In order to be awarded damages in any accident claim, you and your attorney must demonstrate that the defendant was negligent, and that this negligence resulted in your injuries. Legally, negligence is defined as the failure to use the same caution that a reasonable person would take in the same situation.
If a driver crashes into your car because he is texting behind the wheel, that constitutes negligent behavior. If the driver of a semi-truck does the same thing, he is likewise negligent. However, semi truck accidents are inherently more complicated than the average car crash.
Truck accidents are often caused by the negligence of multiple parties. As a result, one of the most important steps you can take in your case is to hire an attorney or law firm with the experience and knowledge to pursue all avenues for your recovery. At Colombo Law, our team of attorneys will investigate the liability of all parties – not just the driver – and pursue a claim that maximizes your compensation.
Driving a semi-truck is not the same as driving a car, and semi-trucks – due to their large size – can cause significantly more damage in a crash. Because of that, semi-truck drivers are required to be professional drivers and must follow and be familiar with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations – a set of rules designed to keep the public safe and to reduce crashes. A truck accident lawyer must be familiar with these rules. In many instances, the semi-truck driver would have avoided causing an accident had they followed the safety rules.
In order to recover the full damages you are entitled to for your injuries, it is important to take into account all of the factors that caused the accident. Our lawyers will investigate the role of all parties responsible for the operation of the semi truck to determine who may be liable in your case.
Driver Negligence in Truck Accident Cases
The most obvious liable party in any auto accident claim is the driver. The same is true in cases involving semi trucks, although some additional considerations apply to establishing negligence on the part of the truck driver.
For example, truckers are subject to federal regulations that prohibit them from driving more than 11 hours a day, with additional rules on the frequency with which they must take breaks and rest. Unfortunately, truck drivers are compelled to break these rules all the time because of the unrealistic time tables created by their employers. If an employer or broker requires a load to be delivered at a time which would require the driver to drive over 11 hours per day, the employer or broker may be held liable for its role in violating the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations.
As a result, driver fatigue (already a leading cause of collisions with any type of vehicle) is not only provable in semi truck accident cases – it is often quantifiable on review of the hours of service logs.
Another difference between “typical” car accident cases and those involving semi-truck crashes relates to driving under the influence. In Ohio, drivers with a blood alcohol content level of .08 are driving above the legal limit. However, the limit for drivers with a commercial driver’s license (CDL) is .04 blood alcohol content.
Truck drivers operate massive vehicles over thousands of miles, and it is impossible to do this safely when under the influence of alcohol or drugs. If the police suspect that alcohol or drug use may have been a factor in the crash, they will conduct field tests to determine whether or not the driver was impaired.
Other examples of driver negligence that might result in a semi-truck collision include:
- Distracted driving, including private cell phone use, eating, and other activities
- Aggressive driving, such as speeding or tailgating
- Failure to adjust for road and weather conditions
Some signs of negligence are fairly easy to spot. For example, if the semi-truck was traveling too fast, following a vehicle too closely, or weaving between lanes (to name just a few examples of reckless behavior), your testimony and the corroborating testimony of any witnesses may go a long way toward presenting a compelling case against the driver.
Other instances of negligence, however, are less obvious and involve violations of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. It takes knowledge and experience to prove hours of service violations, for example, and drunk or drugged driving may be misattributed to carelessness. Inoperable brakes may be the result of overaggressive driving or improper maintenance. A truck accident attorney must consider all options.
As a result, it behooves you to work with an attorney who knows how to gather evidence and effectively present it in your truck accident case. Depending on the circumstances, the truck driver may not be the only defendant named in your lawsuit. In many cases, the truck driver is a responsible person trying to do the right thing, but is being pushed too hard by their employer.
Trucking Company Negligence in Accident Claims
Truck drivers are ultimately responsible for their conduct behind the wheel. However, another reason semi-truck crashes are unique comes from the influence of the driver’s employer.
There are three major ways that negligence on the part of a trucking company may contribute to your injuries:
- Operational negligence: As mentioned above, truckers make their living by delivering goods on time. As the speed of commerce grows faster and faster, companies feel compelled to “pick up the pace” on their deliveries – literally. Competitiveness is of course a cornerstone of the business world, but competition is subject to rules, from federal regulations to speed limits. If a trucker’s boss pressures him to violate regulations on hours of service and other safety considerations and these actions resulted in the accident, the employer may be held liable.
- Negligence in hiring: Driving an 18-wheeler is a specialized skill. Earning a CDL requires classes and training beyond what we received in driver’s ed. Trucking companies have an obligation to hire qualified drivers and to ensure that they are knowledgeable concerning the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations that are designed to keep all of us safe. They have an obligation to screen drivers for substance abuse problems, past driving infractions, and other signs that applicants may endanger themselves or others on the road. However, less-qualified or unqualified drivers can also be paid less, which is a factor negligent companies often value over safety.
- Failure to maintain: If the trucking company owns the cab and/or the trailer, they are responsible for ensuring that the rig is in good working order. However, this responsibility does not necessarily mean that the company actually performs the repairs and maintenance, which makes liability more complex.
One of the major reasons trucking accident claims quickly become more complicated than the typical vehicle collision case is because one or more corporations are often named as defendants. Sometimes these are small regional carriers, but in other cases they are nationwide or even international corporations.
