Accidents involving commercial trucks are devastating. The sheer size and weight of the trucks significantly increase the risk of serious injuries or death to the victims in the crash. The severity of the accidents worsens with the type of load carried by the commercial truck.
Several issues contribute to the accident. Revealing the causes of the crash is the first step at recovering damages for the injuries and the financial implication they caused. It also is pivotal in seeking punitive damages. An experienced personal injury attorney will help you recover just compensation as you concentrate on your recovery.
At Truck Accident Injury Attorney Law Firm, we make it our mission to help victims of truck accidents or their loved ones seek compensation. Our years of experience is what you need if you or a loved one is a truck accident victim in California.
Common Causes of Commercial Truck Accidents in California
Collisions are devastating, and the initial assumption may be that it was purely an accident. However, careful investigations reveal that some issues may occasion or contribute to a collision. It is critical to establish the cause to determine the liable party.
Here are a few common causes.
Truck Driver Error
Generally, truck drivers are more cautious than the average driver. They receive good training, and the pay too incentivizes their safe driving habits. However, this does not rule out the element of human error. That is why driver error is the leading cause of collisions involving trucks.
Truck drivers spend long hours on the road and traveling over long distances. Both contribute to their fatigue. With fatigue comes divided attention, unintentional dozing off, and irritability. Driver’s experiencing the above result to road rage, erratic lane switch, speeding, aggressive driving, failing to observe traffic rules, and dozing off. All these potentially cause accidents.
Alcohol consumption and drug use are common among truck drivers. Both substances impair a driver’s judgment which could lead to fatal consequences.
Trucking Company’s Violation of Safety
Industry safety standards and best practices require trucking companies to adequately train their drivers, regularly and adequately service their trucks, and provide reasonable working schedules.
Trucking companies may not handle the initial training commercial drives require. However, they are responsible for ensuring their drivers’ training meets the industry’s best practices, especially on safe driving and proper handling of cargo. The company should regularly provide any further training that would improve the driver’s work experience that ultimately contributes to safe driving habits.
Further, all trucks need to be adequately maintained. That means regularly servicing to ensure the commercial truck operates optimally. Failure to do so will result in a mechanical failure that could cause a crash. Additionally, the trucking company’s responsibility is to ensure all their vehicles have regularly inspected safety equipment.
On working schedules, trucking companies assign routes and delivery or pickup schedules based on their client’s needs. The plans need to accommodate drivers’ sleeping hours. Additionally, delivery and pickup times should also consider delay times due to traffic and other unforeseen issues. Failure to which the pressure of unmet schedules is piled onto the driver, resulting in unsafe driving habits, thus causing accidents.
Truck Manufacturing Defects
Manufacturing defects are nothing new. Truck recalls are often when safety concerns are raised. Most of these manufacturing defects only become known after they cause or contribute to the catastrophe. Defects include parking brake malfunction, overheating parts that cause fires, and failed braking systems, among others.
Driver’s should have a 360-degree view of their surroundings when on the road. For trucks, however, their size creates multiple blind spots. Thus drivers do not always have a 360-degree view. These blindspots increase the likelihood of a crash. In other instances, manufacturers may have design flaws that increase the probability of a collision.
Poorly Maintained Roads
Roads should be properly designed and maintained. Additionally, government agencies have a responsibility to inform road users about the roads adequately. Motorists should know of any ongoing or upcoming roadworks, alternative routes they can use, as well as the vehicles that will be allowed through the site. The agencies should further erect proper signage detailing issues, including vehicle height and the maximum weight of the cars allowed to pass a particular area. All these contribute to a safe driving experience for all.
Poorly maintained roads, wrong or inadequate signage increase the potential for crashes, especially for trucks that ply that route. The situation worsens in poor weather conditions.
Common Types of Truck Accidents
While crashes do not uniquely apply to specific cars, commercial trucks are prone to particular accidents due to their weight, size, and ride height. Additionally, each accident leads to injuries that vary in severity.
Here’s a look at some of the common accidents.
Rear-end and Head-on Collisions
Most rear accidents occur on one-way roads. They happen when a truck driver is unable to break on time and rear-ends a vehicle. Generally, trucks require more considerable braking distances than ordinary vehicles. However, the distance significantly increases for loaded commercial trucks.
Head-on collisions mainly occur on two-way roads. A truck can, for whatever reason, ram into oncoming traffic. Both accidents are dangerous, with victims suffering potentially fatal injuries, especially if smaller vehicles are involved.
Blindspots are obstructed viewpoints. Due to the truck’s size, a driver cannot see all regions of the commercial truck. Any vehicle in a truck’s blind spot is likely to be hit. These crashes turn severe if the truck driver does not notice and proceeds on.
Jackknife crashes occur when the trailer of the truck swings out to an almost 90-degree angle. When a commercial truck suddenly brakes, the trailer may not brake at the same rate as the cabin. The situation is further complicated when the commercial truck is loaded. The momentum thus forces the cabin to swing to one side. Vehicles close to the commercial truck will bear the impact of the swinging trailer.
