Have You Been Injured in a Truck Accident?
18 Wheeler Accident Lawyer
Accidents involving large semi-trucks can cause extreme injuries and damage to the innocent victims involved. These accidents can become even more severe when the truck is an 18-wheeler towing two trailers. Due to the vast size of 18-wheelers, these vehicles can carry far more weight than a standard truck or trailer, increasing the likelihood of substantial injuries to other vehicles in an accident.
These tragic injuries are common in collisions that result from jackknifing trucks, truck rollovers, and underride accidents. Over 5,000 wrongful deaths and countless catastrophic injuries are caused by 18-wheeler accidents every year and these accidents are often due to some form of negligence, such as:
- Mechanical failure or defective parts (such as brakes, tires or turn signals)
- Driver fatigue
- Inadequate lighting and truck conspicuity
- Blind spots that are too large
- Driver inattention
- Driver under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- Inadequately secured load
- Inadequate underride protection
- Driver recklessness
- Company failure to properly maintain vehicles
Were you injured in an accident?
You have just been injured or your loved one has been killed in an accident with a big truck. Eighteen-wheeler trucks are like locomotives on the highway. They are 40-ton behemoths. They are unforgiving. And tragically, every year, serious and fatal accidents are caused by the negligence of truck drivers and trucking companies.
Accidents with 18-wheelers can cause significant injury. Fully-loaded trucks can weigh up to 80,000 pounds, and the damage they cause in rollover, jackknife, underride, or sliding accidents can be substantial. Some of the injuries that may result from collisions between commercial trucks and passenger vehicles include:
- Broken bones
- Brain damage
- Spinal cord injuries
- Soft tissue and internal organ damage
Truck and trailer accidents are becoming increasingly common in the U.S. as more and more trucks take to the roads. Roughly 500,000 accidents involving trucks hauling trailers occur every year, resulting in about 5,000 fatalities. 68% of those accidents occur in rural areas, with only 32% occurring in urban environments. The causes for these accidents are many, but negligence on the part of the truck driver is usually a large factor.
Our dedicated team has helped countless individuals in their personal injury cases, and we are prepared to provide you with powerful legal help needed to pursue compensation for your truck accident. Contact our office today so that we can begin thoroughly reviewing your case and create a comprehensive claim to help you fight for the compensation that you deserve.
Top Ten Reasons Why it is Essential to Retain an Experienced Truck Accident Law Firm Immediately
This is a very difficult time for you and your family. Our truck accident law firm understands that. Often, the tragic results from a truck accident can leave your lives destroyed. However, if you thought it was important to get a personal injury lawyer immediately in a regular car accident case, it is ten times more important to get a personal injury lawyer quickly in a truck accident case. Why?
1. The Electronic Control Module (“ECM”)
You have probably heard of the “black box” that is on board passenger airplanes, which helps investigators determine the cause of an accident after a crash. Most big trucks manufactured since 1990 have an ECM. These devices capture a large amount of data relating to the operation of the truck, including average speed, highest speed, the number of hard stops, time driven over 65 mph, RPMs, seat belt usage, time driven, and other factors. After a particularly horrible accident with a big truck, representatives from the trucking company will typically hire a trucking accident reconstructionist within hours or days. They will fly the expert to the place where the truck has been taken and perform a download of the data off the ECM. This data may be crucial in proving whether the truck driver was operating negligently at the time of the accident. If the data is bad for the trucking company, the data might be deleted before your lawyer ever gets a chance to look at it. In the alternative, the trucking company may just send the truck back out onto the road. ECMs normally only save data for thirty days, and when that point is reached, the recording device records over the previous data, thereby destroying its usefulness for your lawsuit. If you retain a semi truck accident attorney immediately, then the attorney’s first move is to send a letter to the trucking company directing them to preserve the ECM and all its data from the date of the accident, and the days prior to the accident. A party who destroys evidence after he has received an attorney evidence-retention letter runs a lot of risks later down the road, including very adverse rulings from the judge. So most companies will be hesitant to destroy this data once it has been specifically requested by an attorney to be preserved.
