Twenty-four-year old Zachary Lybrand, his 16-month-old daughter, Elliana, and 22-year-old Ethan Van Bochoven were driving down a Pennsylvania highway. Sadly, none of them made it home. The three passengers died when a 29-year old crashed his truck into a line of stopped traffic near a construction zone. Dashcam footage later showed that the truck driver never even braked as he slammed into Lybrand’s vehicle. In all, the accident involved 12 vehicles, including the tractor-trailer.
In Pennsylvania, the maximum blood alcohol content for drivers is 0.08 percent. For commercial truck drivers, it’s just 0.04 percent. A Breathalyzer test later showed that the truck driver’s blood alcohol content was 0.152 percent, nearly four times the legal limit for commercial drivers. If you or a loved one has been in a drunk driving trucking accident, here’s why you deserve an aggressive truck accident attorney.
While we’d like to believe that accidents like this are one-in-a-million, the truth is, they happen more often than they should. Three people lost their lives in that accident, which is in itself devastating. But the reality is, this accident could have been much, much worse.
The Dangers of Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol or Drugs
There’s no question that driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, including certain legal prescription drugs, is dangerous. It only takes one drink to affect your ability to drive safely on the road. For some people, it may be even less. That’s why Pennsylvania has such strict laws when it comes to driving under the influence. For truck drivers, no level of alcohol is safe. Because of this, many employers have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to driving with any level of alcohol in one’s system. Here’s a look at some of the ways alcohol can affect one’s ability to drive safely:
- Impaired ability to concentrate: As much as we may take driving for granted, driving any type of vehicle takes a lot of skill and concentration. At any given moment there can be several different variables vying for a driver’s attention. Alcohol makes it harder to concentrate and make split-second decisions. A driver may look away from the road for a little too long or fail to see oncoming traffic.
- Poor decision-making: When the truck driver in the aforementioned story crashed into the back of the line of traffic, he did not stay to assist the victims. He did not call the police. He ran to a nearby parking lot and watched the accident unfold. Alcohol can cause you to react impulsively. It can cause you to take things for granted or take risks. When you are driving an 80,000-pound vehicle, every decision you make is important.
- Delayed reaction time: Drivers have to respond to what’s going on around them. For a small vehicle traveling 60 miles per hour, it takes the length of approximately one football field to stop. For a truck traveling at around the same speed, the stopping distance is doubled. Alcohol can delay reaction time and increase the amount of time it takes for a driver to stop, increasing the likelihood of an accident.
Types of Truck Accidents
All truck accidents are dangerous, but the type of injuries and the number of people involved will depend on the type of accident. For example, a rear-end accident like the one we discussed above can involve several vehicles and lead to multiple fatalities. On the other hand, a rollover around an empty curve may only involve one truck driver. Some of the most common types of truck accidents include:
- Jackknife accidents: Jackknife accidents occur when the cab of a truck stops before the trailer. This often happens when the driver suddenly slams on their brakes. When a driver is drunk, they may not see slowing traffic ahead of them until it is too late. This may cause them to slam on their brakes in an attempt to avoid a collision. When a truck stops suddenly, it can cause the truck’s trailer to swing and form a 90º angle with the cab. These types of accidents are very dangerous and can involve vehicles in surrounding lanes.
- Truck rollovers: Rollovers can happen when a truck is traveling too fast or it takes a sharp curve too quickly. In these accidents, the truck rolls into the nearby space, colliding with anything in its path. The severity of these accidents depends on the surrounding area. The worst-case scenario is the truck rolls over on a busy freeway or rolls off of an overpass.
- Rear-end accidents: A rear-end accident occurs when a truck collides into the back of the vehicle in front of it. While federal laws require guards to block off the undercarriage of the rear of a truck, they do not require the same for the front. This can cause the lead vehicle to become pinned underneath the truck and cause serious injury or death.
- Broadside accidents: We don’t often associate broadside accidents (more commonly called T-bone accidents) with large trucks. However, when a truck driver is drinking, he or she is just as likely to be in a broadside accident as a passenger vehicle. Broadside accidents are always dangerous and carry a high risk of injury. However, the force of a large commercial truck against the unprotected side of a passenger vehicle will almost always kill someone—25 percent of all fatal truck accidents in 2017 were broadside collisions.
Common Injuries After Truck Accidents
In 2017, over 4,100 people died in an accident involving a large truck. With the average truck weighing 20 to 30 times that of a passenger vehicle, the potential for damage is extraordinarily high. Even low-speed accidents can result in serious injuries. Some of the most common injuries include:
- Traumatic brain injuries: A traumatic brain injury occurs when an individual’s head is hit with such severe trauma that it causes damage to the delicate brain tissue. This can be from a blow to the head or a penetrating wound that reaches the brain. The force of a truck hitting a vehicle can cause one’s head to move around violently and hit nearby objects, including the seat and windshield. Signs of a traumatic brain injury include loss of consciousness, memory issues, dizziness, and vomiting.
