In general, the size and materials that tractor trailers are made of make them extremely dangerous to motorists traveling alongside them on a highway. Given these features, tractor trailers often cause serious damage to both persons and property when they are involved in an accident. In fact, there are roughly 500,000 tractor trailer accidents per year in the United States.
Out of that half a million, nearly 5,000 of them involve fatalities. Furthermore, the majority of those fatalities are usually the passengers of the other vehicles that they collide with in an accident.
Some common examples of the types of issues that may lead to a tractor trailer accident include the following:
- Poor driving conditions due to inclement weather;
- Jackknifing, which is the term used for when the trailer portion of a tractor trailer splits and slides towards the front part of the truck;
- Bad road conditions like hills, deep potholes, or unfinished construction projects;
- Defective truck parts or equipment, such as faulty brakes, cheap tire material that causes blowouts, and flawed locking mechanisms;
- Unsecured cargo or an overweight cargo load;
- Issues with or caused by the driver of the tractor trailer, such as drowsiness, driving while impaired, speeding, and committing other traffic law violations;
- Improper tractor trailer maintenance; and/or
- Various other conditions that may lead to a vehicle accident.
As may be evident from the above list, there are many different ways that a tractor trailer can cause an accident that results in serious injuries to other drivers on the road. Thus, if you have been injured in a tractor trailer incident, you should consult with a local personal injury attorney as soon as possible.
How Can I Prove Liability in Tractor-Trailer Cases?
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (“FMCSA”), which is the administrative agency charged with regulating the trucking industry in the United States, speeding is the number one cause of most accidents that involve commercial trucks like tractor trailers.
The FMCSA is also responsible for developing and enforcing regulations that are then compiled as a primary resource for the entire trucking industry, along with many other sectors. This primary resource is known as the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations (“CFR”). The CFR provides information that can help parties prove liability in tractor trailer cases, including how to demonstrate that a truck driver’s negligence caused an accident.
Aside from various theories of negligence, an injured party may also need to use the CFR as a reference to ensure that they comply with the necessary standards required to prove liability in tractor-trailer cases, such as:
- The injured party must submit evidence that proves they are a member of a group that the CFR is intended to protect;
- The injured party must submit evidence that proves the injuries they sustained in a tractor trailer accident were of the kind that the CFR is meant to prevent; and
- That the tractor trailer company and/or driver is liable for violating the regulations contained in the CFR.
What Evidence Do I Need to Prove the Truck Driver’s Liability?
It is absolutely imperative that the evidence to support a lawsuit involving a tractor trailer accident be collected as soon as possible. Oftentimes, failing to gather the evidence early on in these cases tends to result in it being destroyed or lost. When evidence that is crucial to supporting an argument in a lawsuit gets lost or destroyed, it makes it that much harder to prove why the opposing party should be held liable.
Some common examples of the types of evidence that can be useful in proving liability in a tractor trailer case and thus would be best to collect early on include the following:
- A copy of all background investigation reports compiled by the experts hired for the tractor trailer company.
- A list of any essential items discovered inside the vehicles involved in the accident as well as any physical items that can be recovered, such as cell phones, laptops, liquor bottles, drugs, and/or prescription medications.
- A copy of the truck operator’s driving log that contains the number of hours or days they had been driving or how long they had been on duty before the tractor trailer accident.
- A copy of an inventory, inspection, or police report of the contents of the tractor trailer before the truck itself is sold, impounded, or destroyed.
- A list of eyewitnesses who saw the accident transpire, along with the contact information for each individual eyewitness.
- Any other pieces of evidence that a party’s attorney advises them to gather for the case.
Again, all of the evidence in the above list should be collected as closely as is possible to the date that the accident occurred. This can help to guarantee that the memories of the parties involved in the accident as well as those of eyewitnesses are still fresh in their minds. A party or eyewitness’s ability to accurately recollect events can sometimes be submitted as evidence in a case or used as a resource by accident reconstructionist to base their demonstration off.
Briefly, an accident reconstructionist is a special kind of scientific expert who recreates the events leading up to an accident, which can potentially resolve the questions of how and why an accident may have happened. Reconstructing the scene of an accident can be useful for determining who was at fault for causing the accident. Hence, why the process is often used to reenact tractor trailer accidents in such cases.
Are There Any Legal Remedies for Tractor Trailer Accidents?
There are a number of legal remedies that may be available to persons who have sustained injuries as a result of a tractor trailer accident. The most common of these legal remedies is a monetary damages award. The money received as part of a monetary damages award can be used to cover any costs that are associated with a person’s injuries.
Some examples of the types of costs that a monetary damages award may cover include hospital bills, medical devices, home care aids, prescription medications, and doctors bills. In some instances, the money can also be applied toward administrative court courts, attorneys’ fees, and damages associated with loss of consortium.
The way in which a monetary damages award may be calculated will depend on a few different factors, such as:
- The severity and extent of a person’s injury;
- Whether the tractor trailer accident led to any casualties;
- The degree of property damage done to the vehicles involved in the incident; and
- Whether the driver of the tractor trailer was operating the vehicle in a negligent or reckless manner.
If the last factor is applicable to a case, then a plaintiff may also be able to collect a punitive damages award on top of their monetary damages award.
In addition, there may be other legal issues related to a tractor trailer accident lawsuit, which may increase the amount of damages that an injured party receives. Some examples of the types of legal issues that may be associated with a primary case include:
- Issues involving a claim for wrongful death;
- Vicarious liability of the owner of the trucking company or the employer that hired the driver of the tractor trailer; and
- Any other drivers who may have been partially at fault for causing the tractor trailer accident.
Lastly, a driver who is found liable for causing a tractor trailer accident could be at risk of losing their job and may have their commercial license temporarily suspended or permanently revoked. Thus, it may be in a tractor trailer driver’s best interest to retain their own separate counsel to represent them individually in such lawsuits.
Do I Need to Consult an Attorney about My Tractor-Trailer Accident?
The legal issues that may arise from a tractor-trailer accident are generally much more complicated than those associated with a standard motor vehicle accident. The reason for this is because tractor-trailers are considered commercial vehicles, which means that they are governed by separate regulations than standard motor vehicles and require a special license to own or operate one.
Tractor-trailer accidents also tend to involve multiple parties. Hence, why so many tractor-trailer companies use powerful insurance corporations to represent them. Therefore, if you have been involved in an accident with a tractor-trailer, you should strongly consider hiring a local car accident attorney to provide further legal guidance.
An experienced personal injury attorney will already be familiar with the standards and compliance requirements for tractor-trailers. Your attorney will also possess the skills needed to successfully communicate and negotiate with large insurance corporations.
In addition, your attorney will be able to ensure that your interests are heard and well-represented. Your attorney can also help you to recover the potential legal remedies to which you may be entitled. Finally, if your tractor-trailer dispute needs to be resolved in court, your attorney will be able to provide adequate legal representation as well.