2. Hours of Service Logs
All trucking companies which make interstate shipments are governed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. One of those regulations is the “Hours of Service” Regulations. These regulations require truck drivers to get sufficient rest, so that they are not driving bleary-eyed and exhausted down our highways. According to the federal regulation, 49 CFR Sec. 395.8, truck drivers are required to keep Hours of Service “Logs,” showing how many hours they were on duty and driving, how many hours they were on duty but not driving, how many hours they spent in the sleeper berth, and how many hours they spent not working. These logs are critical to proving that the truck driver that hit you or your loved one was driving in a fatigued condition, and was in non-compliance with the Hours of Service Regulations. Trucking companies often put ridiculously oppressive time schedules on their truck drivers to get from Point A to Point B with a shipment. So truckers often have a dilemma: be late with the shipment and get enough rest, or violate the federal Hours of Service regulations and get the delivery there when the boss wants it. You can guess what these drivers do. They drive in violation of the regulations, and then they “dummy” their logs to make it look like they got enough rest. In fact, this happens so much that truck drivers routinely refer to their logs as “funny papers” or “comic strips.” Often, a personal injury attorney can use other documentation, such as bills of lading, invoices, shipping records, weight receipts, gas receipts, credit card receipts, and other information to show that the truck driver was dummying his logs. However, if the logs are lost, there may be nothing the attorney can do. Federal regulations only require the employer to keep the logs for six months. If there was a bad accident, and the driver was violating regulations, you can bet that those “funny papers” are going to get mysteriously lost. You need to hire a truck accident law firm immediately so that those records can be preserved.
3. Accident Reconstructionists
The Plaintiff and Defendant in a big trucking case will frequently hire accident reconstruction experts to try to prove that the truck driver was, or was not, being negligent at the time of the accident. These experts rely on data from the highway and the crash to give their opinions. Evidence like skid marks and road debris are used by these experts to formulate opinions. The trucking company’s accident reconstructionist will be at the accident site within hours or days. Who is representing you? By the time you get an attorney, the skid marks, road debris, truck scrape marks, etc. may be gone and faded away. The car that got hit by the truck might be demolished. You need to retain a semi truck accident lawyer immediately so that he can retain an expert for you to review the evidence before it disappears.
4. Inspection of the Truck
Did the truck have functioning lights? Did its brakes work? Was the load stacked inside the truck properly so that it would not make the truck tip? Are the truck’s tires bald or defective? The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations have dozens of regulations relating to the safety of the truck. You need to retain an attorney immediately so that the truck can be inspected. If there was any problem with the truck, trust me that the trucking company is going to try to fix the problem before you are there to discover it. Maybe the company will fix those brakes or replace that bald tire, or fix the lights. You need to act immediately so that you can find the violations.
5. 911 Data
Often after a big truck accident, lots of people will call 911. Each of these individuals might be potential witnesses. In a recent trucking case we had, obtaining the identity of eyewitnesses from 911 calls was critical in determining how the accident occurred. The police sometimes only maintain this information for a limited period of time. It is important to secure this information as soon as possible.
6. Traffic and surveillance cameras
A good semi truck accident lawyer will attempt to secure all traffic and surveillance cameras in the area to see if the accident was caught on camera. Often these systems will record over previous data after a short period of time. Your attorney needs to secure this information immediately.
7. Interviewing Eyewitnesses
Your attorney needs to begin interviewing eyewitnesses immediately, before the trucking company’s adjuster gets out there and tries to convince the eyewitness that he/she saw something different. That can only happen if you retain an attorney right away.
8. Other documents
Documents retained by the trucking company, which could be destroyed if not immediately preserved, include the driver’s qualification file, compliance audits, trip receipts, weight tickets, bills of lading, gas receipts, toll records, operational documents, leases, Com Data, expense documents, e-mails, maintenance records, pre-trip inspection documents, post-trip inspection documents, rule violations, satellite and GPS records, cell phone records, data from any Collision Avoidance Radar Systems like the EATON Vorad System, from any Distracted Driving and/or Fatigued Driver Warning systems, any on-board eye monitoring systems; any Electronic On-Board Recorder (EOBR), AOBRD, ELD, XRS, electronic HOS log recorder, paperless HOS log recorder, e-log, or similar system or device, as well as any Bluetooth monitoring device on the truck. All of these could be lost if not immediately preserved.
9. Investigation of the Appropriate Theory of Liability Against the Trucking Company
There are dozens of liability theories against a trucking company, and dozens of different trucking regulations. A regular personal injury lawyer is simply unequipped to handle a complex trucking case. Only an experienced truck accident lawyer will be able to sift through the different theories of liability to determine the best theory applicable to your case. Just like you would not go to a dermatologist if you needed heart surgery, attorneys are specialized too. You need to retain an attorney who has experience in handling large truck accidents.