A truck’s center of gravity is elevated due to its height off the ground, significantly increasing the risk of toppling over. During emergency braking situations, the commercial truck runs off the road, or after hitting something, the trailer becomes unstable and rolls over. Most injuries result from spilled hazardous cargo or being hit when the trailer rolled over.
Controlling a vehicle after a blowout is arduous, especially for loaded trucks. Commercial trucks experience more blowouts compared to other cars because of their weight. Almost all tire truck blowouts lead to an accident.
Underride accidents are often catastrophic. When a truck driver suddenly brakes or changes lanes indiscriminately, a smaller vehicle may become logged under its carriage. Most smaller vehicles end up ripped or run over by the trailer’s wheels and crushed under its enormous weight. The severity of the accidents significantly increases if the trucks don’t have side-guards, a requirement the NHTSA (National Transportation Safety Authority) highly recommends.
Injuries Associated With Commercial Truck Accidents
Passenger vehicles involved in collisions with trucks are significantly disadvantaged. Most trucks can weigh north of 20,000 lbs with or without cargo. Add that to their height compared to passenger vehicles, and you have significant injuries suffered by the victims.
Other contributing factors increase the probability of significant injuries, including but not limited to the vehicle’s speed, the safety features in each car or the lack thereof, and the location of the accident (rural or urban, mountainous or flat regions).
Catastrophic crashes often lead to life-threatening injuries that require immediate emergency attention. Victims in these crashes experience:
- Internal injuries
- Injuries resulting in blindness or deafness
- Chronic lung damage
- Back and neck injuries
- Injuries that lead to permanent disability
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Brain injuries that lead to physical disability, permanent cognitive impairment, or mood imbalance
- Severe burns
- Loss of limbs
- Paralysis/paraplegia, or
- In the worst-case scenario, death
Other equally serious injuries but not necessarily life-threatening include:
- Broken bones
- Smoke inhalation
- Cuts and bruises
These injuries adversely affect victims’ lives. Victims of truck accidents lose their ability to work, spend fortunes in treatments, and the worst-case scenario, lose their lives. These consequences are the basis for filing a personal injury lawsuit against the party responsible for the accident.
Damages Sought In Commercial Truck Accident Lawsuits
Civil lawsuits in accidents aim at recovering damages for losses incurred owing to a crash. The damages, classified as either punitive or compensatory, are paid out to the victims in a successful suit.
Compensatory damages recompense the victims or their losses. Punitive damages, on the other hand, are imposed to discourage others from engaging in similar behavior. Further, punitive damages will be awarded if it is clear the defendant’s actions were malicious, meant to defraud, or were highly reckless.
You can recover economic or non-economic compensatory damages.
Economic damages recompense victims for losses for which a dollar value can be attached. They cater for past, present, and future costs, including the following:
- Lost wages
- Medical expenses incurred in treating the injury
- Vehicle repairs
- Lost earning capacity
- Litigation costs
For losses difficult to attach a dollar value to, victims receive non-economic damages. They include payments for:
- Emotional distress
- Loss of consortium
- Physical disability or disfigurement
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of enjoyment of life
It is worth noting that plaintiffs are not only limited to other motorists involved in truck accidents. Truck drivers, too, can be plaintiffs. Additionally, if the accident resulted in a fatality, the victim’s family can file a wrongful death suit, which a personal injury attorney handles.
Fault in a Commercial Truck Accident
A fault is determined by establishing negligence. Only by proving negligence can you recover damages. The following must be proven to establish negligence:
- The defendant owed you, the plaintiff, a duty of care
- The defendant breached the duty of care through negligence
- As a result of the descendant’s negligence, you suffered ham
Duty of Care
When you are legally expected to exercise caution or care to another, you owe them a duty of care. A breach of this duty creates a liability to the individual who owed another care. Potential plaintiffs owe a duty of care, and a failure to exercise said duty that results in harm to the victim makes them liable for injuries and losses incurred.
As mentioned earlier, as a plaintiff, you have to establish that the duty of care existed. For example, truck drivers exercise care to other motorists by practicing safe driving habits and following their operations’ rules and regulations. Equally, trucking companies owe the same care to other motorists by ensuring no motorist or their drivers are put in harm’s way through their failure to exercise due caution.
By honoring what is expected of them, truck manufacturers and government agencies extend due care to other motorists.
Hence, truck drivers, government agencies, truck companies, and manufacturers are potential plaintiffs in truck accident lawsuits.
Breach Of The Duty Of Care Through Negligence
A failure to exercise due care to prevent harm or injury to yourself or others amounts to negligence. In determining the degree of neglect, the defendant’s actions are evaluated against what a reasonable person would do given similar circumstances. Therefore, negligence under California law occurs:
- When a defendant’s conduct goes beyond what a reasonably careful individual would have done in a similar situation, or
- Fails to exercise caution a reasonable person would have done in similar circumstances.
California is a comparative law state. A plaintiff can still recover damages even if they are partially to blame for the crash. For example, if it is determined that you were 25% responsible for the accident, you will be liable for 25% of the damages. Therefore, you can only recover 75% of the compensation.
