Each year, heavy trucks claim the lives of nearly 150 people in Pennsylvania alone, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. On a national level, more than 4,000 Americans die in motor vehicle accidents involving large trucks, 18-wheelers, big rigs, tractor-trailers, semi-trucks, delivery trucks, logging trucks, and semi-tractor trailers, according to truck accident fatality statistics provided by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
It goes without saying that a truck accident is the most devastating and horrifying type of motor vehicle collision due to the size of heavy trucks and the destructive consequences that they cause to passenger cars, pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists. Thus, a victim of a truck crash is more likely to require legal help from a truck accident attorney in Pittsburgh. An accident involving a tractor trailer, bus or another commercial vehicle can cause serious physical injuries such as paralysis, whiplash, burns, intense back pain, broken bones, brain injuries or even death.
The road to recovery can be painful and cause many people to lose time at work, or lose their jobs completely, not to mention create a pile of medical bills.
Truck and bus drivers must use extreme caution and follow regulations of the U.S. Department of Transportation when operating their vehicles. However, many times drivers do not take the proper precautions and can cause serious accidents resulting in permanent injuries or death.
Common Causes of Truck Accidents
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), truck accidents are the fault of negligent truck drivers more often than they are caused by other factors, such as poor weather or road conditions. In addition, to accidents caused by a negligent truck driver, 44% involved a trucker who was taking over-the-counter drugs or prescription medication.
Many times the cause of an accident can be proved with the help of an aggressive and experienced legal firm. SMT Legal will conduct a thorough review of your case to see if driver fatigue or other factors were the cause of the accident. Contact us today.
- Overworked Drivers / Driver Fatigue: Oftentimes truck drivers are penalized for not making deliveries on time or are required by their company to adhere to strict schedules and work too many hours. Often it is the trucking company that is responsible for the driver being overworked and therefore not as alert as they should be. Driver fatigue can seriously impact the ability of the driver, causing him or her to misjudge distances, miss traffic signals, overreact or under react to situations or even fall asleep at the wheel.
- Excessive Speed: 23% of truck accidents where the truck drivers were at fault are caused by excessive speed. Because large trucks require a longer distance to come to a stop than passenger automobiles, speed is a significant factor in truck accidents. Stopping distance can be even longer when a truck is fully loaded.
- Distracted Drivers / Cell Phone Use: Using a handheld cell phone while driving any motor vehicle is illegal, as is texting or sending or receiving messages of any kind (such as through Facebook on a smartphone). Other factors could also distract drivers resulting in an accident.
- Driving While Under the Influence of Alcohol or Drugs: Unfortunately because some drivers are required to work long hours the use of prescription drugs or over-the-counter drugs is often used by drivers. While federal regulations require regular random drug testing by trucking companies, these tests can be defeated.
- Inexperienced Drivers: If a new driver is on the road and has not received enough training they run a risk of causing an accident. In this case, the trucking company may be at fault for hiring inexperienced drivers or not providing adequate training for their drivers.
- Poor Equipment and/or Maintenance: There are requirements that commercial vehicles must adhere to when maintaining their trucks and equipment. However, lots of short cuts are made within the industry to allow trucks to run longer without pre-trip inspections. If tires or brakes or other equipment are not properly maintained, the trucking company or truck driver may be found at fault for the accident.
- Overloaded Trucks or Poorly Secured Loads: If a truck is not properly secured and its loose load causes you to have an accident, the trucking company or driver could be found at fault. In addition, if the truck is overloaded this can play a part in the truck’s stopping distance, causing the truck driver to not be able to brake in time.
- Poor Weather Conditions: Truckers are required by the federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations to take special precautions when driving in the rain, fog, snow, sleet or icy conditions or other types of poor weather. If they do not, they can be found at fault for the accident.
Who Is At Fault In Trucking Accidents?
Several parties could potentially be responsible for the cause of a truck or commercial vehicle accident, which is why it takes an experienced legal team to get to the source of the problem. Depending on the cause of the accident, any of the following parties could be found responsible:
- The truck driver
- The truck company or owner of the truck or trailer or the person or company that the truck was leased from
- The truck manufacturer or the manufacturer of the faulty equipment
- The company was responsible for loading the truck’s cargo.
