Tractor trailer truck accidents conjure up nightmares for probably every driver. Most drivers proceed with great caution around big rigs hoping to avoid a crash. Any accident brings trauma. But 18-wheelers weigh literally tons, carrying potential danger on a scale unparalleled by other vehicles.
Commercial trucking accidents declined for decades. But the National Transportation Safety Board now reports an increase in injuries, crashes and fatalities. In one recent year nearly four thousand people were killed and 100,000 injured in truck accidents.
One study found up to 21 per cent of tractor trailers on the highways out of compliance with key safety regulations. Rules truckers must comply with include Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations or “FMCSR”. Haulers of some kinds of freight must also comply with Hazardous Materials Regulations in the Federal Law, or “HMR”.
Why Truck Accident Injuries Need Special Attention
Some people call them ‘big scary trucks’. Others refer to them as ‘big rigs’. Call it an 18-wheeler, a semi or a tractor trailer, these vehicles, weighing up to 80 thousand tons in the U.S. present the potential for grave injury. Truck accidents cause higher percentages of catastrophic injuries and fatalities.
At the same time truck accidents bring higher levels of defense and opposition by trucking company insurance companies and their lawyers. They kick up the defense tactics hoping to reduce the financial risks faced after the injuries in a trucking accident. Only lawyers who have handled these cases, such as my office, can push major truck accident injury cases towards a favorable resolution.
Will Truck Accident Evidence Disappear?
Attorneys experienced in truck accident cases understand steps required to immediately preserve evidence after an accident. Regulations require truckers and long-haul motor carriers to maintain driving and maintenance records. The correct legal notice and demand in line with the regulations makes sure truckers either correctly preserve all required records, or face consequences down the line.
Placed on early notice that a legal claim exists, truckers then face the duty to correctly preserve evidence. After proper notice, should evidence disappear or face intentional destruction, that failure to preserve paper or electronic evidence can result in civil sanctions against truckers from an adverse ruling, or in some cases criminal liability.
Truck Accident Questions
Your attorney will also address questions such as:
Do federal regulations apply in establishing liability and damages?
Who investigates the accident and how?
Can questions and document requests be sent to the trucking company?
What To Do After a Crash with an 18-Wheeler
After any motor vehicle accident certain key steps help make sure the case goes your way. We list those steps in another blog article. Additional steps come into play after an accident with a tractor trailer or other commercial vehicle, where more is required.
At the scene of the accident where there are injuries obviously the priority requires obtaining emergency medical care. But if you are able, follow these steps:
- Identify the driver and owner of the cab.
- Write down the insurance company or companies insuring the vehicle.
- Take pictures of as much as possible of both vehicles and the scene including the roadway, skid marks, if any, or the lack of skid marks.
- Photograph the license plate of the cab or tractor vehicle if at all possible. The trailer is quite often not owned by the same company and although your photos should include the trailer license plate, it is the cab that is or should be licensed to the true owner. Again this may or quite often is not the same as the driver.
- Photo any special markings identifying any hazardous or dangerous cargo. The cargo may indicate additional regulations pertaining to the vehicle.
Truck Accidents & Legal Complications
As an example of the delays that drag out tractor trailer accident cases, consider the case of two insurance companies battling over who pays their legal costs. In the case, cited below, a tractor trailer struck a passenger vehicle, causing injuries. The owner of the tractor, Ryder, paid for its own insurance. The owner then leased the cab to another company, which purchased its own insurance.
So in the case the owner and the renter each insured the truck with their own insurance policies. When sued, Ryder’s insurance company fought the injury claim with the usual legal defense. But that insurance company, knew there was a second insurance company in the wings with what is called “excess coverage”. So insurance company number one went to court to force number two to help fund the defense against the claim.
The insurance companies battled it out in the Federal District Court. That court ruled both insurance companies were “on the hook” so to speak for the legal costs. Unsatisfied with the details of the ruling, both insurance companies appealed to the First Circuit Court of Appeal. That court felt the issue of the fees was a state court issue and “certified” the question to the New Hampshire State Supreme Court.
The State court ruled that insurance company number 2 was not required to kick in until the primary insurer’s coverage was exhausted.
This is just one example of the legal complications that can delay truck accident cases.
Truck Accidents: Conclusion
Sustaining injuries as a result of a crash with a commercial truck presents major problems and challenges, more so than every day car accidents. A tractor and trailer together can weigh up to 80 thousand pounds by law in the U.S., so any injuries resulting from a semi crash can be substantial.
Federal law regulates what truck drivers and commercial freight hauling companies do. Careless driving and negligence cause accidents. Violation of federal trucking regulations brings additional liability. Developing the information and background in order to build your case and put your life back together after a tractor trailer accident requires working with an attorney with more than a fleeting knowledge of insurance and trucking law.
Photo Credit: SoCal Tunnel Crash, by FlickInPics, on flickr, under license with Creative Commons.
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, [FMCSA], “Regulations.”
National Transportation Safety Board, Truck Fleet Safety-Lessons Learned From Crashes.
Old Republic Ins. Co. v. Stratford Ins. Co., 132 A.3d 1198 (N.H. 2016).