We read in newspapers and online reports, and see on television, stories about catastrophic accidents involving large commercial trucks. Recent news, for instance, covered a tragic trucking accident in June 2014 seriously injuring famous “30 Rock” and former “Saturday Night Live” actor and comedian Tracy Morgan, killing comic James “Jimmy Mack” McNair, and injuring two others. Kevin Roper, a Wal-Mart employee, was driving a company 18-wheeler on the New Jersey turnpike when he failed to notice traffic slowing and slammed into the back of a limo bus transporting the entertainers. Criminal charges allege Roper was driving 20 mph over the speed limit and fatigued by being awake for more than 24 hours. Federal regulations restrict commercial truck drivers to 11 hours of drive time in any 14-hour period. It is unclear if Roper was actually working for 24 hours, but under New Jersey law a driver can be criminally charged with assault by auto for an accident causing injury if he or she had been awake over 24 hours. The accident injuring Tracy Morgan highlights the danger of large trucks on our roadways and the importance of enforcing safety rules on trucking companies.
Accidents by large trucks inflict serious damage to innocent motorists on our roadways each year. These accidents cause catastrophic injuries and in the worst cases, death. You need to know how accidents with trucks occur, and what to do if you, a family member or friend are injured by a commercial truck. Immediately seek help from an experienced attorney who understands commercial trucking regulations and how to secure fair reimbursement for those injured in the crashes.
Truck Crash Statistics
Truck crashes are increasing and involve serious injuries or fatalities. The United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) reports sobering statistics about trucking accidents in the United States:
- There are about 500,000 truck accidents every year
- These accidents cause over 5,000 deaths each year
- Truck drivers are not typically injured in the crashes but others are. Only 2% of fatalities in these accidents are truck drivers. 98% of those killed are motorists or occupants of the passenger vehicles hit by commercial trucks hit, or non-occupants such as cyclists and pedestrians
- One in eight traffic fatalities involves a truck collision
- 68% of all fatal truck accidents occurred in rural areas
- 66% of all fatal truck accidents occurred during the day
- Commuters lose 98,000 hours nationally because of traffic congestion caused by trucking accidents
State and Federal Trucking Regulations
State and federal laws apply to commercial trucks. When a commercial truck causes a crash, the innocent-injured need to know and determine if the trucking folks obeyed safety rules and regulations. Examples of safety measures are:
- drug and alcohol testing
- qualification of drivers
- hours of service
- truck inspection and maintenance
- driver training
- fatigue management
Common Causes of Trucking Accidents
The cause of a crash involving a commercial truck is often unclear and obtaining the answers is more complicated than an automobile accident. Discovering the actual relationships between truck drivers, trucking companies, and truck owners requires careful research and skilled investigation. An attorney’s in-depth knowledge of causes for trucking accidents, and uncovering of relationships between trucking persons and entities are required to successfully pursue an injury claim.
Common causes for trucking accidents include:
- driver error (e.g., fatigue, speeding, use of prescription or over-the-counter drugs, inattention, distractions, work environment, unfamiliarity with roadway, and inadequate training)
- equipment problems (this can include manufacturer mistakes or design errors, but more often is poorly maintained equipment)
- failing to yield the right away
- weather conditions (driving in conditions of poor visibility due to snow, rain, fog, smoke, or dust)
- oversized or overloaded truck
Who is Responsible for Reimbursing the Injuries?
More than one party may be legally responsible for the harms and losses of a trucking accident. Responsible parties differ for each accident but may include:
- the truck driver
- the trucking company
- manufacturer of a defective part
- parties that loaded the truck
- shipper that hired the trucking company
- insurance companies
Trucking Accidents vs. Auto Accidents
A truck accident involves a heavy vehicle that weighs over 10,000 pounds. Examples of trucks above this weight (besides semi-trucks) include gravel trucks, snowplows, garbage trucks, and dump trucks.
How Do You Obtain Reimbursement for Harms and Losses?
Michigan operates under a no-fault insurance system. Under no-fault, drivers involved in a crash, whether at fault or not, can collect insurance benefits (PIP benefits) from their own auto insurer. The no-fault rules also apply to accidents involving trucks, but there are additional issues and it is crucial to hire attorney experts to help. These important challenges include finding multiple insurance policies, the independent status of truck drivers, and locating trucking companies or entities with ownership interests in the at-fault truck.
First party claim (PIP claim)
Individuals involved in a trucking accident in Michigan with valid automobile insurance may file for benefits from their own insurer, i.e., a first-party claim. Available benefits, also known as personal injury protection (PIP) benefits, may include:
- medical expenses
- in-home attendant care
- replacement services (i.e., household chores and child care)
- special transportation and medical mileage
- wage replacement benefit
- death benefit
Third party claim (claim against at-fault driver)
Besides first-party benefits, those seriously injured in a trucking accident may file a third-party claim or lawsuit against the party or parties at fault for the crash. A third-party claim enables an injured party to obtain reimbursement for disfigurement, pain, or suffering. In Michigan, an injured person can bring a claim against an at-fault driver if his or her injuries meet or exceed the law’s serious injury requirement, i.e., a permanent serious disfigurement, or a serious impairment of an important body function. An experienced trucking litigation attorney will help you determine if injuries you or a loved one sustained will satisfy the demanding injury requirement.
The Trucking Industries Rapid Response Teams and the Importance of a Prompt Crash Investigation
Federal regulations require companies to have liability insurance coverage on a truck of at least $750,000. To evade responsibility and reduce reimbursing their injured victims, many trucking companies and insurance companies employ large defense law firms with rapid-response teams that rush to accident scenes. These teams arrive at the site of a serious crash within an hour and with one objective: minimize incriminating evidence and hamper investigation. To ensure you have a fighting chance for justice, promptly retain a plaintiff trucking attorney to overcome the dishonest tactics the defense teams employ.
What to Do if You or a Loved One Are an Innocent Victim in a Trucking Crash
After a commercial truck accident, several important steps must be taken promptly after the crash:
- contact police and seek medical attention
- obtain contact information for all parties involved and any witnesses
- observe other parties involved and document all observations/conversations
- notify your auto insurance company of the accident and apply for no-fault benefits
- hire a plaintiff trucking attorney
- review your auto policy, and have your plaintiff trucking attorney review your policy, for notification requirements and available benefits
- do not sign a release or provide a statement (written or recorded) to an insurance adjuster before hiring an attorney
If you or anyone you know was injured in a trucking accident, get help from an experienced plaintiff trucking attorney at the Buchanan & Buchanan law firm. The accident experts at the firm understand what you are going through and will start a full investigation of the accident, determine the cause, and identify those who are responsible to reimburse you for the harms and losses. Buchanan and Buchanan offers an exclusive, No Fee Promise. If they don’t win, you don’t pay a professional fee.