Because so many different parties could be involved, the insurance companies of each of these parties will blame the other party. This is why it is important to have experienced and aggressive attorneys on your side, like SMT Legal, who will fight to ensure that the responsible party is held accountable. If you have been injured in a truck accident, contact us to schedule a free legal case evaluation immediately. The more time that lapses, the more difficult it will be to build a strong and winnable case.
How To Prove That the Truck Driver Was Negligent?
Proving that a truck driver was at fault for causing your accident may not be as easy as it might seem. To hold a truck driver accountable for your injury, you will have to collect sufficient evidence proving one or several of the following elements:
- The truck driver was fatigued, tired, sleepy, or overworked, which can be proven by obtaining access to the electronic logs for the truck. There are strict hours of service regulations preventing truckers from driving trucks for more than 11 hours in a day and requiring them to be off-duty for at least 10 consecutive hours, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). Our legal expert has previously discussed the FMCSA hours of service regulations in our blog.
- The truck was poorly maintained or defective, which requires a mechanic or other expert to examine the vehicle to determine if parts or components of the vehicle were defective, faulty, or improperly maintained.
- The truck was overloaded, which can be proven by assessing how much cargo was in the truck at the time of the collision and how much this particular type of truck is legally allowed to carry.
- The truck driver was intoxicated, which can be proven by calling the police to document the trucker’s level of intoxication in their police report.
- The truck driver was distracted by his or her cell phone, which can be established by subpoenaing phone records to prove cellphone use while driving.
That is only a small list of factors and types of evidence that prove the truck driver’s fault in a truck crash. If you have a Pittsburgh truck accident lawyer by your side, you will be able to develop a strong legal case establishing negligence or carelessness on the part of the truck driver and/or his or her trucking company.
When Can a Trucking Company Be Held Liable for a Truck Crash?
There are a variety of situations that make a trucking company responsible for a truck accident caused by the driver it hired or contracted. In Pennsylvania, trucking companies have a duty to thoroughly screen their drivers prior to hiring them. The screening process includes performing a criminal background check, inquiring into the driver’s traffic tickets and violations, as well as confirming that this individual has the correct and valid licenses to operate large trucks.
“Unfortunately, screening is not the only phase in which trucking companies cut corners, putting the lives of their drivers and other parties on the road at risk of injury or death,” says our Pittsburgh truck accident attorney at SMT Legal. Besides failing to adequately assess truck drivers, trucking companies can be held liable for truck accidents if they fail to:
- Properly train the truck driver
- Monitor the truck driver
- Take measures to prevent the truck driver from operating the truck under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- Ensure that the truck driver is adhering to the hours of service regulations
- Adequately load the truck
- Properly inspect and maintain the truck and its parts and components
Many other circumstances make trucking companies liable for truck accidents caused by their drivers. However, many trucking companies escape liability by raising the “independent contractor” defense. If that’s the case, only an experienced truck accident lawyer in Pittsburgh or elsewhere in Pennsylvania will be able to fight against this defense and find evidence proving that the accident occurred “within the scope of employment.”
Should You Accept a Settlement Offer Made by a Trucking Company?
If the at-fault trucker’s trucking company or insurance company makes a settlement offer, do not be quick to accept it no matter how badly you need hush money to pay for your medical bills and other damages and losses. Trucking companies and insurance companies make settlement offers only to prevent the victim from recovering a much larger sum of money if the victim pursues a personal injury lawsuit.
These companies take advantage of the fact that you desperately need at least some amount of money because truck accidents are devastating and entail disastrous financial damages and losses. But do not be quick to agree to a settlement without talking to a Pittsburgh truck accident lawyer first.
When you accept the settlement offer, the trucking or insurance company will have you sign a release preventing you from suing the at-fault parties for the accident. That means that if your injury happens to be more serious than anticipated or initially diagnosed, you will not be able to recover more money to cover the ever-mounting medical bills and expenses for years or decades to come.
Do keep in mind that commercial trucking companies typically carry $1 million in liability coverage for their drivers, which means with the help of an experienced truck accident attorney by your side, you may be able to receive a higher level of compensation than you would in any other type of motor vehicle crash.
A driver’s negligence or the negligence of the trucking or busing company should not be your responsibility.
Our Pittsburgh Attorneys have a thorough understanding of the rules and guidelines truck drivers and the trucking industry are responsible for following and can help you build a strong case and fight for the compensation you deserve. If you have been involved in an accident involving an 18-wheeler, commercial bus, school bus, greyhound bus, freight carrier, flatbed or a coal truck, contactt our law firm for a free case evaluation.