Severe Construction Site Injuries Caused by Trucks and BusesAround 30,000 people are injured in the U.S. each year as a result of accidents within construction zones, and approximately 100 of those injuries involve a bus. Bus transport is an extremely common method of transportation through large metropolitan areas and interstates, which are no strangers to construction projects that place workers close to road traffic. Add to that trucks of various kinds, and you have a recipe for serious injuries when negligent drivers get behind the wheel. If you were injured in a construction zone, the law allows the recovery of damages through a legal process known as a personal injury lawsuit. An experienced lawyer can help you understand this process during your free case evaluation.
Dangers in Construction ZonesCommercial motor vehicles, including buses and trucks, are overrepresented in their involvement in fatal work zone crashes. They account for up to 30 percent of this type of accident in certain areas like urban roadways. Work zones are often chaotic places, featuring a high amount of foot and machine traffic as well as confusing changes to road alignment for roadway users, reduced speed limits, and narrowed lanes. Transportation accidents are the most common cause of death and injury to workers in construction zones, accounting for more than three-quarters of fatal occupational injuries in roadway work zones. Approximately 60 percent of work zone deaths to construction zone workers occurred when the worker was struck by a vehicle. Buses and trucks have design features—mostly related to their massive size—that reduce the driver's ability to maneuver the vehicle easily. Some of those features include:
- A wider body than most other vehicle types, which makes it difficult to travel through areas where the lanes narrow to allow traffic to pass and construction to take place at the same time.
- A greater distance needed to stop once the driver perceives a hazard on the roadway and depresses the brakes in response. All vehicles require enough distance for the brakes to pull the weight of the vehicle to a stop. Heavier vehicles need more distance for this maneuver to take place than smaller vehicles do. A vehicle traveling at a higher speed or on an icy or wet road
- needs more space. Blind spots, which are areas outside of the vehicle that the driver cannot see in his or her rear or side-view mirrors and must look over his or her shoulder before changing lanes or backing up. Because of their size, buses and trucks have significant blind spots on all four sides of the vehicle. Within the tight confines of a construction zone, workers or vehicles may find themselves in the blind spot, and without checking these spots regularly, the driver risks causing an accident.
- A high center of gravity, which makes a bus and truck more likely to overturn when making a sharp curve. This is a particular risk when a bus or truck is loaded improperly, creating a weight imbalance, or if the bus or truck driver attempts an evasive maneuver. The temporary lane alignments that often occur in work zones create situations where drivers must make sudden turns. The more confusing the zone is for drivers, the higher the likelihood that the driver will attempt an evasive maneuver to avoid an accident with another vehicle or with a worker.
Causes of Work Zone Accidents
- Driver inattention: With an increase in the amount of technology available to drivers comes the risk of an increase in distraction-related accidents. Drivers who are paying attention to passengers, using their cell phone, eating or drinking, or engaging in any other type of manual, visual, or cognitive driving distractions can't focus on the task of safe driving and can miss important signs or changes in lane alignment that can result in a crash. Bus and truck drivers are not immune to these distractions and can also place bus passengers and construction zone workers at risk of injury when driving distracted through a work zone.
- Speeding: Speeding is not only driving faster than the posted speed limit, but also driving too fast for the conditions of the roadway. The speed limit is generally reduced in a construction zone to accommodate the amount of foot traffic and equipment near roadways. However, officials in the area where the construction takes place must often find a balance between keeping construction zone workers safe and keeping traffic moving at a steady pace to avoid a host of other problems created by congestion. In New York, a construction zone speed limit cannot be more than 20 miles per hour below the regular speed limit for that roadway, and the posted speed cannot be below 25 miles per hour.
- Improper work zone staging: While many of the accidents caused within construction zones are the result of drivers, the way the zone itself is staged also causes some accidents. Work zones featuring missing cones or barriers, missing or misleading signage, lack of speed warning signs, and poor lighting give rise to an increase in the risk of work zone accidents.
- Tailgating: Tailgating is a term that describes one vehicle that is following another vehicle so closely that the driver in the following vehicle would have a difficult time not rear-ending the vehicle in front of it if that vehicle were to suddenly stop. Sudden stops are a regular feature in construction zones and a difficult maneuver for buses and trucks, as they require a greater stopping distance.
