Seven people recently died when a semi-truck slammed into a van that was carrying a church group from Louisiana to Walt Disney World. The accident occurred when the semi, after hitting another vehicle, crossed the center median on I-75 and struck the van and another 18-wheeler. Since the crash, survivors have filed an Orlando wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits against the trucking company that the semi driver worked for, alleging that the truck driver had a tarnished driving record before the truck accident and that the trucking company that hired him was negligent in its duty to keep others safe on the road.
All across Florida and the nation, our economy relies on the delivery of shipped goods via commercial trucks. Also known as big rigs or tractor-trailers, commercial trucks can weigh up to 20-30 times more than a passenger car, which increases the likelihood of severe injuries or death if a truck is involved in an accident.
According to information provided by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, more than 4,000 people died in the U.S. in 2017 in accidents with commercial trucks. 17 percent of those fatalities were the occupants of the large trucks, and 68 percent were occupants of passenger cars and other vehicles. 14 percent were pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists. If you've been injured in an accident caused by a negligent commercial truck driver, you may be eligible for compensation through a personal injury lawsuit. An experienced Orlando truck accident lawyer can help you to understand your legal options.
What Causes Truck Accidents?
Driver fatigue, also known as drowsy driving, is one of the most common causes of accidents involving big rig trucks. Commercial truck drivers often face strict deadlines and work long hours, putting them at high risk of driver fatigue.
Additionally, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, almost one third of all commercial truck drivers in the United States suffer mild to severe sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a disorder that causes brief interruptions in breathing while the sufferer is asleep. These pauses in breathing may last up to 10 seconds and can happen up to 400 times per night. Because the disorder affects an individual's ability to sleep soundly, it can cause the sufferer to be tired during the day, making it difficult for a driver to stay alert while driving.
Other common causes of truck accidents include:
- Poor maintenance: Commercial trucks travel a lot of miles and require regular maintenance to operate correctly. Examples of truck parts that can fail—and increase the danger of an accident—include worn tires, unbalanced or worn out brakes, and broken or failed brake or turn lights.
- Lack of adequate driver training: Commercial truck drivers are required to complete a number of training hours before they can operate a tractor-trailer. Unfortunately, not all drivers comply with these guidelines or are adequately trained before they take to the road. Drivers who are not trained in how to handle situations like driving in inclement weather conditions pose a higher risk of causing an accident.
- Speeding: Truck drivers are paid to deliver the goods they are carrying within a set time frame, which leads them to try to hurry their journey along. Because large trucks require 20-40 percent more distance to come to a complete stop than passenger cars do, speeding reduces the amount of time a driver has to perceive a hazard up ahead and react to it by braking.
- Shifting cargo: Improperly loaded cargo can shift during transport, making the truck harder to control and can even result in the truck tipping due to the weight imbalance.
- Alcohol or drug impairment: Although truck drivers are subjected to drug and alcohol testing, some drivers still indulge in the use of these substances and drive impaired. Additionally, prescription or over-the-counter medications can cause drowsiness or impairment, making it difficult for a driver to operate their vehicle safely.
- Distracted driving: Distractions are a danger for drivers of any type of vehicle, including tractor-trailers. Long-haul truck drivers often spend many hours alone, driving along monotonous roadways. To keep themselves entertained during this time, they may engage in distracting activities, including texting, talking on a cell phone, or browsing the internet. Additional distractions may come from GPS systems, stereos, or other vehicle controls.
The Orlando truck accident lawyers at Dolman Law have experience helping those who were injured by negligence to protect their rights and get compensation in a variety of types of truck accidents, including tractor-trailers. Reach out to our Orlando truck accident attorneys today for legal help if you were injured or a loved one was killed.
Common Injuries Sustained in Truck Accidents
Truck accidents are frequently not minor affairs, but rather major collisions that result in life-altering injuries. Some of the more common injuries seen in truck accidents include:
- Back and neck injuries due to spinal cord damage. This type of injury frequently results in paraplegia, which is loss of use and sensation in the legs and pelvis, or tetraplegia (also known as quadriplegia), which is the loss of use and sensation in the chest, arms, torso, legs, and pelvis
- Head injuries, including traumatic brain injuries, which can lead to life-long deficits in speech, motor skills, memory, and cognition
- Broken bones, which can cause long-term damage or even permanent disability, depending on the severity
- Limb amputation
- Lacerations, which can lead to permanent scarring
- Burns from gasoline or hazardous cargo, which can result in permanent disfigurement
- Internal injuries, which can permanently damage or destroy organs or result in internal bleeding
An Orlando truck accident lawyer can tell you more about your legal right to compensation in Orlando if you've been injured or a loved one has been killed in a crash involving a truck, including tractor-trailers.
Federal and Florida Laws Regarding Commercial Motor Vehicles
The trucking industry is overseen by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, who is responsible for passing federal laws that truck drivers must comply with to remain working. Some of these laws include:
- Hours of service requirements: Hours of service regulations were designed to prevent accidents caused by driver fatigue. The regulation states that drivers may only drive 11 hours of a maximum 14-hour workday. After the completion of this 14-hour workday, drivers must take at least 10 hours of off-duty or sleeper berth time. Drivers must also take a break of at least 30 minutes after every eight consecutive hours of driving. Drivers can only drive up to 60 hours every seven days or 70 hours every eight days before they must take off-duty time of at least 34 hours. Drivers are also required to log their hours electronically, producing a paper trail in case federal investigators which to check for compliance with hours of service rules.