Comparative negligence can either be pure or modified. California follows the pure comparative negligence rule. This rule allows a plaintiff to recover a portion of the damages the defendant bears responsible for. If you, the plaintiff, are primarily responsible for the crash, you can receive compensation, reduced by your degree of fault.
Modified negligence, on the other hand, is either a 50% or a 51% rule. The 50% rule applies if the plaintiff’s degree of fault is 50% or more. In this case, the plaintiff cannot recover any damages. A similar standard is upheld for the 51% modified negligence rule. The only variation is that the plaintiff’s fault should be at least 51%.
Finally, the jury, based on the circumstances of the lawsuit, determines the degree of fault.
The Defendant’s Negligence Contributed Significantly to Your Injuries
After establishing that the accident resulted from the defendant’s negligence, a direct link must be shown connecting the injuries to the accident. That is, had it not been for the defendant’s negligence, the crash would not have happened. As such, your injuries could not have occurred.
The standard in proving this link lies in establishing that the injuries were a probable or a direct consequence of the accident.
Filling a Lawsuit After a Commercial Truck Accident
It is in your best interest to hire a personal injury attorney. Their experience helps maximize the possibility of securing just compensation. Additionally, hiring them means onboarding their negotiation skills to your case. It is advisable to engage one soon after a truck accident.
Truck accident victims have two years to file a lawsuit seeking compensation for their injuries or losses. Not filing your case means losing your right to sue. While two years is the Statute of Limitations’ maximum period, the law does provide exceptions. Victims incapable of filing a claim or those mentally unable can file after two years. The period is further extended for victims below 18 years. The minor can file the lawsuit upon turning 18 years with an added two years statutory minimum. Victims who suffered unknown injuries are too part of the exception’s list. The statutory period will be extended until the injury is identified.
The two-year statutory period begins running from the date of the accident. Most victims lose their right to claim damages because they are simply not aware of the strict timeline. Other victims are quick to settle when insurance companies present them with offers. It is advisable not to engage the insurance company representatives without your attorney. Both options reduce your chances of securing just compensation.
Experienced personal injury attorneys understand the rules and regulations governing the trucking industry. Their experience helps them uncover potential violations, thus identifying the potential defendants in the lawsuits. Depending on the circumstances in your case, the following could be named in the lawsuit as descendants.
- The truck driver
- Trucking company
- Truck manufacturer
- City or county government
- Other drivers
- Insurance coverage provider
- Vehicle part’s manufacturer
The list is not exhaustive. Any other individual who contributed to the crash will be included in the suit.
Surviving loved ones, or family members of the deceased can also file a lawsuit under California’s wrongful death laws. The laws provide an avenue for the bereaved to seek compensation for their loved one’s wrongful death.
Damages available in wrongful death suits include all costs attributable to a loved one’s death. They include:
- Funeral costs
- Burial expenses
- Lost financial support the deceased would have otherwise offered had he/she survived
- Compensation for lost support, protection, and guidance the deceased provided
The list of potential plaintiffs includes grandparents, parents, spouses or domestic partners, children, grandchildren, or any other individual entitled to a share of the deceased’s estate under California’s intestate succession laws.
Settlements in Commercial Truck Accidents
Truck accident lawsuits are a possibility. There is no set time when they materialize. An agreement can be struck anytime after the accident to before the court’s verdict.
Protracted legal battles and the costs associated with the lawsuits coupled with a victim’s recovery can make settlement offers exciting. That is why insurance providers contact truck accident victims days after an accident. Accepting the offer waives your rights to file a lawsuit against a liable party.
Personal injury attorneys help ensure that any settlement is the best offer you get. If they advise you to take a negotiated settlement before trial, then it is okay. In practice, most insurance companies begin negotiations with the victim after a lawsuit has been filed through their personal injury attorney. You can receive higher settlements than when they approach you before the lawsuits. It remains your choice, based on your attorney’s advice on whether to settle for an out-of-court arrangement or wait for the court’s verdict.
A settlement’s value is based on the circumstances of a case and the degree of fault. Additionally, the following affect the final dollar value of the payout.
- The severity or permanency of the injuries
- The victim’s age
- The degree to which the victim’s injuries affects his/her ability to generate income in future
- A victim’s education and occupation level, including their current income and the potential growth of said income
- The number of victims who can bring a loss of consortium claim
Do Trucking Companies Have Insurance Coverage for Personal Injury Cases?
Yes, they do. Federal regulations require truck companies to purchase liability insurance. With the cover, the truck company is shielded from financial ruin because the costs of the personal injury suit are covered. The minimum liability coverage is set at $750,000.
$750,000 is not nearly enough, especially when the accidents are catastrophic. Costs incurred due to an accident could be as low as $5,000 and could rise to $10 million. That is why it is not advisable to engage insurance company representatives without your personal injury attorney.
Contact a Truck Accident Injury Attorney Near Me
California has a high number of commercial trucks on its roads. These numbers increase the risk of a truck accident. You deserve just compensation should you suffer injuries after a truck accident. Therefore, it is in your best interest to contact an experienced truck accident attorney.
At Truck Accident Injury Attorney Law Firm, we are committed to aggressively fighting for your rights in a personal injury matter. Give us a call today at 619-754-7667 for a free case assessment.