California Truck Accident Lawyers
Our California Truck Accident Lawyers recognize that collisions involving tractor-trailers are not just motor vehicle crashes involving an exceptionally large vehicle. Legal claims involving large commercial trucks pose unique challenges that can include severe debilitating injuries, a complex matrix of regulations, multiple parties, and a well-deserved industry reputation for manipulating evidence.
The massive bulk of a large truck makes proper vehicle maintenance, careful operation of semi-trucks and adequate supervision and training of drivers essential to promote public safety. Individuals injured in truck accidents need an attorney experienced in handling these types of collisions to identify all responsible parties and to work with experts who can determine the cause of the collision.
Understanding the Increased Risk of Catastrophic Injuries in Truck Accidents
When large commercial trucks collide with passenger vehicles, the risk of catastrophic injuries and fatalities is substantially higher than crashes involving passenger cars. According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NTHSA) data, California was the scene of 254 fatal truck crashes in California in 2012. In other words, someone dies in a semi-truck collision in California every 68 minutes.
Tractor-trailers can weigh as much as forty times more than a passenger sedan. This disparity in weight between a passenger car and large truck usually means that tractor-trailer collisions cause catastrophic injuries like spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) or fatalities to someone other than the truck driver. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) reports that a party who dies in a fatal truck accident is an occupant of the other vehicle, motorcycle rider, bicyclist, or pedestrian 96 percent of the time. Despite comprising a small percentage of licensed motor vehicle, large trucks account for almost a quarter of fatal multi-vehicle collisions (23 percent).
The length and weight of large commercial trucks increases both the probability that they will be involved in a collision as well as the likelihood of severe injury. Because a fully-loaded tractor-trailer can weigh forty tons, commercial drivers must be vigilant in complying with safe driving practices and focus all of their attention on the road. Large trucks entail a longer braking distance, decreased handling when executing sudden evasive maneuvers and diminished visibility of vehicles in large semi-truck blind spots. While these characteristics of tractor-trailers increase the risk that semi-trucks will be involved in collisions, the massive weight of big-rigs generates enormous force so that the severity of these collisions also is more extensive.
Basis for Liability in California Semi-Truck Collisions
The enormous destructive force of a tractor-trailer necessitates a more intense focus on safety and maintenance issues to prevent devastating collisions that cause permanent life-altering injuries. While truck drivers need to be alert and careful, trucking companies also must engage in inspections of large trucks so that maintenance concerns like worn tires and faulty brakes do not put other motorists in danger.
Although commercial drivers and trucking companies are extensively regulated, semi-trucks are involved in hundreds of thousands of trucking collisions annually. Typically, these crashes are caused by apathetic commercial carriers and drivers who make poor decisions or disregard industry standards for safe operation of a large truck. An analysis of government data conducted by the American Association of Justice (AAJ) found that in excess of 28,000 trucking companies representing more than 200,000 large commercial trucks were operating in violation of federal safety laws. Some of the specific forms of negligence and trucking regulation violations that cause truck accidents in California include:
Alcohol and Drug Use: Trucking regulations require trucking companies to conduct substance abuse screening prior to hiring a driver. Commercial carriers also are required to conduct mandatory drug and alcohol testing on a random basis and after a crash. Implementation of random alcohol testing lowered the risk that a truck driver involved in a fatal collision would test positive for being over the legal BAC level by fourteen percent. Many trucking companies have resisted using hair follicle testing, which would make it more difficult for drivers to cheat during drug and alcohol screening.
Inadequate Vehicle Maintenance: Federal and state regulations along with established trucking industry customs and practices dictate that big-rigs be regularly inspected so that proper maintenance can be performed. When critical vehicle maintenance issues, such as excessive brake and tire tread wear are neglected, this can lead to runaway trucks, jackknife crashes and tractor-trailer rollovers.
