Philadelphia Truck Accident Attorney
If you have been involved in a large truck accident, you have likely suffered serious injuries and incurred significant losses including medical bills, lost income, pain and suffering, and more. An experienced Philadelphia truck accident lawyer can help you receive proper compensation for your losses.
While all traffic-related accidents have the potential to cause serious accidents and injuries, accidents involving large commercial trucks can cause particularly devastating damage. Commercial trucks are much larger than regular passenger vehicles and can weigh as much as 80,000 pounds, as opposed to an average car that weighs around 3,500 pounds. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that, in 2012 alone, collisions involving large trucks caused an estimated 104,000 injuries as well as nearly 4,000 fatalities. If you have been involved in a serious trucking accident read on to learn more about your legal compensation from the skilled Pennsylvania personal injury attorneys at The Levin Firm.
What Causes Truck Accidents?
Semi truck driver error is the leading cause of accidents involving commercial trucks. A study conducted by the FMCSA revealed that a truck accident is ten times more likely to occur due to driver error than due to other factors. Professional truck drivers are required to go through special training in order to obtain a commercial driver’s license and they should understand the risks that large semi-trucks pose on the roads. Due to the extreme risk of injury to other motorists in truck accidents, professional drivers are held to a higher standard of safety than operators of regular passenger vehicles. Unfortunately, truck drivers do not always abide by their duty to drive in a safe manner and driver negligence routinely causes truck accidents.
Some examples of truck driver negligence that leads to serious accidents include the following:
- Driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- Driving while fatigued or violating FMCSA Hours of Service regulations
- Unlawfully driving with a serious medical condition, such as a heart condition or epilepsy
- Engaging in distractions, such as using a handheld mobile device, eating, grooming, and more
- Failing to complete all required pre-trip inspections
- Aggressive driving, including speeding, following too closely, improper passing, or intimidating other motorists
- Taking turns too quickly
- Failing to adequately pay attention to blind spots
- Driving a commercial vehicle without the proper license or training
- De-powering the brakes in the front of the truck
- Otherwise violating traffic laws or FMCSA regulations
All truck drivers who negligently cause accidents and injuries should be held fully accountable for any losses suffered by accident victims. Because drivers will not often simply admit to making an error, identifying driver negligence may often be complicated. An experienced Philadelphia truck accident attorney has the knowledge and tools to investigate the driver’s actions to identify negligence to help victims recover.
What Is A Jackknife Accident?
Semi-trucks belong to a class of vehicles known as “articulated vehicles ,” which are vehicles that are made up of various segments linked by movable joints. This construction allows these vehicles to be more maneuverable than they would be if they were made up of a single unit, but also makes them vulnerable to certain types of accidents to which non-articulated vehicles are not. Jackknife accidents are one of these types of accident that are unique to articulated vehicles and occur when the trailer of a truck swings out from behind the vehicle, resembling the action of a pocket knife. They can occur for a number of reasons, including:
- High winds
- Improper braking
- Taking turns too fast
- Improperly loaded or secured cargo
- Driver error
- Coupling device failure
Winter Weather Can Cause Semi-Truck Accidents
Issues such as snow, ice, wind, and whiteout conditions can wreak havoc on drivers on their vehicles, and winter storms are known for being a significant factor in motor vehicle accidents, including those involving large commercial trucks. Poor weather conditions are no excuse for truck driver negligence, however, and federal regulations require that truck drivers use extreme caution and even stop driving if conditions become sufficiently severe. As a result, many victims of truck accidents in which winter weather played a role can recover from the party responsible for their losses through a personal injury lawsuit.
Winter weather can make roads treacherous
Snow, sleet, hail, and ice are all common issues associated with winter storms. When this type of precipitation accumulates on a road surface, it can make the road extremely slippery making it difficult to keep vehicles under control. Additionally, if liquid precipitation falls and the temperature subsequently falls below freezing, nearly invisible patches of ice can form on the road surface potentially causing serious accidents. Some of the more common kinds of truck accidents that occur in winter weather conditions include:
- Override accidents
- Underride accidents
- Jackknife accidents
- Rear-end accidents
- Broadside collisions
- Rollover accidents
- Head-on collisions
Determining whether a semi-truck accident was caused by driver negligence or was unavoidable based on the conditions can be a complicated process and requires significant legal and technical expertise. Our Philadelphia trucking accident attorneys will conduct a thorough analysis of your case and determine whether any evidence of negligence exists. It is important for victims to be aware that they still may be able to recover even if they were partially at fault for causing an accident with a semi-truck, depending on the laws of your jurisdiction.
