Personal injury settlements are not always straightforward in California. Civil courts consider many factors before granting compensation to the plaintiff. For instance, the liable party, the damages incurred, and evidence that the allegedly responsible party caused the injuries would all affect the case’s settlement. Cases involving truck accidents are even more complicated. It is because they have unique legal issues that could affect the settlement outcome.
You may not be aware of these legal issues and how they might affect your situation. But an experienced truck accident attorney would. That’s why it is crucial to involve the help of a competent personal injury attorney if you or your loved one has been in a truck accident in California. An experienced attorney will know and deal with all those issues that could affect your settlement. This article will address some of these issues and how they might affect your case.
Personal Injury Issues in Big Rig Truck Accidents
If you have been in a truck accident, it helps to work alongside an experienced truck accident injury attorney. It’s because injury cases involving accidents with trucks present unique legal issues that could complicate your situation. For instance, semi-truck drivers and companies must abide by several state and federal regulations. They are also required to have insurance of higher limits than ordinary vehicles. Additionally, some truck accident cases involve more than one liable party. Everyone responsible for the accident will be held accountable for the resulting damages based on their degree of responsibility.
Thus, you (the plaintiff) stand a better chance of obtaining the compensation you deserve when you have proper legal representation. Missing out on some of these details could cause you to lose the case or lose a large part of the compensation. Let’s discuss some of the personal injury issues that could be present in your truck accident case in greater detail.
State and Federal Regulations
Semi-truck owners, operators, and manufacturers have a wide range of federal and state regulations they must follow in ensuring the operator’s safety and the safety of other road users. These regulations determine the weight a truck can carry at any time, how long the operator must drive without taking a break, and the quality of repair and maintenance the truck must be subjected to after operating for a given period. When a truck accident occurs, all these issues are essential when determining the at-fault party. For instance, if the cause of the accident was due to driver fatigue, the fault of the accident could fall on the driver or the company, depending on the factors that led to that fatigue.
When an accident occurs, any involved parties could be responsible for the accident, including the plaintiff. When the plaintiff is not to blame, the chances are that other parties could have caused the accident. When it pertains to truck accidents, the police and the plaintiff’s legal team would be interested in finding out which state and federal regulations were violated and by which party. For instance, if the truck lost balance, the police will want to know how much weight it was carrying. If they determine that the truck was overloaded, it becomes easier to determine the responsible party. In this case, it could be the trucking company or even the driver.
Settlement in personal injury cases is only possible if the plaintiff can establish proof of violation of a particular statute. Remember that the civil court judge will depend on this proof to determine liability and grant compensation. If more than one party were responsible for the accident, you’d need sufficient evidence to improve your chances of receiving the compensation you deserve. The defendant's willingness to settle out of the court will be determined by the amount of proof you have against them. It even speeds up the process and ensures you have the money you need for treatment and other needs resulting from the truck accident.
Let us look at some of these regulations and how they could affect your truck accident case:
Rules Regarding Hours of Service
Operating a commercial vehicle requires the driver to be alert at all times. Thus, drivers and trucking companies are required by law to ensure that the driver is not fatigued while on the road. Hence the need to regulate the number of hours the driver must operate before taking a break.
The number of hours a commercial vehicle driver can operate depends on their schedule and the nature of the property or people they are driving. The law requires a big rig truck driver to work a maximum of eleven hours after a break of ten hours. Drivers cannot operate for more than fourteen consecutive hours even after a break of ten hours.
Additionally, truck drivers must have at least a ten-minute break after four hours of operating and a 30-minute meal break every five hours.
If the driver doesn’t adhere to these regulations, they become too exhausted to concentrate on the road.
If you have been in an accident where the driver was tired, you must establish the actual reasons for driver fatigue and whether it was the driver or their employer responsible.
Rules Regarding Commercial Driver’s License
Commercial vehicle drivers in California must have a commercial driver’s license (CDL) instead of an ordinary driver’s license. The DMV issues a CDL after the driver has gone through intensive training and a rigorous testing process. Commercial vehicle owners must only hire fully qualified truck drivers.
Once the driver obtains a CDL, the law will hold them to different standards than other drivers. For instance, a CDL holder must be careful not to violate any traffic rule like driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs or fleeing the scene after an accident. If that happens, the driver is likely to lose their CDL for a minimum of one year. The driver is likely to face graver penalties if he/she committed the offense while driving a commercial vehicle.
CDL holders who violate traffic rules accumulate points on their licenses. If the driver earns a specific number of points, he could be termed a negligent operator under California laws. That could cause the driver to lose his/her driving privileges in California, including the driving privilege to operate his/her car.
When an accident occurs, and it is established that the driver was not a holder of a CDL, the driver and employer will be held responsible for the resulting damages.
Rules Regarding Weight Limits
California has strict weight limitations for commercial vehicles, above which they must not operate. For instance, vehicles must not exceed 80,000 pounds, however big they are. Every axle must carry a weight of not more than 20,000 tonnes. That rule mainly focuses on the safety of the driver and other road users.
California interstates have limitations for the amount of cargo a truck can carry. If a vehicle is heavier than the set limit, it could cause damage to the road over time, especially in weak spots like bridges and overpasses. Thus, structural safety is essential in keeping everyone on the road safe.
Heavier vehicles are also a safety hazard to other vehicles on the road. Manufacturers have set weight limits of the trucks they manufacture to maintain stability while on the road. A heavier vehicle will be somewhat difficult to operate by the driver. It is possible to lose control when a driver is struggling to control the vehicle on the road. Additionally, trucks require more time to stop in case of a mishap. It becomes even harder to keep the vehicle stable when going downhill.