- Merging: Another common feature of construction zones is for all affected travel lanes to merge as vehicles enter the zone. Merging in a large vehicle with significant blind spots is difficult, as other drivers might be reluctant to let the bus or truck over or the driver can't see vehicles in the travel lane he or she is attempting to merge to.
- Impairment or fatigue: Alcohol impairment and driver fatigue create similar deficits to the skills that a driver needs to operate his or her motor vehicle safely, such as the ability to maintain a travel lane, respond appropriately to emergency driving situations, and exercise good judgment. Bus and truck drivers must undergo regular drug and alcohol screens to ensure they are in compliance with federal regulations and are not imposing undue hazards on the public. While this testing prevents many cases of drunk or drug-impaired driving, some drivers choose to take the risk of driving while impaired anyway. Fatigue is a common issue for commercial drivers, including bus and truck drivers who spend many hours at a time staring at the roadway and also often work during the late-night hours, when driver fatigue is most common.
- Inclement weather: Inclement weather adds reduced visibility and slippery surfaces to the list of hazards encountered by drivers in construction work zones. It adds another layer of difficulty to the driver of a large vehicle that lacks maneuverability. Bus and truck drivers must receive proper training to operate their vehicles, and part of that training is devoted to learning how to control the bus or truck in inclement weather as well as how to control the vehicle in work zones.
Liability in Construction Zone AccidentsMany people or entities can cause accidents in construction zones. Possible liable parties include:
- The bus or truck driver. Risky driving behaviors such as speeding, distracted driving, alcohol impairment, or fatigue, combined with the often confusing facets of a construction work zone can have deadly consequences. These behaviors can cause the driver to lose control of the vehicle and cause an accident with another vehicle, construction equipment, or workers.
- The driver's employer. Common carriers such as trucking companies, transit authorities, bus lines, and school districts have the responsibility to ensure that the drivers they hire have been properly trained on various aspects of operating a large vehicle and using it to safely transport members of the public. Additionally, the driver's employer must ensure that the driver meets all other federal and local requirements, including obtaining the proper licensure, taking mandated breaks to help avoid driver fatigue, and submitting to regular alcohol and drug screenings. The employer also must properly insure and regularly maintain the vehicle to keep it safe for passengers.
- The construction company. Improperly staged construction zones create additional hazards for workers in the zone and travelers passing through it. Failing to properly stage the site or leaving equipment or construction materials in the roadway where they can be struck by drivers can create a situation in which the construction company is liable for injuries caused to others through their own carelessness.
- Other drivers. The actions of other drivers can also create accidents, and drivers who cause accidents in a construction zone face increased fines.
Recovering Damages After a Construction Zone AccidentIf you were injured as a result of an accident in a construction zone that involved a bus or truck, you could seek compensation for your expenses and the impacts of your injury through a lawsuit. A personal injury lawsuit is a legal claim filed in civil court that attempts to establish liability and also prove expenses related to the injury. You can prove liability by showing:
- The at-fault party owed you a duty of care. The duty of care refers to the way that a reasonable person would act in similar circumstances. In work zone accidents, the duty of care that was owed by roadway users, including from drivers, would be to slow down, pay attention, and obey all traffic laws. If the at-fault party is someone other than a driver, the duty of care would vary depending on that individual's role in the accident.
- There was a breach in the duty of care. The breach is the actions that the at-fault party took that were contrary to the duty of care that was owed.
- This breach resulted in the accident, which caused your injuries and subsequent expenses and impacts on your life.
- Medical expenses, such as the cost of emergency treatment at the scene or in the hospital; transport to the hospital; diagnostic testing; physician and surgical services, prescription medication, physical therapy, and rehabilitation; hospitalization; and the provision of assistive devices such as a wheelchair or crutches.
- Lost wages incurred due to having to miss work because of the injury or to attend medical appointments related to the injury.
- Loss of future earning capacity if your injury results in a permanent disability and you can no longer work or earn the same income as you did before the accident.
- The cost of repairing or replacing personal property that the accident damaged, such as your vehicle.
- Physical pain and suffering resulting from either the injury or the medical treatment of that injury.
- Emotional distress.
- Loss of the enjoyment of life.