Claims arising from these types of accidents are subject to a strict statute of limitations, meaning that there is a limited amount of time in which you can file a claim. Consequently, it is highly advisable for anyone who has been involve in a truck accident to contact an attorney as soon as possible. Discussing your case with an experienced truck accident lawyer is the first step in getting the compensation you deserve.
Steer Clear Of Dangerous Truck Drivers
We have all likely seen a car swerving, departing its lane, over-correcting, or making other sudden and unusual maneuvers. These are generally signs that the driver is engaging in distracted driving, is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or may even be falling asleep at the wheel. The same is true for truck drivers and you should stay as far away as possible from trucks that are moving in an unusual manner.
In addition, many truck drivers may engage in aggressive driving if they are impatient or encounter slower traffic and this can be especially dangerous. Signs that a truck driver is aggressive include:
- Following you too closely (tailgating)
- Cutting you off by changing lanes
- Making offensive or threatening gestures or comments
- Excessive speeding
- Unnecessary horn honking or flashing headlights
- Following you off the highway
If a truck driver seems aggressive, give them plenty of room on the road. You should never try to engage in a confrontation or stand your ground against a large semi truck. Instead, it is a good idea to diffuse the situation by refraining from returning any comments or gestures and by moving out of their way. If a truck driver follows you on an exit and you believe you may be at risk, call the police.
“No-zones” are the blind spots on a large truck and they can be substantial. No-zones exist behind the trailer, alongside both sides of the trailer, directly in front of the trailer, and next to the passenger side door of the tractor. If you need to pass a truck or drive in a no-zone, do so quickly and try to get out of the no-zone as soon as possible. Always remember that you should be able to see the truck driver – either directly or in the rear view mirror – or else the truck driver likely cannot see you.
Move Over For Stopped Trucks
When a truck driver has an issue on the road, they may not be able to make it to a truck stop and they may pull over on the shoulder of the highway or of an exit ramp. While truck drivers have a particular protocol they should follow when pulled over they do not always take all necessary steps. You can increase your safety by trying to never pass directly by a pulled over truck and instead move over to an outer lane, which can help avoid a collision with the trailer.
Other Potentially Negligent Parties In Truck Accidents
In addition to truck drivers, several other factors may lead to serious truck accidents.
Some of these potentially negligent parties include:
Trucking company—The trucking company may be found negligent if an accident is caused by the hiring of inexperienced or unqualified drivers, failing to conduct the required drug and alcohol testing on drivers, failing to supervise or discipline drivers to ensure FMCSA compliance, encouraging unsafe practices to improve their bottom line, failing to sufficiently inspect and maintain trucks in the fleet, and more.
Cargo loading team—An independent cargo loading team may be held accountable if an accident is caused by over-loading, under-loading (generally for liquid cargo), or failing to properly secure the cargo in the trailer of a truck. Cargo mistakes can cause trucks to have trouble braking or stopping or may cause roll-over or jackknife accidents.
Truck manufacturer—Manufacturers have a duty to produce and sell truck parts that are safe for use. For this reason, if a defective truck part—such as brakes, tires, axles, steering columns, coupling, and more—malfunctions and causes an accident, the manufacturer should be held liable under product liability principles.
Government entity—The government has a responsibility to properly inspect and maintain roads and highways and keep them free of dangerous hazards. Large commercial trucks are particularly susceptible to losing control when they hit a pothole, a large crack in the pavement, uneven lanes, or other hazardous conditions. If a truck encounters a road hazard and an accident occurs, the negligent government entity should be accountable to the losses of victims.
Truck Accidents: Frequently Asked Questions
Each year in Pennsylvania, there are well over 100 fatal accidents involving large trucks, and thousands more people are injured in such accidents. If you’ve been injured in a truck accident or have lost a loved one in a truck accident that was caused by a truck driver’s negligence, you undoubtedly have a lot of questions. Here are some of the questions that our clients frequently ask.
What causes truck accidents?
As with any type of motor vehicle, the most common cause of truck accidents is human error. Human error, when it comes to driving a commercial truck, appears in different forms, including:
- Speeding: More distance is required for a speeding vehicle to come to a safe stop than one that is traveling at a slower speed. Likewise, it takes a longer distance for a massive tractor-trailer to come to a safe stop.
