As with any other type of personal injury case, having an experienced attorney who strives to protect your rights, minimize your hassles and is not afraid to proceed to trial when the insurance company refuses to settle for what your case is worth, is crucial when you’ve been injured by a semi-truck. Whether you were also in a vehicle, on a bike or a pedestrian, being hit by such a large and powerful vehicle is likely to produce devastating injuries.
A case involving a semi-truck, also otherwise known as an 18-wheeler, big rig or tractor-trailer, is different from the run-of-the-mill car wreck case. The difference in size between a 4,000-pound car and an 80,000-pound tractor-trailer rig can result in disparate injuries between the car driver and the truck driver. In these kinds of collisions, three out of four people who died were riding in a car. In fact, in crashes involving a car and a truck, the car occupant is 15 times more likely to be killed than the truck occupant.
Additionally, semi-truck and 18-wheeler incident cases present unique issues not associated with a typical car collision or motor vehicle incident. These differences include:
1. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations – federal regulations and safe operating requirements for commercial truck drivers, common carriers, vehicles and truck equipment.
2. Hazardous Materials Regulations – federal regulations and safe operating requirements for the safe and secure transportation of hazardous materials, proper packaging, employee training, hazard communication and operational requirements for truck drivers and truck companies.
3. Hours of Service – federal regulations regarding truck driver alertness and fatigue-related accidents.
4. State and federal rules – Oregon truck safety regulations, truck licensing requirements and truck insurance requirements.
5. Corporate liability – negligent hiring, supervision and truck maintenance claims against truck companies.
There are several agencies devoted entirely to regulating the trucking industry, both state and federal. One very important law regards log books. All truck drivers are required to maintain log books that record where they picked up their load, where they’re heading, what roads they have traveled and how many hours they have been driving. Regulations dictate how many hours may be driven in both a 24-hour period and a 7-day period.
Even after these regulations were enacted, many wrecks occur due to driver fatigue, some driving 12, 14, 16 or even more hours without rest. In the event of a collision, log books might contain valuable information that might help your attorney determine if the driver was within the regulations of the number of hours permitted to drive on the road. Plus, this information might help your attorney determine if the driver was speeding. Federal law indicates that log books can be destroyed after just six months. For this reason, it is so important you contact attorney right away to be sure that vital evidence is preserved.
Unlike standard motor vehicle owners, semi-truck companies are required to be insured for at least $750,000. Some have several million dollars in excess coverage as well. There might also be other types of financial recovery to which you are entitled, beyond the trucking company. It just depends on the facts and circumstances of your case.
Occasionally, semi-truck insurance companies have been known to have their agents on the incident scene even before police arrive. Be aware of this fact, and be cautious what you say to anyone unknown you might approach you, either at the scene or shortly thereafter. You might even be approached at the hospital or at home. Never agree to provide a recorded statement to the insurance company without first talking to a skilled personal injury attorney.
The Large Truck Crash Causation Study, released as a report to Congress, was mandated by the federal legislation that created the FMCSA–the Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act of 1999. Researchers worked for 33 months examining a nationally representative sample of large-truck fatal and injury crashes in 17 states. Each crash involved at least one large truck and resulted in at least one fatality or injury. The study’s general conclusions included the following:
1. In all crashes, driver recognition and decision errors were the common type of driver mistakes noted by crash investigators or law enforcement officials.
2. Driving too fast for conditions and fatigue were important factors cited for both drivers.
3. Speeding was noted more often for truck drivers.
4. Among truck drivers, prescription drug use was an “associated factor” in 28.7% of all crashes sampled and over-the-counter drugs were an associated factor in 19.4%.
5. Car drivers were more frequently linked to both driving performance errors and non-performance problems (e.g., asleep, sick, incapacitated).
6. Fatigue was noted twice as often for car drivers.
7. Brake problems were a factor for almost 30% of trucks but only 5% of cars.
8. Roadway problems were present in 16% of the two-vehicle crashes and adverse weather conditions were present in approximately 13%.
9. Interruption in the traffic flow (previous crash, work zone, rush-hour congestion, etc.) was a factor in almost 25% of the two-vehicle crashes.