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Big rig trucks, 18-wheelers, and semi-trucks can be found all over our roads, highways and interstates. With trucks so prevalent in society, most people would be surprised to learn this fact: there is currently a shortage of at least 60,000 commercial truck drivers nationwide. One analyst even pegged the shortage to be at least 100,000. Some experts within the industry think the 60,000 shortage could actually triple by the year 2026.

Why the shortage, you may ask? Some experts cite an aging workforce, high turnover rates, and reduced capacity following certain regulatory changes. Lifestyle and safety concerns are also prompting truckers to leave the industry. For example, USA Today named the trucking industry as the 7th most dangerous occupation in the United States. In 2016, the industry saw 24.7 fatalities per 100 workers, and the most common injuries were overexertion and bodily reaction. This may have to do with the toll it takes on one’s body when working extended shifts and having to sit for long periods of time.

To combat the shortage, some trucking companies are forced to raise wages, sometimes as much as 15%. Others are offering generous signing bonuses to new employees. In the meantime, the American Trucking Association states the driver shortage is leading to delayed deliveries and higher prices. However, there are other ways in which a shortage of qualified commercial truck drivers can affect our well-being.

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You are a commercial truck driver. You worked hard to study to get your Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), you underwent training with your job, and you follow all Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) rules whenever possible – including truck maintenance, mandatory rest breaks, driving without distractions, and hours of service. You understand the high stakes of operating a big rig truck, because when big rigs and heavy trucks are involved in accidents, the likelihood for severe injuries goes up.

Despite taking all of the proper precautions, imagine another driver accidentally causes an accident. The wreck causes you to suffer immediate pain, maybe even objective injuries like broken bones. Not only do you have to deal with your physical pain, but you may not be able to immediately get back to work, causing you to suffer financial losses. What happens next? What are your rights?

Truck drivers injured on the job in Tennessee do have rights, but the circumstances will dictate what the injured party may be actually entitled to recover.

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Have 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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Nobody 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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We 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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Big 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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