- Distractions: Truck drivers are not immune to the same distractions that other drivers face every day, including texting and other cell phone use, GPS and vehicle controls, eating and drinking, daydreaming, and external distractions, such as active construction sites, billboards, and even previous accidents.
- Fatigue: In spite of Hours of Service regulations that demand regular breaks and time off for truck drivers, driver fatigue is still a common problem. In fact, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration conducted a study that revealed that even more than time on task, the time of day factors heavily into truck accidents. Many drivers prefer to drive during the nighttime hours when there is less traffic. Unfortunately, these hours disrupt the body’s circadian rhythm, which is the sleep/ wake cycle and the instinct of humans to sleep at night.
- Impairment: While truck drivers are required to submit to routine drug testing for common illegal drugs, many over-the-counter and prescription medications also cause impairment to the skills a truck driver needs to drive his or her vehicle safely. Additionally, in spite of alcohol testing and lowered breath alcohol content levels for commercial drivers, some drivers still operate their trucks after they’ve been drinking.
- Improper maintenance: Commercial trucks put on a massive amount of miles each year. With these miles comes the need for frequent maintenance. Poorly maintained brakes, tires, and steering systems are a frequent contributor to truck accidents.
- Improperly loaded cargo: Trucks transport thousands of pounds of products during a single trip. These products, if not properly loaded and secured, can cause a weight imbalance that makes the truck harder to maneuver.
- Getting lost: Truck drivers are often asked to pick up or drop off loads in cities with which they are not familiar. This sometimes results in the driver missing a turn or turning the wrong way on a one-way street or highway ramp.
Why are truck accidents so dangerous?
The main thing that causes truck accidents to be among the most severe motor vehicle accidents on the roadway is the truck’s size. Trucks can weigh up to 20 to 30 times more than a passenger car. They are much taller and have a higher ground clearance. Some of the ways this impacts the driver’s ability to maneuver the truck are:
- Increased stopping distance: Loaded tractor-trailers take up to 40 percent more distance to stop on dry roads and under safe speeds. This distance increases with speed and on wet or icy roads.
- High center of gravity: The truck’s higher center of gravity makes it prone to rollovers when approaching corners at high speeds or during accident avoidance maneuvers.
- Wide turns: The length of the truck requires a lot of space to complete a turn. This poses a risk to others in adjacent travel and turn lanes.
- Blind spots: Trucks have significant blind spots on all four sides. Passenger cars that linger in these blind spots are at risk of getting struck because the driver cannot see them when he or she attempts to change lanes. Tow Trucks have similar blind spots.
- Underride: The high ground clearance of a tractor-trailer poses a risk of passenger cars slipping underneath it during an accident.
Aren’t commercial truck drivers under strict federal regulations?
Yes. Truck drivers are required to undergo additional training to obtain a commercial driver’s license. In addition, they must carry a higher amount of liability insurance for the protection of others on the roadway. Other regulations that pertain to commercial truck drivers and the companies who employ them include:
- Hours of service regulations
- Electronic logging device requirement
- Training on proper loading and securing of cargo
- Proof of routine maintenance
- Training on the hauling of hazardous materials
- Limitations on the height and weight of the vehicle
- Routine drug testing
Is there anyone else besides the truck driver who may share in liability?
Yes. Depending on the facts of your case, other people or entities may be responsible for the accident that caused your injuries. Your truck accident attorney will be looking at all of the details of how your accident occurred and the truck, trucking company, and driver involved to determine all sources of liability and insurance resources. Besides the truck driver, other potentially liable parties include:
- The trucking company, who was responsible for doing a thorough background check on the driver and his or her driving history, was responsible for ensuring that the truck driver was properly trained, and placed this driver on the road as a representative of the company.
- The shipper, who is responsible for checking the history and insurance of the company it hired to transport its goods and may have also been involved in loading the cargo.
- Drivers of other vehicles whose negligence may have contributed to the accident.
- The individual or company responsible for maintaining the vehicle.
- The manufacturer or distributor of truck parts that may have been defective and contributed to the crash.
I’m not even out of the hospital yet, and I already have insurance representatives contacting me. What should I say?
Insurance companies are in the business to make money for themselves. One of the ways that they do this is by offering quick, lowball settlements to accident victims. The problem with this is that these low settlements rarely take into consideration the full picture of the medical treatments you will need in the future as well as the impact that the injuries will have on your life.