Frequently Asked Questions About Construction Zone AccidentsBecause of their large size, buses and trucks lack the maneuverability of smaller vehicles. This is a concern in any type of driving situation, but is particularly worrisome in construction work zones, where workers and equipment are often in the roadway and drivers are expected to navigate narrowed lanes and altered lane alignment. If you were injured in a construction zone accident, you likely have a lot of questions about the legal process of recovering damages related to the expenses and impacts of your injury. Here are some answers to the questions our construction zone accident clients most frequently ask.
Is compensation only available for construction workers in work zone accidents?According to the National Safety Council, the individuals most likely to be injured or killed in a work zone accident are the occupants of motor vehicles, followed by pedestrians and bicyclists. Worker deaths in construction zones actually make up a very small amount of the injuries and fatalities. Any individual who is injured by the careless or reckless actions of another could pursue compensation through a personal injury lawsuit. Injured construction zone victims can include:
- Passengers on a car, motorcycle, truck, or bus.
- Pedestrians and bicyclists in the area.
- Workers at the site, including laborers, equipment operators, flaggers, and engineers.
I was injured as a worker in a construction zone accident. Should I file a lawsuit or a workers' comp claim?It depends on the facts of your case. New York's Workers' Compensation Program requires that most employers provide an insurance policy for their employees that will cover medical expenses and wage loss if the employee is injured on-the-job, regardless of fault. However, workers' comp doesn't always cover injuries caused by the actions of a third party (an individual who is not your employer or co-worker). If your accident resulted from the careless or reckless actions of a bus or truck driver, you could file a personal injury claim, as the driver is a third party. If the bus or truck crashed into you because of the improper staging of the construction zone, such as a missing sign or poor lighting, you would likely file a workers' comp claim. Your construction accident attorney would carefully review your case to identify the proper legal action for you to take.
What responsibility does a construction company have in preventing work zone accidents?Construction companies have a tremendous responsibility when setting up work zones to help ensure that traffic can flow safely through the zones. Some considerations to make when creating a work zone include:
- The placement of signs warning drivers of a work zone ahead, and signs throughout the zone to warn drivers of hazards. Crews in urban settings must place signs closer together if they are in locations that include sidewalks, closed drainage systems, closely spaced driveways, numerous right-of-way constraints, a high density of cross streets, and bicycle usage.
- The creation of buffer zones that provide space between workers and travelers, including an area for runaway or malfunctioning vehicles. Construction zone workers cannot place their equipment or vehicles in this buffer area.
- The placement of cones, barrels, and other channeling devices to direct traffic away from hazards created in the construction zone, including open pits or areas of activity.
- The provision of flaggers to control traffic in areas where drivers are required to move through opposing traffic lanes.
Why would a bus or truck driver's employer be responsible for my injuries if the driver caused the accident?The driver is a representative of the company he or she works for and is conducting business on behalf of the employer while using equipment that is owned and ensured by the employer. The employer can be held responsible because of a legal doctrine known as respondeat superior, which means that a company is legally responsible for the negligent actions of its employees that occur when the employee is performing his or her duties at the company. Additionally, bus and trucking lines and common carriers must ensure that the drivers they hire are capable of safely providing transportation to passengers and freight. Some of those requirements include:
- Making sure that the driver has a satisfactory driving record, is properly licensed to operate a commercial vehicle, and has obtained training to know how to properly and safely do his or her job.
- Making sure that the driver has no known health conditions that could cause harm to passengers or others on the roadway, and that he or she completes regular drug and alcohol screening.
- Properly insuring and maintaining the vehicle.
What is the average settlement in a construction zone case?Personal injury cases are valued on the unique details of the case, including the level of carelessness or recklessness that was demonstrated by the defendant and the severity of the injuries suffered by the claimant. Because of this, there is no "average" settlement. These factors could affect how much your case is worth:
- The severity of the injury. More severe injuries will generally create more expenses and impacts to the injured person's life, including more missed days from work, a higher likelihood of permanent disabilities that can affect a person's ability to earn a livable income, longer hospitalization, and more treatment, as well as increased physical pain and suffering and emotional distress.
- The availability of insurance. Insurance pays the vast majority of personal injury settlements and awards. While it is possible to file a lawsuit against an uninsured driver, it is nearly impossible to collect on that judgment as most people do not have the insurance to pay for someone else's medical expenses out-of-pocket. While the bus or truck carrier and the construction company likely do have insurance, there is the potential for an uninsured driver to have liability for your work zone accident as well.