10. Trucking Insurance
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations impose minimum insurance requirements on trucking companies. See 49 CFR Sec. 387.1. The rules require the trucking company to maintain proof of financial responsibility either through an “MCS-90 endorsement,” an “MCM-82 surety bond, or written authorization of self-insurance issued by the Department of Transportation. See 49 CFR Secss. 387.7(d)(1); 387.7(d)(2); 387.7(d)(3). The rules of insurance applicable to trucking companies and their drivers are different than the typical rules for passenger vehicles. As just one example, what if the trailer is insured by one company, and the tractor is insured by another company, but neither the tractor driver nor his employer were listed as an “insured” on the trailer policy? This is just one of dozens of insurance scenarios which can arise. You need to hire an attorney who is familiar with all the rules relating to trucking company insurance.
The Dangers of Fatigued Driving
Truck drivers driving while fatigued is one of the greatest dangers on the highway.
Here are some quick stats:
- In 2015, 4,311 large trucks and buses were involved in fatal crashes, an 8-percent increase from 2014. There was a 20% increase in large truck and bus accidents between 2009 and 2015. (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, or FMCSA, 2015)
- Injury crashes involving large trucks or buses increased 62% from 2009 to 2015, from 60,000 crashes to 87,000 crashes. (FMCSA, 2015)
- Large trucks accounted for 13% of all passenger vehicle deaths in 1999 yet represented only 3% of all registered vehicles. (National Highway Safety Administration, or NHTSA, 2000).
- Truck driver fatigue is a contributing factor in as many as 30% to 40% of all heavy truck crashes. (NHTSA, 1994)
- In a 1995 study by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the authors found that of the 107 heavy truck crashes they studied, fatigue was a prominent factor in 75% of the run-off-the-road crashes. (NTSB)
- Working long shifts not only radically increases the risk of performance errors due to lost alertness and drowsiness, but it also impairs a trucker’s ability to gain proper restorative sleep even when they have sufficient off-duty time for sleep. (Federal Highway Administration or FHWA, 1997).
- Australian research and on-site investigations over the last several years have determined that, overall, one crash in every five among truck drivers is due to falling asleep at the wheel and that up to 30% of truck crash fatalities on rural roads are due to sleep deprivation.
- The risk of a crash effectively doubles from the eighth to the tenth hour of driving, and doubles again from the tenth to the eleventh hour of driving alone. (FMCSA, 2000).
- In a 1997 FHWA survey, 28% of surveyed drivers admitted falling asleep at the wheel during the previous month and one-third of those same drivers admitted falling asleep at the wheel as many as three to six times during the previous month.
- 88% of truck accidents are attributable to driver error.
- 1 in 4 long haul truckers have admitted falling asleep while driving at least once in the previous month
- 65% of fatal crashes are on long-haul trips
- Being awake for 24 hours is equivalent to having a BAC of 0.10%
- drivers reported falling asleep as a critical reason for a truck crash 7% of the time
- According to the FMCSA, in 2013, 2014, and 2015, in truck-related fatal crashes, the #1 driver-related factor was speeding. The #2 driver-related factor was “Impairment.” Where driver impairment was a factor in the fatal truck crash, the number one causative factor listed was “asleep or fatigued.” (FMCSA).
So you can see that truck drivers driving while fatigued at the wheel is a huge problem. We had a case one time in which a fatigued truck driver fell asleep at the wheel of a gasoline truck and plowed into the back of a minivan, killing a minister and his wife, whose vehicle was stalled in a traffic lane after hitting a deer. We had another case in which a fatigued truck driver killed two women and three infant children whose car had stalled on the highway.
And think about this: if a truck driver dozes off while driving 65 miles per hour, even for only two seconds, that 40-ton vehicle travels 190 feet with the driver’s eyes closed.
So, because this is such a huge danger, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration imposes regulations on interstate truck drivers and limits the amount of time that they can spend driving on the road. These regulations are called the “Hours of Service” regulations. Carriers are required to keep logbooks in their truck, and to note such things as the number of hours spent driving while on duty, the number of hours spent on duty and not driving, the number of hours asleep in the trucker berth inside the cab of the truck, and the number of hours off duty.