Another way insurance companies make money is to get the injured party to say something that could be construed as admitting fault, therefore nullifying or reducing any potential settlement. If the truck driver’s or trucking company’s insurance carrier contacted you, speak to an attorney before accepting any settlement or making any statement.
Your attorney will communicate with these representatives for you and will also work to establish a value to your case that is based on medical expenses you are facing currently, as well as future injury-related expenses that you will likely incur in the future; property damage to your car from the accident; expenses that will be required for permanent disability; lost wages and loss of future income potential; and the profound emotional and psychological impacts that your injuries may have.
Can I settle my truck accident case without an attorney?
While you can technically settle a legal claim without the use of an attorney, this is almost always a bad idea. Your attorney can provide you with a wealth of legal knowledge and experience in truck accident cases that will generally result in a much higher settlement than you would be able to obtain on your own. Additionally, your lawyer is aware of the court requirements for filing, the time limits involved, and has access to other experts—including those with knowledge of medical conditions and accident reconstruction—that can greatly help your case.
You can bet that the truck driver and the company he or she is employed by are going to be relying on their attorneys, as will the insurance carrier. Why wouldn’t you rely on an attorney to guide you through the process and fight on your behalf, too?
If I hire an attorney, does that mean my case will go to court?
No. The truth is that many personal injury cases are settled before they ever reach the courtroom. However, your attorney’s services are always provided with the expectation that the case will go to court, including the notion of facing off against high-powered corporate lawyers that are often hired by trucking companies. Your attorney should also be comfortable with the notion of aggressively negotiating the best settlement possible on your behalf.
What expenses can I recover through a truck accident lawsuit?
Pennsylvania law allows the recovery of both economic and non-economic expenses from liable parties in the event of a motor vehicle accident that results in injury. These expenses, also known as damages, include the following:
- Economic damages: Medical expenses, including ambulance transport, emergency department treatment, hospitalization, diagnostic tests, labs, surgery, physical therapy, and medication; the cost to repair and replace your vehicle; the cost of handicap accessible features added to your home in the event your injuries require them; the cost of mobility equipment, including wheelchairs, handicap modifications on your vehicle, and prosthetics; missed wages due to being too injured to work or being required to miss work for injury-related appointments; the loss of future earning capacity or business opportunities; other out-of-pocket expenses, such as the cost of renting a car while yours is being repaired, transport to and from medical appointments, or the cost of hiring someone to complete household services that you’re no longer able to do because of the severity of your injuries.
- Non-economic damages: Pain and suffering, embarrassment or humiliation, loss of the ability to enjoy the pleasures of life, and disfigurement.
It is hard to pinpoint an exact dollar amount for non-economic damages. The jury determines this amount based on your age at the time of injury, the severity and permanence of the injury, how the injury has impacted your ability to enjoy your life and the activities you participated in before the accident, the severity of disfigurement involved with the injury, and the amount of physical pain and emotional anguish you have experienced.
In addition to economic and non-economic damages, punitive damages, which are designed to punish the defendant for particularly egregious behavior, may also be awarded.
The truck driver who caused the accident was arrested for DUI and is facing jail time. Can I still file a personal injury claim?
Yes. DUI is a criminal charge that will be prosecuted in criminal court. A personal injury lawsuit is a civil claim completely separate from criminal charges. A successful outcome in a civil case does not result in a conviction of the defendant, but rather the award of damages to the plaintiff. Personal injury lawsuits may be filed whether or not the driver is arrested, convicted, or acquitted of the criminal charge. One thing to note is that a conviction in criminal court is a powerful piece of evidence that may be used to prove liability in personal injury proceedings.
My husband died in a truck accident. Am I able to receive compensation?
Yes. When someone dies in an accident that was caused by another person or entity’s negligence, Pennsylvania law allows for the recovery of damages on behalf of the deceased’s family through a wrongful death claim. A personal representative may file a claim on behalf of:
- The decedent’s spouse
- The decedent’s minor children
- The decedent’s adult children who were dependent on the decedent for financial and emotional support
- The decedent’s parents
If a personal representative does not file a wrongful death claim within six months from the date of the death, then the beneficiaries have the right to file a claim on their own behalf. The damages that may be awarded from a wrongful death lawsuit include:
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Loss of future income
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of consortium (this refers to the loss of physical contact and intimacy for the spouse due to the decedent’s death)
- Punitive damages, if applicable
For more information and guidance as to your legal options regarding a Philadelphia truck accident, contact our experienced truck accident attorneys online or by calling (215) 825-5183.
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