- Your age and overall health at the time of the accident. Your age can impact your economic damages category simply due to where you are in your career. A 40-year-old victim who is in the middle of his or her career would likely have higher values for wage loss and loss of future earning capacity than a 20-year-old who has little work experience or an 80-year-old who no longer has an income. Your overall health can impact your case if you have pre-existing conditions that the defense can argue resulted in your pain and suffering more than the injury you incurred.
- The clarity of liability. If it is hard to prove that someone else was responsible for your injury, your settlement may decrease. While New York allows individuals to pursue compensation even if they were partially responsible for the accident that caused their injury, the amount they receive would decrease by the percentage of responsibility that they bear for their own injuries.
- Your patience. Negotiating a fair settlement takes time. In fact, an at-fault party's insurance will often wait until just before litigation begins or even after it has begun but before a court renders judgment to offer a fair settlement. This does not mean that the insurance company did not offer a settlement at all before that point, and individuals have the right to accept a settlement even if it is not close to the amount they deserve. However, those who are unwilling to accept an amount that is too far under the valuation of the case and instead choose to wait for a better offer often receive that better offer eventually.
A bus or truck struck my car while I was in its blind spot. Who is liable?Blind spots are a significant issue in buses and trucks due to the size of the vehicle. While drivers are warned to stay out of these spots to prevent a collision from happening, blind spot accidents are generally the fault of the driver. Any motorist—regardless of vehicle size—is required to ensure that a travel lane is clear before pulling forward, backing up, turning, or changing lanes. Doing so generally requires that they look over their shoulder to search for vehicles and others who may be in the blind spot.
My spouse died in a work zone accident. Can I recover damages?You could pursue the recovery of damages related to your spouse's death, but you would do so through a slightly different process known as a wrongful death lawsuit. Like a personal injury claim, a wrongful death lawsuit is a legal claim filed in civil court that seeks to prove liability and show your expenses. A personal representative of the estate must file a wrongful death claim on behalf of the deceased's family members, including his or her spouse, parents, or children. The following elements prove liability in a wrongful death case:
- A death occurred due to the wrongful actions of the defendant.
- Based on the circumstances, if the deceased had lived, he or she would have been entitled to compensation from the defendant in a personal injury claim.
- One or more survivors suffered losses as a result of the death, and/or the estate suffered harm.
- The cost of the deceased's funeral and burial or cremation.
- Medical expenses related to the treatment of the deceased's final injuries.
- Wages and benefits that were lost between when the deceased incurred his or her final injury and when he or she died.
- The value of support and services that the deceased provided to his or her family members.
- The loss of inheritance suffered by the deceased's children.
- Conscious pain and suffering experienced by the deceased between when his or her injury occurred and when he or she died.
Why do I need an attorney to help me with my construction zone case?Construction zone accidents produce complex cases involving extra investigative legwork to determine all sources of liability and all insurance resources that could compensate you. An attorney experienced in this type of case will know the documentation from the construction company and the bus or trucking company necessary for proving your complaint. In addition, a construction accident lawyer can:
- Assist in affording attorney services through the provision of a free case evaluation as well as a contingent-fee payment scheme. A contingent fee means that you do not pay for your lawyer's services until there is a successful outcome in your case.
- Guide you through the appropriate legal process to use for recovering compensation, based on the facts of your case.
- Evaluate your case based on the expenses and impacts to your life that your injury has caused and will likely cause in the future.
- Gather and organize the evidence and witness testimony to validate your claim.
- Negotiate with the at-fault party's insurance provider in an attempt to obtain a fair settlement offer on your behalf.
- Timely file all court-required paperwork in the proper jurisdiction.
- Attend all court-required pre-trial conferences and hearings on your behalf.
- Provide the pros and cons of any settlement that is offered to you.
- Litigate, from the delivery of opening and closing statements, the examination of witnesses, and the presentation of evidence, during a trial, if necessary.
- Assist in collecting your settlement or court award.
- Provide further representation if the defendant in your case appeals a court judgment.
Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA 800 N Belcher Rd Clearwater, FL 33765 Phone: (727) 451-6900 https://www.dolmanlaw.com/florida-construction-accident-lawyers/