Truck accidents can be very different from other sorts of vehicle accidents. It is important a person injured in a truck accident has some idea of these differences. It is also important that they contact an attorney experienced in handling truck accident cases. Not all personal injury attorneys may be familiar with the particulars of commercial truck laws.
The Role of Federal and State Regulations
Since commercial trucking is a business, there are a variety of regulations that commercial truck drivers and the companies they work for must adhere to. Most of these regulations come from the federal government in the form of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. Federal laws apply to the trucking industry as a whole regardless of state. There may also be state-level regulations that must be followed if a trucker is in a particular state or if the company operates primarily in a particular state.
One of the most common ways to determine negligence and liability in a truck accident case is to determine if the truck driver or company violated any of these regulations. There are many regulations, and they can be confusing to someone not familiar with the trucking industry. For example, there are regulations determining how loads are secured, the maximum weight of a load, the maximum number of hours a driver can operate without rest and so on. Accidents are much more likely when the regulations are not followed. Digging up proof of a violation is often the key to a case.
How Liability is Determined
Liability is one of the key differences between a truck accident and a regular car accident involving a private driver. In a regular car accident, the driver is the main party involved, and a lawsuit usually involves them and their insurance company.
The truck driver is still the first place to look for any violations or negligence. Just like any other driver, the truck driver is expected to drive safely and follow applicable traffic laws. A failure to do so may be considered negligence. The driver is also expected to follow any regulations that pertain to them specifically. This especially includes the requirement to take appropriate breaks and rest to ensure they are in good driving condition. If there is some evidence indicating the driver was impaired due to sleep deprivation or a similar condition this could be considered negligence for a commercial driver.
In a commercial truck accident, there may be many other parties involved besides just the driver. The driver’s company is often a source of liability. Companies are generally responsible for hours and schedules. If there is evidence that the company over-scheduled the driver or demanded more work than they could safely perform, then the company may be liable.
The third most liable party will be those responsible for truck maintenance, condition and load preparation. In some cases, the company or driver may have responsibility for these aspects, and in other situations, there may be a third party. Regulations strictly determine truck maintenance schedules and inspection. If a mechanical failure caused the accident, then negligence would fall on those responsible for preventing it.
Although the complicated liability situation can create a longer and possibly more difficult lawsuit, the good news for drivers injured in truck accidents is that the damage awards are often higher than with private drivers. This is due to the simple fact that commercial drivers and their companies carry far higher insurance coverage than is required for regular drivers. From a practical standpoint, a driver can only settle for the amount their insurance will cover. The higher the insurance the greater the possible settlement. Companies may also be subject to punitive damages that will add to the award if the accident was intentional or due to gross negligence.
In all cases, it is important to contact a personal injury attorney right away for help with a truck accident case. Valuable information or evidence can be lost or destroyed the longer a person waits to begin a lawsuit. Companies may also try to settle quickly and offer fast payouts. Any settlement offer should be brought to the attention of an attorney first.