This is a highly dangerous type of trucking accident, one that can cause significant damage to persons and property involved. It is not uncommon for a jackknife wreck to encompass multiple vehicles, sometimes three or more, especially when the trailer ends up across two or more lanes of traffic.

Jackknife accidents may shut down the road or highway for hours, if not longer. For example, this situation occurred in the Knoxville, Tennessee, area in January 2017, when Interstate 40 was shut down after a tractor-trailer jackknifed. In cases involving severe injuries or fatalities, police officers and investigators from agencies such as the Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT) will normally respond immediately.

Why would a crash of this magnitude occur? It may be due to one of the following reasons, or a combination of them:

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shutterstock_430656778Busy Tennessee roadways like Interstate 40 and Interstate 24 are filled with cars. Interstate 40 runs nearly the entire State of Tennessee, from Memphis through Knoxville. Among those vehicles that fill our roads and interstates are commercial trucks. While Tennessee is home to many large corporations, thousands of truck drivers from companies based all over the country drive through the Volunteer State on a daily basis. Since these big rig trucks are much larger in weight and size than the average sedans, SUVs, and pickup trucks driven by most Tennesseans, when one of these trucks crashes into a smaller car, injuries frequently result.

What are some steps you can take if an 18-wheeler strikes your car?

Stop at the Scene and Call the Police

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USA Today conducted a comprehensive investigation into a subset of the trucking industry in the United States – port truckers employed by trucking companies who transport goods across the country on behalf of many of the largest retailers in the United States, including Target, Home Depot, and Costco. Many of the trucking companies studied were based in California and employed low-income immigrants, some of which speak little to no English. Journalists reviewed testimony in labor dispute cases, contracts, and statements made by over 300 truck drivers. The research revealed that many truckers are overworked and in debt, both of which ultimately affect their driving performance.

One common theme showed that these companies used tactics to force drivers to finance their trucks themselves, even if it meant taking out debt that they could not afford. Knowing that the driver was over-extended in debt, executives from the company exerted that leverage on the employees to work longer shifts. If a trucker quit, the company could keep the truck, meaning the driver lost all of the money he or she had put into owning it. The company would then simply lease the truck to the next driver hired.

In addition to leasing fees, truckers still had to pay for gas and maintenance, among others. After deducting for leasing expenses and other payments, some drivers were barely making a profit at all. One trucker reported his take-home pay at a mere $0.67 per week. If the trucker was fired, the company would continue to charge the driver for payments owed under the contract. Court filings revealed many high-profile corporations were charged with labor violations, including Target, Hewlett-Packard, Home Depot, Hasbro, UPS, Goodyear, and Costco.

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An “underride accident” is when a car crashes into the rear or side of a semi-truck or tractor-trailer and ends up underneath. Trucking statistics show that over 200 people are killed in these types of wrecks each year. When a car slides underneath a trailer, sometimes the top of the vehicle is sheared off. If a victim is fortunate enough to survive the crash, that person may sustain serious and permanent injuries.

A product known as AngelWing is designed to protect vehicle occupants in case of a side collision with a large commercial truck. It is currently being tested. When functioning properly, the side guard “engages and deploys the vehicle’s built-in safety features such as airbags, anti-avoidance sensors, crumple zones or seat belts, designed to protect its occupants from possible injury or death.”

According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), side guards on trucks would greatly reduce the risks of underride accidents. Currently, side guards are not required by law. Per a report by NBC News, the Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association, a lobbying group for the trucking industry, strongly opposes a formal requirement for side guards. Their reasons include additional cost, technical challenges, and concerns that the side guard would increase the truck’s weight to more dangerous levels.

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A trial date has been set for the driver who fell asleep at the wheel while operating a commercial truck, which killed a 31-year-old man. John Ray Carpenter is facing charges of vehicular homicide, which carries a sentence of anywhere between 3 and 15 years in prison. Carpenter did not deny that he “dozed off” or “blacked out” while driving his multi-ton septic tanker shortly before colliding head-on with Johnson, according to authorities.

The criminal complaint also alleges that the trucker voluntarily admitted to authorities that he is aware that he goes through spells periodically where he believes his eyes are open when they really are not. Further investigation discovered that prior to this wreck, the defendant had a long history of traffic collisions but continued to drive trucks commercially for a living. In fact, he was involved in 13 accidents between the years of 2000 and 2015. Additionally, records show that the driver was involved in a traffic collision just one week prior to the incident at issue in this case, causing thousands of dollars in property damage. The U.S. Department of Transportation declared the driver unfit to operate commercial trucks and has restricted him from doing so.

A civil lawsuit has also been filed against the truck driver in connection with this fatal truck accident. The lawsuit alleges that the driver operated his vehicle in a grossly negligent manner, and that he should not have been allowed to operate a commercial truck due to a serious medical condition, sleep apnea.