- Spinal cord injuries: The spinal cord, like the brain, is sensitive to trauma. A serious accident can cause irreversible damage. In many cases, a spinal cord injury will result in permanent paralysis. Paralysis can make it difficult for victims to complete everyday tasks, and in many cases, victims will need extensive medical treatment and home modifications.
- Broken bones: Broken bones are some of the most common injuries after an accident. The clavicle, legs, arms, and ribs are especially vulnerable in an accident due to their proximity to the seat, pedals, and steering wheel. Broken bones can have long-lasting effects, including long-term pain and decreased mobility. Depending on the severity of the injury, it can take months for the bone to fully heal. In some cases, the victim will never regain the same level of mobility that he or she enjoyed before the accident.
- Burns: Burns can happen when there is a car fire or a person comes in contact with a hot surface or fluid. Severe burns can require extensive medical treatment and cause extreme pain. First and second-degree burns carry a high risk of infection that can lead to other serious medical issues. In most cases, these burns will leave permanent scars.
When Liability Extends Beyond the Driver
When it comes to assigning fault after an accident, the most obvious person to blame is the driver. But what about his or her employer? Does the employer hold any liability for the driver’s actions? The short answer is that it depends. Many variables may allow you to pursue compensation from a trucking company. Examples of when an employer may hold responsibility include:
- The driver was under a tight (or illegal) deadline: There are specific laws that truck drivers and their employers must follow to ensure safety. This includes max load weights, tie-down regulations, and driver work hours. The U.S. Department of Transportation outlines the maximum number of hours that drivers can drive in a given time and the amount of time off that they must have in between shifts. If an employer requires its employee to drive beyond the legal limits, the employee may resort to narcotics or other substances to stay awake. While the employer did not directly supply the drugs, a jury may determine that the employer’s actions had a direct effect on the driver’s choice. If an employer calls a driver to work during his or her mandated time off, and that driver has been drinking, he or she may not feel the option to refuse the work.
- The driver had a previous record: Past behavior is often a good indicator of future behavior. Employers may be liable if they knowingly hired someone with a previous alcohol-related offense or if the employer knew that the driver had a drug or alcohol problem and allowed the driver to continue to work.
- Employee training does not address drinking: It is an employer’s duty to outline appropriate workplace behavior. This should include a policy regarding drinking on the job. A company may be liable if it does not have a policy regarding drinking, if it failed to disclose the policy to the employee, or if it did not have an appropriate disciplinary process.
Compensation After a Truck Accident
Recovering from an accident can be a long and difficult process. Truck injuries can cause severe injuries that may cost the victim both physically and financially. Because of this, Pennsylvania law allows victims of accidents to pursue financial compensation against at-fault parties. Though the amount of your final recovery will vary based on the specific facts of your case, there are certain costs that the court or insurance company will take into consideration. These include:
- Medical costs: Truck accidents can lead to extensive injuries. These injuries may require extended hospital stays or ongoing treatment. Medical costs can include doctor visits, medical imaging, medication, physical therapy, surgeries, and medical transportation. It may also include any longterm care.
- Lost wages: An injury can leave you unable to return to work. Lost wages cover actual time missed from work as a direct result of the accident. If the accident resulted in a permanent disability, you may have a claim for future earnings and lost earning capacity.
- Pain and suffering: The legal system recognizes that not all injuries are visible. An accident can cause tremendous physical and emotional pain. Pain and suffering include physical pain, emotional distress, anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These damages can also include loss of enjoyment and loss of companionship.
- Wrongful death: Sadly, many accidents involving large trucks result in fatalities. After the death of a loved one, the surviving members can file a claim for wrongful death. A wrongful death claim can help alleviate the financial hardship of an accident and transfer it from the victim’s family to the at-fault party. Costs may include unpaid medical bills, funeral costs, loss of consortium, loss of earnings, and pain and suffering.
The Importance of Legal Representation
Any type of accident can be a traumatic experience. Most accidents don’t just affect the victim, but also affect the victim’s friends and family as well. Moving on can be difficult, especially when there are serious injuries involved. If you are injured in a truck accident, you deserve fair and just compensation. Though money won’t take away your pain, it can help you get the care you need.
Truck accidents are often complex and may involve multiple parties subject to different rules and regulations. An experienced personal injury attorney can fight for your rights and make sure that all parties are held responsible. If you or a loved one has been involved in a truck accident involving a drunk driver, contact a Pennsylvania personal injury attorney for more information.