Have you been injured or lost a loved one due to an accident with a commercial truck? If so, you may be eligible to receive compensation for your injuries or loss. Here are three things you should know about filing a truck accident claim.
1. The Industry is Regulated by Both State and Federal Laws
Due to the sheer size of the vehicles involved and the risk to others on the road, commercial trucking is a highly regulated industry. There are both federal and state laws in place to protect the public from accidents involving tractor-trailers, and violations may be proof of negligence if the truck is involved in an accident. Here is a look at some of those laws.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is the federal agency involved with regulating and providing safety oversight for commercial motor vehicles. Driver fatigue is a major focus of regulations in regards to truck drivers, both for their safety and the safety of others on the road. One of the regulations the FMCSA put forth in recent years, in an effort to reduce accidents caused by driver fatigue, limits the amount of time a commercial truck driver can drive before taking a break. Here are the highlights of this regulation:
- The hours of service rules apply to all interstate drivers of commercial motor vehicles that weigh more than 10,000 pounds, either in gross vehicle weight or gross total weight, as well as those carrying hazardous materials in a quantity requiring placards.
- For drivers carrying property, there is a window of 14 consecutive hours to drive after an off-duty time of 10 or more hours. During this 14-hour window, up to 11 consecutive hours may be driven.
- After eight consecutive hours of driving, the driver must take an off-duty break of 30 minutes.
- In addition to daily driving limits, the Hours of Service regulation also dictates that drivers only work 60 hours every seven days or 70 hours every eight days.
- Drivers can “restart” their 60 or 70 hour work weeks by taking an off-duty time of at least 34 consecutive hours.
- In addition to time spent driving, on-duty time includes all time at the plant, terminal, facility, or other property of the motor carrier or shipper, time spent inspecting, servicing, or conditioning the truck, time spent loading, unloading, supervising, or attending to the load in the truck and dealing with paperwork related to shipments, and time spent traveling to and from a collection site to submit to mandated drug testing.
- If drivers experience unexpected adverse driving conditions on their route, they may be permitted an extra two hours of consecutive driving time.
- There are exceptions to the Hours of Service regulations for short haul commercial drivers who are not required to have a CDL and work within a 150 mile radius.
Other federal regulations that truck drivers are subjected to include:
- Workplace drug and alcohol testing
- Electronic logging devices
- Medical fitness for duty requirements
- Cargo securement
- Hands-free cell phone usage and prohibition of texting while driving
- Transportation of hazardous materials
Besides the federal regulations, commercial truck drivers are also required to follow state rules. Some of the regulations that Florida imposes on truck drivers include:
- The requirement that all commercial motor vehicles carry a valid and current tag registration.
- A Department of Highway and Motor Vehicles fuel decal if the truck weighs more than 26,000 pounds, the power unit has three or more axles, and the vehicle is operating interstate.
- Rules regarding the height and weight of the tractor-trailer. With some exceptions, the maximum weight for trucks traveling in Florida is 80,000 pounds. The truck and trailer must be no more than 13’6” in height. Drivers whose vehicles are found to be overweight will be issued a citation and civil penalty. Additionally, if the vehicle is at least 6,000 pounds over the limit for certain roads or bridges, the driver may be required to off-load some of the cargo in order to pass.
- The requirement that the truck is in safe, working order.
- The display of a valid Florida or U.S. Department of Transportation number.
2. There May Be Multiple At-Fault Parties
If you’re in an accident caused by a commercial truck driver and your damages exceed the limits of your personal injury protection policy, you can expect to seek compensation from the truck driver’s insurance company, right? Yes and no. It can get a bit complicated. Here’s why.
Although there are certainly exceptions, many truck drivers work for one company, but transport products for one or more additional companies. Their trucks may be serviced and maintained through a still different company, using parts that were manufactured and distributed by several more companies.
You get the drift. When it comes time to make a personal injury claim arising from a truck accident, there are multiple potential parties, each with their own insurance, who might have liability to you. Here are some circumstances where negligence could be found with multiple parties.
- The truck driver who caused the accident worked for the company that owned the truck. The driver tested positive for illegal drugs at the time of the accident, and your attorney’s investigation revealed this wasn’t the first time the driver had failed a drug test. Because the company that employed the driver knew about these failed test and sent him out on the road anyway, the company could be liable to you for damages.
- The truck involved in the vehicle was serviced by a mechanic who forgot to perform an important safety check before signing off on its road-worthiness. The safety check would have revealed the mechanical failure that led to the crash. As a result, the mechanic may be liable to you for damages.
- The truck involved in the accident had a defective part that failed, leading to the accident. The manufacturer and/or distributor of that part may have liability to you because of that defect.
- A third-party warehouse company loaded the cargo into the truck that was involved in the accident. Your attorney discovers that the load shifted unexpectedly inside the truck, causing the truck driver to lose control. The warehouse company could have liability to you.