- CDL and training: All commercial truck drivers must carry a Commercial Driver License (CDL) from the state in which they reside or their trucking company is based. To obtain this license, the driver must prove that he or she has the knowledge and skills to operate the truck safely. Drivers with clearance to transport hazardous materials are subjected to additional tests to obtain that clearance.
- Alcohol and drugs: Drivers are not allowed to drive if their blood alcohol concentration is above 0.02 percent. Drivers are not allowed to carry alcohol in their truck unless it makes up a portion of their cargo. Drivers are not allowed to consume alcohol or drugs within eight hours of their shift and must submit to random testing.
- Physical fitness: Drivers must submit to a physical exam every two years to ensure that they are healthy enough to do their job safely.
- Vehicle markings: Drivers are required to display certain markings on their vehicle including the truck's USDOT number and hazmat clearance.
- Cargo: Drivers must undergo training to learn how to properly load and tie down cargo to prevent it from shifting during transport.
In addition to federal laws, the trucking industry is governed by state laws as well. Some of the regulations impacting Florida-based truck drivers include:
- The requirement to carry a valid tag and registration, and a valid state or Department of Transportation number displayed on the truck.
- A Department of Highway and Motor Vehicles fuel decal is required for all large trucks weighing more than 26,000 pounds, operating on the interstate, and featuring three or more axles.
- The maximum weight allowed for large trucks traveling on most Florida roadways is 80,000 pounds. The truck and trailer cannot be taller than 13'6”. Exceeding height and weight restrictions may result in penalties and fines, and the driver may even be required to offload some of their cargo to proceed.
- The truck must be maintained and in safe, working order.
Orlando truck accident accident lawyers who have experience with truck accident claims will gather evidence to prove that the driver of the truck who caused the accident was not following these federal laws if this was a factor in your wreck.
How Truck Accident Injury Claims Work in a No-Fault State
Florida is a no fault state when it comes to motor vehicle accidents, including truck accidents. What this means is that, regardless of who caused the crash, if a driver or their truck's occupants are injured in a collision in Florida, the first place to turn for compensation for medical expenses and lost work due to resulting injuries is the driver's own Personal Injury Protection (PIP) policy.
A minimum of $10,000 worth of PIP coverage is required to register motor vehicles in Orlando. These policies will pay 80 percent of medically necessary expenses up to the policy's limit, as well as 60 percent of wages an individual loses as a result of being unable to work due to their injuries.
A large truck accidents often causes severe injuries, which may result in permanent disability. Because of their severity, it is not unusual for these injuries to cause damages that quickly exceed an individual's PIP policy. Once their PIP policy limit has been met, accident victims are permitted to file a third-party claim or a personal injury lawsuit to seek compensation from a negligent truck driver's bodily injury liability policy. A lawsuits may also be filed against a truck driver if there is permanent injury, regardless of whether the PIP limit was exceeded. In Florida, a permanent injury is defined as one that:
- Causes significant and permanent loss of a bodily function
- Is permanent, within a reasonable degree of medical certainty, other than scarring and disfigurement
- Causes significant and permanent scarring or disfigurement
- Results in the death of the injured person
If you are eligible to file an Orlando personal injury lawsuit against a truck driver and/or the trucking company that the driver is employed by, your lawsuit must be filed within four years of the date of the accident. Some of the damages you may be eligible to receive compensation for include:
- Current and future medical expenses resulting from the injury, including the cost of ambulance, ER treatment, surgery, hospitalizations, diagnostic tests, rehabilitation, prosthetics, and home modifications to accommodate a disability.
- Lost wages and loss of future earning capacity if you are unable to work or to return to the position you held or the career you had before your injury.
- Property damage, such as damage to your vehicle.
- Non-economic damages such as pain and suffering, emotional distress, or loss of consortium.
The most likely victim to die in an accident with a big rig truck is an occupant inside of a passenger vehicle. In fact, those injured in truck accidents are ten times more likely to die of their injuries than those involved in an accident with a passenger car. If you have lost a loved one due to an accident with a commercial truck, you may seek compensation for your losses through a wrongful death lawsuit against a truck driver.
This type of Orlando truck accident lawsuit may be filed by the deceased's spouse or children, parents, siblings, or any other relative by blood or adoption who was partially or completely dependent on the deceased person for support. Wrongful death lawsuits must be filed within two years of the date of the decedent's death. Damages potentially available to those who have lost a loved one in a Orlando truck accident include:
- Funeral or burial expenses paid by the relative
- Pre-death medical expenses incurred due to injuries sustained in the accident
- Loss of financial contribution
- The cost of household services that the deceased performed and survivors must now hire someone else to do
- Emotional distress
- Loss of companionship or consortium
Call the Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA if a Negligent Truck Driver Injured You
1701 Park Center Drive, Suite #240-G
Orlando, FL 32835
Phone: (407) 759-4565