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Trucks Accident Lawsuits

Donald Singleton
June 10, 2022

Getting into an accident with a big rig can complicate things more than they might after a more typical traffic accident. In order to determine whether you have a valid personal injury claim after a truck accident, you need to know the common reasons for truck accidents, the applicable law, and the relationships among the various entities (as they relate to a truck, trailer, and load).

Truck Accident Lawsuits

The most common causes of car accidents involving 18-wheelers

In the operation of a semi-trailer truck, many things can go wrong. Almost all big rig accidents are caused by driver error. A typical scenario involves (among others) fatigued drivers, drugged drivers, and equipment issues.

Truck accidents can have many causes, but some of the most common ones are as follows:

Truck driver fatigue and drug use

Fatigue or drowsiness can lead to:

  • Making the driver less able to control the truck
  • Impairing judgment
  • Slowing reaction times
  • Impairing the driver’s ability to make safe driving decisions.

Inattentiveness, falling asleep, or misjudging driving conditions could be signs of a tired driver.

Alcohol and controlled substances can also impair driving. Trucking companies are required to test their drivers for alcohol and drugs as a condition of employment under federal regulation. In addition, carriers must randomly test their drivers on duty and test any driver involved in an accident that results in a fatality.

Errors by truck drivers

Collisions can also be caused by driver errors like taking curves too fast, exceeding the speed limit, and failing to observe blind spots.

Tractor-trailer equipment issues

The equipment or mechanical failure of a tractor-trailer can also contribute to truck accidents. Crashes can be the result of manufacturing problems (such as defective tires) or design errors (such as not providing backup warnings or object detection systems).

Trucking accidents may also occur due to improper equipment maintenance. Mechanical problems are often caused by:

  • Taking the front brakes off or depowering them (to minimize tire and brake wear and replacement costs)
  • Neglecting brake maintenance
  • Improperly loading or securing cargo, which contributes to truck rollover.
  • Improper steering
  • Inadequate tire maintenance, which results in a blowout
  • An improperly attached trailer increases the risk of jackknifing.

You typically do not have to sue in a truck accident case

If you’re involved in a truck accident, you have the right to sue the person who was at fault, but you probably won’t have to do so. It is usually possible to file a claim with the insurance company of the at-fault party to prove liability and outline your damages. Negotiations with the insurance company usually result in a fair settlement.

Damages that can be awarded in a truck accident case include:

  • Medications and hospital bills
  • Cost of ambulance service
  • Testing, surgery, and physical therapy costs
  • Future medical expenses
  • Lost wages
  • Property damage
  • Pain and suffering.

Your trucking accident lawyer may suggest that you sue for compensation if you cannot reach an agreement with the insurance company. As lawsuits can be expensive and lengthy, this decision should not be taken lightly. Suing may be more than worthwhile if you believe you have a strong case and a good chance of winning.

What are the truck accident laws?

An accident caused by big rigs can lead to personal injury claims if state or federal laws and regulations are not followed.

Federal trucking laws

Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations contains the bulk of federal regulations affecting the trucking industry. There are federal trucking laws that set standards that drivers, owners, and carriers must meet, and which determine who is responsible for trucking accidents.

A driver can work a maximum number of hours under federal law, for instance. The maximum number of consecutive hours a commercial driver can work is 14, during which time he or she may drive a maximum of 11 straight hours. Ten consecutive hours of off-duty time must be elapsed before the driver may begin work. Drivers aren’t allowed to operate vehicles after spending 60 hours on duty over a seven-day period or 70 hours over an eight-day period, depending on whether the carriers operate every day. (49 C.F.R. § 395.3). Additionally, truckers are required to keep logbooks that contain information about their driving. (49 C.F.R. § 395.8).

Regulation of truck driving is handled by the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). While the USDOT sets safety regulations, the FMCSA prevents injuries and fatalities caused by commercial vehicles. The weight, equipment, and emissions of trucks are regulated by truck safety standards. In addition, trucking companies must maintain varying levels of insurance coverage according to the materials they transport.