These are just a few examples of how multiple parties can face liability for injuries you sustain in a truck accident. However, in order for a court to find those parties at fault, your attorney will often (but not always) need to demonstrate each party’s negligence. Proving negligence is a three step process, which includes establishing:
- The defendant owed you a duty of care. The duty of care can be different for each party. For example, the truck driver’s duty of care would be safely operating a tractor-trailer. The duty of care for the trucking company would be ensuring that they have safe drivers with clean records, proper training, and responsible work habits. The duty of care exercised by the mechanic would be to ensure that the truck is properly maintained and in good working order. The warehouse company’s duty of care is to make sure it loads and secures cargo according to safety protocols. The duty of care for those who manufacture and distribute parts for use on semi-trucks is not to place defective products in the stream of commerce.
- There was a breach in that duty of care.
- The breach led to the injuries you sustained.
Florida personal injury law follows a so-called pure comparative negligence rule in which the court or jury has the task of assigning a percentage of fault for a personal injury to any party who may have caused it. This can include some or all of the defendants, and also the plaintiff (whose actions may also have contributed to an accident). Any party found liable for the plaintiff’s injuries must then pay damages according to its respective percentage of fault.
For example, if the damage award for a truck accident is $100,000 and the truck driver was found to be 50 percent responsible, the trucking company was found to be 10 percent responsible, the shipping company was also found to be 10 percent responsible, and the claimant was found to have 30 percent responsibility for the accident that caused his or her injury:
- The claimant’s award would be reduced by $30,000 to account for his or her responsibility for the accident.
- The truck driver and/or his insurance company would be ordered to pay $50,000.
- The trucking company and/or its insurance carrier would be ordered to pay $10,000.
- The shipping company and/or insurance carrier would be ordered to pay $10,000.
3. Hiring an Attorney to Represent You in Your Claim
As you can see from the information above, truck accidents can be far more complex than an accident between two passenger cars. Hiring an experienced truck accident attorney can prove invaluable both in seeking a settlement or in pursuing litigation in order to get the compensation you need for your recovery. Part of the attorney’s services to you include investigating the accident to look for evidence of liability and potential insurance policies from which to obtain the compensation sought. Some things the attorney will look into include:
- The cause of the crash. Was the driver fatigued? A look at his or her electronic driving logs may provide insight into the hours the driver was working. In addition, the police report may offer a narrative suggesting that the driver fell asleep or indicated that he or she was tired at the time of the crash. Was the driver properly trained? The company he or she works for should have a comprehensive employment history for the driver, including any training that he or she received as part of the job. What kind of background check was performed on the driver when he or she was hired? Was the driver impaired at the time of the accident? Was he or she speeding, and is there a past history of speeding? Is his or her CDL in good standing? What does the truck’s black box indicate was happening at the time of the accident? When was the truck last serviced? What parts were used? Are there any recalls on parts? What was the shipper’s policy regarding the selection of a transportation company? Were those policies followed? How was the shipper’s cargo loaded onto the truck? What steps were taken to ensure that the load was balanced evenly throughout the truck? Was the cargo a hazardous material? If so, were the regulations of the Office of Hazardous Materials Safety followed during loading and transport? Were the driver’s actions that led to the accident so egregious that punitive damages should be sought in order to punish him or her? These are just a few of the questions that a skilled attorney will want to know the answers to.
- Is the truck driver an independent contractor or an employee of a company? This is very important when determining potential at-fault parties. Some questions that go into that determination include how much control the company has over the driver’s actions, who owns the truck, how the company pays the driver, and the level of skill required.
- The severity of your injuries. Truck accidents often inflict severe injuries, including traumatic brain injuries, damage to the spinal cord, or the loss of a limb. These types of injuries are commonly life-altering. An experienced personal injury attorney will look at the injuries, your prognosis, and even the loss of your future earning capacity. All of these details help to determine the value of your case—that is, what dollar amount for damages a court may award. In general, the damages that can be recovered via a personal injury claim include: medical expenses, future medical care, lost wages, lost earning ability, loss of quality of life, and pain and suffering.
Did a Truck Crash Injure You? Call Us Today
If you were injured in an accident with a commercial truck in Florida, the attorneys at Sibley Dolman Accident Injury Lawyers, LLP, are eager to speak with you about the details of your case and discuss the legal options that may be available to you. We have offices in Aventura, Boca Raton, Dora, and Fort Lauderdale. Call Sibley Dolman Accident Injury Lawyers, LLP, at 833-552-7274 (833-55-CRASH) or email us to schedule your free consultation.
Sibley Dolman Accident Injury Lawyers, LLP
1820 NE 163rd St 306
North Miami Beach, FL, 33162