Do you know what to do after you suffer injuries in a truck accident? Unless you are an attorney or have been in a truck accident before, chances are, the answer is no.
Truck accidents constitute a special category of motor vehicle accidents. Comparatively, they inflict more severe injuries and more widespread damage than crashes involving passenger cars. They typically involve far more parties and competing legal interests than ordinary accidents. Evaluating who should be held at fault for them involves broader legal and factual considerations than other types of collisions. In short, truck accidents involve significant complications that challenge the skills and resources of motor vehicle accident attorneys.
At The Levin Firm Personal Injury Lawyers, we aim to arm our clients and potential clients with important information that can help to protect their legal rights. In this blog post, we give our thoughts on what you need to know if you’ve been involved in a truck accident.
The Top Causes of Truck Accidents
Motor vehicle accidents happen every day, in every way, but accidents involving large trucks occur more often than they should. In one recent year, 7,910 accidents involving large trucks occurred in Pennsylvania. That number is frightening. In many cases, these accidents could have been prevented.
Top causes for truck accidents include:
- Speeding: Speeding is one of the leading causes of motor vehicle accidents in the United States. In 2018, speeding contributed to over 9,000 traffic fatalities on U.S. roads. Speeding is especially dangerous for large trucks, because they require more time and distance to bring to a stop than passenger vehicles. When you combine an 80,000-pound vehicle with excessive speed, the results are often fatal.
- Distracted driving: When you drive next to a big truck, you hope that 100 percent of the driver’s attention is on the road. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Like other drivers, truckers make the mistake of trying to text and drive, or of fiddling with their radios, which takes focus away from the road. Unlike other drivers, truckers operate vehicles that require even more situational awareness than an ordinary passenger car. That makes distracted driving behind the wheel of a truck especially dangerous.
- Driver fatigue: Many truck drivers work up to 70 hours a week, at irregular hours and intervals. These schedules interfere with drivers’ sleep rhythms, heightening the risk that a driver will operate while dangerously fatigued. Drowsy driving causes the same impairments as drunk driving. In fact, according to the National Sleep Foundation, staying awake for 18 hours hurts your motor skills and cognitive functions as if you had a blood alcohol content of 0.05. That’s just less than the legal limit for most drivers, and more than the legal limit for truck drivers.
- Mechanical issues: The law requires drivers to inspect their vehicles before every trip. They must also conduct annual inspections. If a driver fails to do these inspections or the truck contains a defective part, a mechanical failure can cause the driver to lose control of the truck and end up in an accident.
Truck Accidents Often Involve Multiple Parties
The typical passenger car accident involves two vehicles, two drivers, and whatever passengers each car carries. In truck accidents, things are a little different. Large trucks are almost always commercial vehicles. Three “owners” might have an interest in the typical truck: the owner of the cab, the owner of the trailer, and the owner of the cargo. Each of these owners may have employees whose actions impact the (un)safe operation of the truck. Each owner may also carry its own insurance policy. These multiple legal interests lead to legal complications in truck accident injury matters.
To begin, a truck accident victim may have multiple parties from whom to seek damages. These often include:
- The truck driver: Independent truck drivers (those who own their rigs) are required to hold liability insurance. The minimum requirement ranges from $750,000 to $5 million, depending on the type of truck and what it is carrying. In an accident caused by a driver’s careless or reckless actions, this insurance will often serve as a source of compensation for accident victims.
- The driver’s employer: Not all drivers own their own rig. Many drivers work for trucking companies. Like any employer, these companies generally have liability for the actions of their employees that occur in the scope of employment. Employers also may have liability for failing to train or adequately screen drivers. Like independent truck drivers, trucking companies also usually carry insurance that covers accident victims.
- The truck owner: Sometimes the employer and the truck owner are two different entities. In this case, the owner may face liability because of some action or decision that made the truck unsafe to operate.
- The truck or parts manufacturer: Product and parts defects happen more often than we’d like to believe. The Large Truck Crash Causation Study found that of the 141,000 accidents reviewed, 10 percent of the crashes involved trucks with mechanical issues. Common issues include tire blowouts, brake issues, and steering problems. When a defective truck part leads to an accident, the manufacturer may face legal liability for harm the accident causes.
- Government entities: The government performs a wide range of functions that could make it liable for causing a truck accident, including operating its own trucks and taking responsibility for maintaining roads. Injured truck accident victims can seek to hold government entities accountable for an accident, but doing so requires the skills of an experienced truck accident injury attorney.
Your Auto Insurance Coverage Type May Affect Your Legal Rights
The path to recovering damages for your truck accident injury depends, in part, on the state where the accident occurred. Each state has its own rules governing auto insurance and who faces legal liability for an accident. Most states simply hold the party “at fault” for the accident liable for the damages it causes.