Defective Tractor-Trailers and Component Parts: Sometimes, the design or manufacturing of a semi-truck component or system contributes to a trucking accident. When the brakes of a large truck fail because of a product defect, this type of defect might cause a crash or intensify the severity of injury when a crash occurs. While trucking companies are required to ensure that their big-rigs are equipped with guards to prevent a vehicle from sliding under a commercial truck, for example, defective underride guards might fail during the force of impact.
Overloaded Trucks/Improperly Secured Loads: When an 18-wheeler is transporting a heavy cargo load, a load imbalance can adversely impact the handling of the semi-truck and cause the truck driver to lose control of the tractor-trailer. When the load is not secured properly, it also can shift during transit, which might cause the load to fall on another vehicle or into the roadway. When commercial trucks are overloaded this also can increase the probability of a collision because of excessive wear on the brakes and tires. Fault for an improper load can rest with the shipping company, the trucking company and/or the truck driver.
Traffic Violations: While the trucking industry is subject to an extensive matrix of state and federal regulations, drivers with a commercial license also are required to follow the same rules of the road that apply to all California drivers. When truck drivers travel at an unsafe speed, tailgates another vehicle or disregard right of way rules, the handling limitations of a large truck are magnified exponentially.
Violations of Hours of Service (HOS) Rules: Commercial carriers and truck drivers have strong financial incentives to disregard the risk of crashes caused by fatigued truck drivers. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has established hours of service (HOS) rules that limit a truck driver’s time behind the wheel each day and over a quasi-weekly period. Some trucking companies expressly or implicitly acquiesce to their drivers exceeding these limits by providing compensation plans based on miles traveled or creating unrealistic shipping schedules.
Truck Accident Lawyers Can Identify All Viable Defendants
While the first instinct for many motorists involved in trucking accidents is to assume that the truck driver is liable, there may be other viable parties that bear financial responsibility. Some of these other responsible parties may include:
- Other Drivers: Many trucking collisions involve more than just the large truck and another vehicle. Drivers of other vehicles whose unsafe driving or traffic violations contribute to a trucking accident might be liable for damages.
- Public Entities: When the inadequate design or maintenance of the roadway contributes to a trucking collision, the government entity charged with building and maintaining the roadway might be held financially accountable.
- Commercial Carrier: The trucking company that employs the driver might be liable based on improper screening during the hiring process or failure to adequately train and supervise its employee. When the conduct of the trucking company is reckless enough to represent a conscious disregard for the safety of others, the trucking company might even be liable for exemplary (also referred to as “punitive”) damages to discourage such conduct in the future and to punish the trucking company.
- Maintenance/Repair Company: Sometimes trucking companies will use outside maintenance or repair companies. Substandard work performed on a big-rig can contribute to a trucking accident when braking, steering and other systems fail or malfunction.
- Company that Sales or Manufacturers the Semi-Truck: When defective components of the large truck contribute to a collision or cause more serious injury, entities involved in the design, production or sale of the defective component or vehicle might be responsible.
An experienced truck accident lawyer will conduct an investigation often with the assistance of trucking industry experts to identify the causes of the crash and determine all of the parties responsible. A trucking company typically dispatches rapid response teams to investigate a trucking accident as soon as it occurs to immediately start gathering evidence to dispute liability or damages. Truck accident victims can reduce the risk of critical evidence disappearing by retaining an experienced tractor-trailer attorney promptly.