In addition, catastrophic injuries occur much more often in semi-truck crashes, including traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, and amputations. These injuries may require expensive lifelong care. And, if fatalities occur in the accident, wrongful death lawsuits pursue considerably higher damages.
Corporations don’t like to lose money, and their insurance companies don’t like to pay out – especially on claims in the hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars that we often see with truck accident cases. As a result, it is important to hire an attorney with the experience, skills, and proven results contending with trucking companies in accident cases.
Negligence of the Company Responsible for the Cab or Trailer
Semis travel hundreds of thousands of miles all across the United States. One would think that maintenance would be a priority for the companies that make their money by delivering goods intact and on time. Sadly, many of these companies think they can save a buck by skimping on repairs that keep their rigs in good working order.
Other drivers are usually the ones who pay the price for shoddy or nonexistent maintenance on the cab or trailer of a semi truck. Examples of serious mechanical failures that can occur due to inadequate maintenance of the cab include:
- Tire blowouts
- Brake failure or burnout
- Loss of power steering
- Engine stalling, seizing, or total shutdown
- Broken or poorly wired headlights and turn signals
- Failure of the trailer hitch
The trailer of a big rig has its own maintenance needs. If the company responsible fails to perform maintenance and make necessary repairs, the following catastrophic incidents could happen:
- The trailer comes loose from the assembly joining it to the cab
- Uneven or extensive wear on one or more tires, increasing the likelihood of a blowout
- Malfunctioning brakes
- Breakage or loss of one or more axles
- Turn signals, brake lights, and backup lights that are broken or burned-out
- Broken or defective doors and latches
Considering that the cab and trailer may be owned and operated by two different companies, it is important to hire an attorney who understands the complex liability involved in truck accident cases. If negligence on the part of both companies contributed to the injuries you sustained, then both of those parties should be held accountable.
Negligence of the Shipping or Freight Company
Many truck accidents, including rollovers, jackknifes, and more, occur when the trailer shifts due to unsecured or poorly balanced cargo. Although the truck driver is required to check on both the trailer and the load at designated junctures on the haul, properly loading and securing the cargo first falls on the shipping company or distribution center.
A fully laden semi truck weighs up to 80,000 pounds. Unfortunately, companies sometimes exceed the per-axle and other weight limits for tractor trailers in order to get more products out the door without waiting on additional trucks. As a result, they sacrifice the safety of others to boost the bottom line.
How and in what state the cargo ends up is a key point of investigation at any truck accident scene. Our attorneys will evaluate all evidence to determine liability for cargo carrier negligence if the following contributed to the accident:
- Cargo is shifted to one side and the trailer is tipped over, suggesting one or more axles on one side were overloaded or that the cargo was not properly secured
- Cargo is spilled out of the trailer, suggesting the doors of the trailer were unsecured
- Cargo is not held in place by straps and other devices
Just because your injuries did not occur due to contact with the semi or its cargo does not mean you don’t have a case. If you swerve off the road and end up in an accident because unsecured cargo falls into the road, these same parties may still be liable.
Defective motor vehicle parts are a major cause of accidents and injuries, and semi-trucks are no exception. Most defects are not mere mistakes; they arise as a result of conscious decisions on the part of business leaders to protect their profits at the expense of public safety.
From tires to brakes to airbags, we’ve seen the devastating toll of auto part defects on passenger vehicles countless times over the years. Considering the size of the vehicle, defects can be even more catastrophic on 18-wheelers.
Any part of a semi-truck can be defective, with some of the most dangerous parts to fail including:
- Fuel systems
- Lights and reflectors
- Steering systems
The scene of any truck accident is often chaotic. Once a big rig is involved in a crash, careful investigation and reconstruction of the rig and its parts is necessary in order to determine the role a defective part may have played.
Negligence of Other Third Parties
Depending on the circumstances of your case, additional parties may be held liable for your injuries. Another cause of accidents involving semi-trucks is dangerous roads. In some cases, this is simply due to wear and tear; interstate highways and other roads with a lot of 18-wheeler traffic see thousands of big rigs a day, and the blacktop shows it.
However, sometimes the road has a faulty design or is poorly maintained, resulting in adverse conditions that cause an accident. Should this happen, you may be able to include the government or agency responsible for the road in your lawsuit.
Roads fall under the purview of multiple parties. For example, although the Federal Highway Administration maintains the overall highway system for the nation, state governments are responsible for construction and maintenance of these highways (in the Columbus area, for example, these would include I-70, I-270, etc.).
As you can imagine, filing suit against the federal or state government will immediately complicate your claim. Fortunately, Colombo Law has the experience and tenacity to pursue the full compensation you deserve.
Learn How Colombo Law Can Help Prove Negligence in Your Semi Truck Accident Case
Our lawyers will fully investigate the accident and review all evidence from the scene of the crash to determine which parties may be liable. The aftermath of a truck accident is often devastating, and the driver, his employer, and others are going to fight to pay as little as possible – even when they are in the wrong.
The attorneys at Colombo Law are ready, willing, and able to go to trial for our clients. Big insurance companies know this about our law firm. Our experience and reputation for results precede us in negotiations and proceedings in complex trucking accidents and other cases.
Colombo Law serves clients in Columbus and nearby areas of Ohio. Please call (614) 362-7000 to schedule a free consultation with our semi truck accident lawyers.