When a truck accident occurs, the police will find how much cargo the vehicle was carrying. If it is determined that the vehicle was carrying more weight than its allowed capacity, the responsible party will be held accountable for the resulting damages.
Other than the weight of the cargo, trucking companies and truck operators must follow strict loading regulations to ensure that the load is correctly balanced on the truck. Improper loading of commercial truck vehicles could result in issues with maneuvering and could cause a truck accident.
Shippers must properly secure their loads using securing devices and ensure that the weight is well-distributed. Heavier items should be loaded in the truck’s front, while smaller and lighter items can be placed close to its rear. If the vehicle is towing a closed trailer, its smaller, lighter cargo should be near the top of the trailer in its rear. If it’s an open trailer, the smaller, lighter cargo should not be loaded above the height of the sides of the trailer box.
The general rule is for shippers to ensure that at least 60% of the total load occupies the front half of the trailer. Overloading the end of the trailer could damage it and result in other hazards. It could help to keep the total load at about 80% of the allowed load.
Sometimes trailers carry overhanging cargo. California law requires loads like that to only overhang 4 feet beyond its rear, 3 feet beyond its front, and four inches beyond the sides of the vehicle. Shippers must use markings if the load goes beyond one foot or more to the left or four feet to the vehicle’s rear.
Once a truck accident occurs due to improper loading, the police will establish the problem and include it in their report. In most cases, improperly loaded trailers will cause the truck to lose its control. Since it takes larger vehicles a long time to stop, the resulting accident could be devastating.
Higher Insurance Requirements
A higher insurance requirement is imposed on operators and owners of semi-trucks by the state and federal governments. In all auto accidents, defendants can only pay for the compensation they can afford or the maximum amount allowed by their insurance provider. Sadly, most of these policy limits are insufficient to cover damages incurred in accidents. Sometimes plaintiffs are left with less compensation than they deserve.
That is why the law requires truck drivers and truck companies to have higher insurance. The resulting damages after a truck accident are usually many, and plaintiffs might be under-compensated if trucks or their operators are under-insured. A higher policy limit means that even when the trucking company or driver only has the minimum policy, the complainant will not be under-compensated in the event of an accident. The policy amount will be sufficient enough to cover most if not all damages.
However, this doesn’t mean that these higher insurance policies are sufficient to compensate for damages in all truck accidents. Sometimes a plaintiff’s claim will exceed a defendant’s policy. That brings us to the other legal issue surrounding personal injury cases involving truck accidents. It is not unusual for a truck accident attorney to look for other possible at-fault parties to ensure that his/her client receives the compensation they deserve.
The Possibility of Multiple Dependents on Settlements
That is another issue that sets truck accidents apart from other auto accidents in California. As mentioned above, truck accidents could involve more than one liable party. With proper investigation, you might receive compensation from multiple defendants after a devastating truck accident.
A truck accident case could have more than one liable party, depending on the cause and nature of the accident. When that happens, they could all be held responsible for the resulting damages, according to their degree of involvement. If the evidence presented in court proves their negligence in causing the accident, the civil court judge will provide the order in which those defendants will pay compensation for the plaintiff’s damages.
Sometimes it is difficult for accident investigators to determine the actual cause of the accident. For instance, an accident could have resulted from faulty vehicle tires and/or a tired driver. If, after investigations, it is established that the driver did not take the necessary rest as required by law, he/she or the trucking company is held responsible. If it is determined that one or more of the vehicle’s tires were faulty during the same investigations and could have caused the accident, the case will have two irrefutable defendants.
Also, an accident case could have the truck operator and owner as one of the responsible parties. For instance, if the driver was not adequately trained or experienced to handle a commercial vehicle, he/she will be liable for the resulting damages and his/her employer. As previously stated, commercial truck drivers must obtain a CDL, which shows that they have received adequate training to handle larger vehicles. Trucking companies must also follow due process in hiring drivers.
Note that the strength of the evidence presented in court will determine the outcome of the case. An experienced truck accident attorney will involve an accident expert and other investigations to ensure that the court grants you maximum compensation for your damages. If it is unclear how much each defendant contributed to the accident, the judge will decide based on each defendant’s insurance. For instance, the truck manufacturer might be expected to pay more damages than the driver if the driver does not have sufficient assets and insurance to cover his/her half of the total compensation.
It is easy to determine the percentage of fault for every defendant involved in a truck accident in some cases. That makes out-of-court settlement possible and quick. However, it becomes a challenge in cases where their proportions of fault are unclear. A settlement could be a challenge to obtain in cases like these, forcing the plaintiff to seek the help of the civil court. When you go to trial, the judge determines how the responsible parties will pay compensation.
In cases where the plaintiff is suspected to be involved in the accident, defendants could opt for a trial and not settlement since they cannot agree on how much each responsible party should pay in compensation. A trial is also a good option if one defendant feels that his/her proportion of fault is more than it should.
Note that one defendant could agree to settle with the plaintiff out of the court, while the other prefers to go on trial. In that case, you will only file a suit against the other defendant for the remaining balance of your damages.
Thus, truck accidents involving multiple defendants could be complex and challenging to handle without proper legal representation. But an experienced truck accident injury attorney will know all these issues and how they can affect your situation.
If you have been in a truck accident in California, several legal issues could affect your settlement or trial outcome. Thus, it helps to engage the help of an experienced truck accident personal injury attorney. An experienced attorney has encountered all these issues in the past to know how to handle them, not to affect your situation. At Truck Accident Injury Attorney, we specialize in truck accidents injury cases. We will ensure that every legal aspect of your case is considered so you can receive the compensation you deserve. Call us at 619-754-7667, and let us work together for a favorable outcome of your case.