Special Challenges in Pursuing Tractor-Trailer Personal Injury Claims
Because trucking companies frequently face lawsuits seeking compensation for crash-related injuries caused by their commercial drivers, they have extensive experience and resources to litigate truck accident lawsuits. The trucking industry also invests large sums of money to produce studies and research that suggest most trucking accidents are the result of negligence by injury victims. Semi-truck accident law firms are familiar with these self-serving studies and bogus reports, so they know how to neutralize such evidence. The unique aspects of a tractor-trailer claim that make it distinct from other types of motor vehicle accident claims include:
- Destruction of Evidence: The data stored in the event data recorder (EDR) (also referred to as the “black box”) of a tractor-trailer can provide compelling evidence regarding shifting, sudden braking, speed, location, email communications between the driver and trucking company and more. Since EDR data can be lost when a big-rig is put back into service, our experienced semi-truck accident attorneys often send notice to the trucking company that indicates the semi-truck and black box are the subjects of litigation, so they must not be altered or destroyed. This letter, which is referred to as “notice of spoliation”, also will typically warn that body damage to the truck must not be repaired so that an accident reconstruction expert can examine the damage.
- Non-Compliance with Trucking Industry Regulations: Commercial carriers might adopt policies and procedures in accordance with state and federal trucking regulations but fail to implement these procedures. Violations of anti-fatigue rules and other regulations may be ignored or tacitly endorsed despite a company’s written policies to the contrary.
- Multiple Defendants: Trucking accidents can be challenging because there can be so many parties involved depending on the factors that contribute to a crash. While a brake failure could result from the failure of the trucking company to conduct required inspections, such a malfunction also could be the result of negligence by the commercial carrier’s independent maintenance company or the manufacturer of the brake system or semi-truck.
- Cooking the Books: Driver fatigue can be the key cause of a collision, but truck drivers are supposed to maintain logbooks that document hours of service. Trucking industry insiders are aware of the rampant practice of “cooking the books” or keeping dual sets of logbooks. Trucking accident lawyers carefully scrutinize black box data and other documents like fuel and lodging receipts to expose inaccurate logbook entries intended to hide HOS violations. We are also familiar with other duplicitous tactics used by trucking companies, such as scams that involve leaving the area for dating a fuel receipt blank.
Important Steps to Protect Your Rights and Remedies after a Truck Accident
Given the extensive resources available to trucking companies and their aggressive approach toward defending truck accident claims, big-rig crash accident victims are advised to take the following steps to protect their claim:
- Follow Through on All Medical Treatment: The high level of energy generated in a crash involving an 18-wheeler often causes life-altering injuries. Injury victims need to complete all diagnostic exams and follow through on the full course of treatment, rehabilitation and physical therapy. This advice typically can lead to a better prognosis, and disclosure of all symptoms and completion of your course of treatment also will help counter allegations by the trucking company and its insurance company that you are exaggerating your injuries.
- Gather Evidence: If you are physically capable of taking pictures and obtaining witness contact information, you should gather evidence at the scene. Since your injuries might be too severe to gather such evidence, you can have someone you trust do so.
- Contact an Experienced California Truck Accident Lawyer: The rapid response teams used by many trucking companies can provide an advantage because they can begin building a defense strategy almost immediately following a collision. The speed with which commercial carriers begin analyzing evidence and developing a defense strategy makes it imperative that you retain legal counsel as soon as practical to balance the scales of justice.
Our experienced truck accident attorneys at The Reeves Law Group have the experience and expertise to navigate the complex issues involved in a tractor-trailer accident. While the specific compensation available in your case will, depending on the facts, some of the damages we seek for trucking accident victims include but are not restricted to the following:
- Medical bills and rehabilitative expenses
- Pain and suffering
- Property damage and vehicle repair/replacement
- Lost income (past, present and future)
- Diminished earning potential
- Ongoing supportive care
- Impaired enjoyment of life experiences
- Burial/funeral expenses (wrongful death case)
- Exemplary damages (egregious cases)
Our California truck accident lawyers at The Reeves Law Group have obtained many substantial settlements and verdicts for our motor vehicle accident injury clients. We welcome your call so that you can schedule an immediate free consultation to learn about your rights and remedies at (800) 644-8000.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
Blower, D.; Green, P.E.; and Matteson, A. 2010. Condition of trucks and truck crash involvement: evidence from the large truck crash causation study. Transportation Research Record 2194: 21-28.
American Association of Justice