Here is a tutorial showing the truck driver how to fill out his logbook:
The HOS regulations limit truck drivers to 11 hours of driving in a day, and 14 hours of working in a day. The rule further provides that truckers may not work more than 70 hours per week. In addition, a 30-minute break is required within the first 8 hours of the shift.</p
A copy of the regulations may be found here:
One of the problems with fatigued driving is that trucking companies are often so interested in reaping a profit for a faster delivery from their shipper that they tell their drivers that they will be penalized unless they get the load there by a particular time which is entirely unrealistic, unless the truck driver speeds or violates HOS rules. Alternatively, trucking companies might offer a bonus or incentive if the load arrives earlier. The truck driver, anxious to avoid punishment or to obtain the bonus, then fudges his HOS logs and drives while fatigued. This practice became so common that truck drivers would often refer to their logs as “comic strips” or “funny papers.” Trucking companies are only required to keep these logs for six months, so it is imperative to get an experienced trucking personal injury lawyer immediately so that these logs can be preserved. Often, the attorney can compare the trucking HOS logs to other documents like bills of lading, fuel receipts, toll receipts, GPS data, and other records to show that the truck driver was falsifying his logs and driving while in a fatigued condition.
Have you ever seen those bars on the back of an eighteen-wheeler that go down on each side and then across the back of the truck? That’s called “underride protection.” An underride system attempts to prevent, or reduce the injury from, the scenario in which a passenger car traveling behind a truck underneath the back of the trailer, strips the roof of the passenger car, and decapitates the passenger car driver. Since the 1950s, federal laws have required trailers on semi-trucks to be equipped with underride protection. The newest requirements for underride strength and energy absorption went into effect for trucks manufactured after 1998.
Some advocates point out that the energy-absorption requirements for rear underride guards currently in place may be insufficient in preventing lots of underride crashes. Interestingly, Canadian design requirements for underride guards are tougher than in the U.S., and require the guards to withstand twice as much force as their American counterparts. Section 223 of the United States Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations has been criticized because it does not require strength testing for the entire underride prevention system. So while individual parts may pass the strength test, improper welding techniques or bad bolts can result in the overall system being unable to absorb the appropriate amount of energy to prevent an underride crash. And most of these systems are ineffective if the crash is closer to the edge of the trailer. In a study performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), out of 115 real-world collisions studied between a passenger vehicle and the rear of a heavy truck or semi-trailer, 78% of the vehicles submarined under the truck or semi-trailer, and half resulted in severe or catastrophic damage. In a follow-up test, the IIHS conducted dummy crash tests on a truck with an underride guard which complied with U.S. federal requirements, and two other trucks with guards which complied with the more stringent Canadian requirements. All three were dismal failures in preventing catastrophic underride accidents, even at low speeds. Even the Canadian guards failed to prevent underride collisions. In three of the six crash tests, the dummies’ heads were contacted. The researchers concluded that if the tests were real world crashes, there would be no survivors.
The IIHS petitioned the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration in 2011 to institute more rigorous rear-end underride protection systems. To date, the NHTSA has taken no action.
Despite the presence of at least some regulations requiring rear underride protection, the same type of underride crash can happen if a passenger car and a truck are facing perpendicularly, and the driver of the passenger car goes into the side of the trailer and then underneath it. Unfortunately, there are no U.S. federal regulations requiring side underride protection. In Europe, side and rear underride guards have been required on trailers since 1989.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, approximately 4,000 people have been killed in collisions involving underride between 1994 and 2014. Of that number, around 1,530 were related to side underride crashes.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) recently ran a study in which they installed guards on the sides of tractor-trailer trucks and then ran test passenger cars into the sides of the truck at 35 miles per hour. The device used by the IIHS was a side guard called “Angel Wing,” manufactured by a company called Airflow Deflector, Inc. When the passenger car hit the side of the 53-foot-long truck, the panel bent, but prevented the passenger car from traveling underneath the truck. Only 28% of a 53-foot trailer’s length is protected from underride without a side underride guard in place.
If you were involved in an underride collision, contact an experienced trucking litigation attorney to see if you have a case against the trucking manufacturer for inadequate underride protection.
Defective Truck Tires
Tire failures in large trucks can cause devastating accidents. A defect in, or loss of, a steering axle tire, for example, can cause a total loss of control of the truck. A tire may have defects in its tread or may blow out on the road. After a serious truck accident, one of the first things an attorney for the victim must do is to contact the trucking company to arrange to preserve all the tires to study them to make sure they were not defective. Trucking companies also frequently have failed to replace balding tires, which may have no traction, especially on slippery roads.
Lack of Airbags
Many truck drivers can be injured in big truck accidents, because most trucks do not have airbags like passenger cars.
Lighting, Reflectors, and Conspicuity
Trucks are required to have conspicuity tape on the rear and sides of their trucks so that their trailers can be seen at night. Many motor carriers do not comply with these rules, leaving the rears of their trailers difficult to see in low-lighting nighttime driving. In addition, some trucking companies allow dirt and debris to accumulate over reflective tape, making the trailer difficult to see. Sometimes, conspicuity accidents can occur because trucking companies do not have functioning lights or reflectors. A study by the NHTSA in 2001 found that 30% of 10,000 trailers inspected were “somewhat dirty. While clean tape can reduce a rear impact collision by 53%, dirty tape only reduces crashes by about half that much.