State trucking laws

The trucking industry is also governed by state laws. Most of these laws set speed limits and sleep requirements for commercial truckers. Each state has its own department of transportation that regulates trucking. Their functions include approving drivers and inspecting vehicles.

What are the liabilities in trucking accidents?

It is often more difficult to prove liability following a truck accident than after a simple car accident. Several parties may be legally liable for the injuries and losses of a truck crash victim, including:

  • Truck drivers
  • Owners of trucks and trailers
  • Cargo loaders
  • Vehicle manufacturers or parts manufacturers
  • Contractors or local governments who design or maintain highways.

Making multiple claims may maximize your compensation if several parties are legally responsible for a truck accident.

Liability for truck drivers

When a trucker causes an accident due to negligent behavior such as fatigued or distracted driving or speeding, you may sue the driver. Due to the fact that a trucker must inspect the truck for maintenance and make sure cargo is loaded correctly before driving if a maintenance issue or cargo shift contributes to a truck accident, the trucker will likely be at least partly to blame.

However, because the insurance coverage of the truck driver might not be able to compensate you fully, your lawyer may look for other parties who could be liable, such as the trucking company.

Liability of trucking companies

It is sometimes unlawful for trucking companies to require drivers to own their trucks as independent owner-operators to shield themselves from liability for trucking accidents. However, trucking companies may not always be able to prove the driver is the only liable party due to the independent contractor relationship.

In determining whether the trucking company is also liable, a court takes into consideration the following factors:

  1. What is the trucking company’s level of control over the driver?
  2. Does the driver have the option of contracting with other carriers, or is he exclusively contracted with one?
  3. Who determines the driver’s work hours and routes?
  4. Is the driver allowed to refuse a load?
  5. How will the driver be paid by the hauling company?
  6. In addition to workers’ compensation and liability insurance, is the driver responsible for insurance?
  7. In spite of the fact that the driver performs all the functions of an employee, is the trucking company using the independent contractor status to shield them from liability?

These factors (among others) will be reviewed by the court when determining whether or not the company is liable for the driver. Trucking companies are not relieved of their responsibility if they classify their drivers as independent contractors.

Companies with a trucking permit are legally responsible for accidents involving trucks with their placards or names displayed on them. There is no difference between independent contractors and employees. Trucking companies that lease trucks from owners or drivers usually obtain the necessary permits to operate the truck. The trucks then display the trucking company’s name and permit numbers. However, not all jurisdictions apply the same liability rules.

Liability for shippers and loaders of cargo

As a contractor, a carrier may work on the shipment while it is being handled by another company. Those responsible for the accident could be held liable if the cargo was improperly loaded or secured. The loader may be held liable if, for example, incorrect straps were used, the trailer was overloaded, or there was not enough tie-down.

Liability of truck and parts manufacturers

Poor maintenance may be the cause of a failure of a truck part (a tire blows out, brakes fail, or steering fails, for instance). It is also possible to hold the manufacturer and distributor liable if the part or system fails due to a defect.

Liability of local governments

Government agencies and their contractors may be held liable for accidents caused by defective roadways, which could include a flawed design, cracked pavement, or a pool of rainwater that contributed to the crash. A work zone set up that leads to a crash, insufficient warning signs, and defective guardrails are other possible causes of an accident that could be attributed to the local government or its contractors.

According to the Official Code of Georgia Annotated (OCGA) § 50-21-26, you can sue the state government in Georgia, provided you send them written notice of your intention within 12 months of the accident date. For city governments, these rules may differ.

What are the limits on truck accident lawsuits in Georgia?

Your truck accident claim will only be valid for a limited time after the crash. The OCGA § 9-3-33 provides that your lawsuit has two years to be filed from the date of the accident. If you are suing the government, for example, you have even less time.