A few states, however, including Pennsylvania, have a modified version of those rules. In the Keystone State, drivers must carry auto insurance, but have a choice of two types of insurance coverage that dictates their legal rights after suffering injuries in a motor vehicle accident. The system is known as choice no-fault.
Drivers have the option of choosing either no-fault auto insurance coverage (known as limited tort) or full tort coverage.
- Limited tort: The limited tort option limits drivers to recovering accident damages from their own insurance policy, regardless of who is at fault for the accident, in most cases. That claim can only include medical bills and lost wages. The only exception is if the driver’s injuries qualify as a “serious injury,” in which case the driver can seek additional damages from the “at-fault” party, including “non-economic” damages such as “pain and suffering.
- Full tort: The “full tort” option allows a driver to seek compensation from the at-fault party in a motor vehicle accident regardless of the severity of the driver’s injury, and those damages may include non-economic damages.
Pennsylvania law requires drivers to choose one or the other form of coverage. After a truck accident, it is to determine which type of auto insurance you carry, if you do not already know.
Truck Drivers Must Adhere to Strict Federal Regulations
The federal government regulates who can drive a truck, how often a driver can be on the road, and what a truck and its driver can carry as cargo. These laws are in place for a reason. When a driver breaks the law, he put himself and other drivers at risk of a catastrophic accident. There are many regulations, but ones to note include:
- Maximum driving hours: A truck driver can only drive up to 11 consecutive hours in a 14 hour period. This 14 hour period must come after at least 10 consecutive hours off of work. Additionally, a driver cannot drive more than 60 hours in a seven day period or 70 hours in an eight day period.
- Alcohol consumption: Pennsylvania law prohibits all drivers from driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 or more. For truck drivers, this limit is reduced to 0.04. Additionally, truck drivers are restricted from drinking alcohol within four hours of their shift, regardless of their blood alcohol level afterward.
- Safety regulations: All drivers must comply with annual inspection and training requirements. They must also obey all weight restrictions, endorsement restrictions, and safety requirements. Failure to do so can lead to an accident.
The complex laws and regulations governing the trucking industry add complication to any legal effort to recover compensation after a truck accident. An experienced truck accident injury attorney can help navigate through this thicket laws and regulations to figure out who owes you damages, and how to hold them to account.
What to Do After a Truck Accident
Actions you take in the days and weeks following a truck accident injury can make a big difference in your rights to recover compensation. Important steps to take to preserve your rights include:
- Go to the doctor: You cannot receive compensation for injuries if you cannot prove how they happened and what they constituted. The first step in proving injuries is to seek appropriate medical care immediately after an accident, regardless of whether you think you are injured. Some injuries do not show symptoms until days or weeks after the accident, at which point they may have caused severe damage to your health. A doctor can conduct a full exam and diagnose any injuries right away. Make sure to attend all follow-up appointments and follow the doctor’s orders.
- File a police report: In any motor vehicle accident in Pennsylvania, the law requires drivers to file a police report if the accident caused a death, injury, or auto damage that prevents safe operation of the car. If the police show up at the scene of the accident, they will take care of the report for you. If the police do not come to the scene, then you will need to file a written report within five days of the accident.
- Preserve evidence: Lawyers need evidence to prove their client’s damages. To help with this process, keep all of your medical and insurance records in one place. Also, take photographs and video of the accident scene and your injuries, if you can do so safely.
- Contact an attorney: Large truck accidents inflict serious injuries on a potentially large number of victims. Preserve your rights to receive the compensation you deserve by contacting an experienced Pennsylvania truck accident injury attorney right away.
How Damages Are Calculated
No two cases are the same. Even when the circumstances of two accidents appear to be the same or the injuries are the same, there are many variables involved in calculating the compensation you deserve for your injuries. You can’t simply look up “how much is a back injury worth?” and get an accurate answer.
Instead, an experienced attorney will evaluate the many varied ways a truck accident harmed you, and accordingly demand compensation that may include payment for:
- Medical bills
- Lost wages
- Future lost wages
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of enjoyment
- Loss of companionship
- Wrongful death
Pennsylvania’s Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations defines how much time someone has to take legal action after an injury. In Pennsylvania, truck accident victims have two years to take legal action for damages in most cases. Failing to take legal action within this time forfeits legal rights to damages, with only the rarest exceptions. That’s why it’s important to talk to an experienced truck accident injury attorney right away to get started protecting and enforcing your rights.
When to Talk to an Attorney
An accident involving a large truck can be a traumatic experience. Knowing what to do if you have been involved in one can help you to protect your rights to recover the compensation you deserve.
Contact an experienced truck accident attorney right away after an accident to discuss your legal rights. Waiting to speak with an attorney can put your rights at risk, and may leave you behind other truck accident injury victims in seeking compensation.