We had a case in which the tractor brakes were functioning, but the trailer brakes were not. In determining the ability of the truck to stop, this dramatically affected the length of time necessary for stopping. Many trucks use air brakes, which can be difficult to maintain. An expert is required to determine if poor brakes contributed to cause your accident.
Trucking Company Tricks
Often, the trucking company will claim that they are not liable because they contracted with the driver, and the driver is an “independent contractor” over whom they have no control. The driver will typically have insufficient assets, and may not have sufficient insurance, to cover the claim. What then? Experienced truck accidents attorneys have several options in these scenarios.
One benefit to attorneys facing efforts by trucking companies and insurance companies trying to weasel out of coverage is the “MCS-90 Declaration,” which is required by federal trucking regulations. That declaration provides that the insurer “agrees to pay…any judgment recovered against the insured for…negligence in the operation, maintenance, or use of motor vehicles…regardless of whether or not each motor vehicle is specifically described in the policy and whether or not such negligence occurs on any route or in any territory authorized to be served by the insured or elsewhere…. No condition, provision, stipulation, or limitation contained in the policy, this endorsement, or any other endorsement thereon, or violation thereof, shall relieve the [insurance] company from liability or from the payment of any final judgment….” This Declaration provides insurance coverage even when there are non-listed vehicles and drivers, unreported accidents, or accidents at an unauthorized location.
Ever seen a truck going down the road, and stuff is flying off the truck because it is not properly secured? Or maybe you have seen a truck actually tip over because the cargo inside the truck was improperly loaded or moving around. The trucking company is responsible for loading the truck. There are federal regulations for cargo securement, and they are very specific. A trucking company which violates these rules can allow cargo to fly off the truck, or cargo to shift inside the truck, causing an accident.
Cargo often moves when the truck accelerates or decelerates. So the FMCSA has adopted rules on the amount of force the cargo securement system must withstand when the truck speeds up or slows down. Acceleration/deceleration values are reflected in terms of the proportion of acceleration to gravity. What does that mean? If you drop a rock from a tall building, the velocity will increase by 9.8 meters per second (32.2 feet/second) every second it falls. So “1g” is an acceleration of 32.2 feet per second, per second. The FMCSA requires cargo securement systems to withstand the following forces:
- 0.8 g deceleration in the forward direction;
- 0.5 g acceleration in the rearward direction;
- 0.5g in the lateral direction.
Let’s take an example of that last one—“0.5g in the lateral direction.” A truck with a high center of gravity can roll over at a lateral acceleration over 0.35g. So this type of truck must have a cargo securement system which can withstand forces up to 0.5g or be in violation. Motor carriers are required to conduct testing of their securement systems to see if they can meet the performance criteria.
The cargo securement rules also incorporate by reference manufacturing standards for certain types of tiedowns including steel strapping, chain, synthetic webbing, wire rope, and cordage, such as the 1999 National Association of Chain Manufacturers (NACM) Welded Steel Chain Specifications. Tiedowns must be secured in such a manner that they will not come loose while the vehicle is on the road. The FMCSA rules, however, do not currently require tiedowns to be marked. The rules also have specifications for the number of tie downs depending on the length and weight of the merchandise being secured.
You know when you get a box from UPS containing an item that you have ordered and inside the box there are inflated plastic bags or packaging peanuts? Why do they do that? Because when every space inside the box is filled, the cargo is less likely to move inside the box. Truck regulations are kind of similar, and require all cargo to be immobilized or secured. If the cargo is not secured down with cargo securement structures, then “dunnage bags” (like those inflatable bags in the UPS boxes), shoring bars, or tiedowns may be used. All of these rules are designed to prevent cargo from flying off the truck, or cargo shifting inside the truck causing the truck to become imbalanced and possibly tip over.
Consult an experienced truck accident attorney if you believe that improper loading caused your accident.
Texting While Driving, Speeding, Inattention
Just like the driver of a passenger automobile, truck drivers often have bad habits while driving. These include speeding, texting while driving, inattention, improper lane usage, and other violations of the rules of the road.
Have you been seriously injured, or has your loved one been seriously injured or killed in a crash with a semi truck or 18 wheeler? If so, call for a free consultation with the experienced truck accident lawyers at The Medler Law Firm today.
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