Always file a claim against the at-fault party

If you are involved in a truck accident, never pay for damages out of your pocket. It makes no sense to have to pay for your damages if what happened to you was not your fault. If you have suffered damages, you can get compensation through a settlement, helping you to recover without having to go into debt.

Our truck accident lawyers should always be contacted as soon as possible to assist you. Though you can make a claim on your own and fight for it, this gives the insurance company an advantage over you that can result in a lower settlement than you are actually entitled to. Don’t let yourself fall behind when you are injured. Let us help.

Is it a good idea to sue after a truck accident?

A truck accident lawsuit should be filed when negotiation fails. We may need to sue an insurance company if they refuse to cover your costs and we disagree with their reasoning.

Having no insurance at all is a much rarer scenario. A second party with insurance would be helpful in this case, if we could find one. Without insurance, even if you win the lawsuit, you may not be able to collect your money.

One of the purposes of insurance is to prevent cases from going to court while still compensating victims of accidents. In the meantime, as long as insurance companies have their own interests at heart, a way must be found to force them to comply if they refuse to listen.

Is filing a truck accident lawsuit worth it?

If you’ve been injured in a truck accident, you absolutely should seek all avenues of compensation. The fastest way to get your claim paid is through a claim, and sometimes you do need to sue the insurance company.

Even so, going all the way with a lawsuit comes with one big downside. There is a possibility of losing. An experienced truck accident attorney will be able to provide you with information about your case’s pros and cons. It’s up to you to decide.

What can I do if I get in an accident with a big-rig truck?

In the event that you are involved in a collision with a big rig but do not need immediate medical attention, here’s what you should do:

  • Make sure you and your passengers are safe
  • Call the authorities to report the incident
  • Don’t forget to ask for the driver’s information, including his insurance information and contact information. The driver should be able to tell you if they are employees of the company, independent contractors driving their own vehicles, or leaseholders
  • If you spot any damage or logos on the truck, take pictures with your phone
  • Be aware of any road conditions, weather conditions, or other factors that might have contributed to the crash
  • Find out who witnessed the accident.

What evidence can you gather?

Sometimes, there is a clear indication that the driver did something wrong after a crash, like when an eyewitness claims the truck driver disobeyed a traffic signal. Occasionally, getting the evidence you need to support your claim can be a bit of a challenge. It can be challenging to prove fatigued contributed to a driver’s loss of attention, performance, or reaction time.

High-tech devices, driving logs, and government agencies are key sources of information about trucking accidents for individuals planning to file a personal injury lawsuit. The trucking company must provide this information to your lawyer before it discards it routinely.

Examine high-tech devices and preserve data

Electronic logging devices or event data recorders are often used to record information about trucks and their operations, such as routes, vehicle miles, speed, brake use, and hours served. In addition to the onboard computer, the carrier might also use a global positioning system and an inclinometer, which helps round corners safely and calculate slope angles.

Examine the driving log

A driver’s log can confirm whether he or she complied with federal and state laws and regulations regarding rest periods.

Find out more from government agencies

Commercial trucks involved in an accident must be inspected by a certified truck inspector before they can be removed. Both federal and state laws require this. According to the report, the important mechanical parts of the semi-truck and trailer will be assessed. You will need to get the report from the appropriate government agency, not the local police.

Consult an attorney

If you’ve been in a truck accident, you may be wondering if you have a case. The answer depends on a number of factors, including the severity of the accident, the extent of your injuries, and who was at fault. An experienced trucking accident attorney can help you determine whether you have a case and how to proceed with your claim.

Donald Singleton

Donald Singleton

Author

A Georgia native, Don founded Singleton Law Firm in 1999 as a continuation of his lifetime commitment to serving his state and community. He has concentrated his trial practice to representing victims of serious injury and wrongful death arising out of trucking, car, bus and motorcycle accidents, premises liability and a wide variety of other causes.

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