Last week, a tragedy occurred in Southern Delaware involving Freightliner tractor-trailer and a minivan: just after 10:30 PM the Freightliner failed to stop at a posted stop sign on Atlanta Road (Route 30) and drove into the path of the minivan, traveling westbound on Route 18. Police reported that the minivan was unable to avoid the tractor-trailer and subsequently collided into the right side of the Freightliner's flatbed trailer. The driver of the minivan, a 59-year-old man, died at the scene.
This tragedy occurred days before the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed criminal convictions against a North Carolina truck driver whose tractor-trailer collided with several vehicles on I-95 in Wilmington in 2019, leaving two people dead.
These catastrophes emphasize the ever-present dangers posed by congested roads, a wide-variety of vehicle types, and increases in cargo transport.
While most truck drivers are responsible, safe drivers. Others, however, push the limits of both their physical capabilities and their professional duties. Drivers may get behind the wheel fatigued or not having properly checked their vehicle. When a professional driver or trucking company fails to operate with the appropriate amount of care, dangerous accidents occur.
Common Truck Driver Distractions
The more time a truck driver spends on the road, the easier it is for them to become distracted. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are three main types of driver distractions:
- Visual distractions that cause drivers to take their eyes off the road
- Manual distractions that cause drivers to take one or both hands off the wheel
- Cognitive distractions that divert drivers' mental focus away from driving
Common distracted driving behaviors exhibited by commercial truck drivers include:
- Talking, texting, or surfing the Internet on their phone
- Adjusting the radio
- Using a dispatch device
- Eating or drinking
Truck drivers may also become distracted by things outside the vehicle, such as billboards or traffic accidents.
To reduce the number of large-truck accidents caused by distracted commercial drivers, the FMCSA implemented regulations banning truckers from using handheld mobile phone devices while operating their vehicles. The regulations specifically prohibit truck drivers from talking, texting, or even holding a cell phone while driving. Commercial truck drivers who violate these regulations may face serious sanctions, including fines of up to $2,750 or removal from service. Motor carriers who require or encourage their drivers to use handheld mobile phones behind the wheel can face fines of up to $11,000.
Additionally, the FMCSA recommends that truck drivers:
- Avoid becoming distracted by things outside the vehicle
- Avoid using a dispatch device while driving
- Refrain from reading, writing, or using paper maps while driving
- Avoid eating and drinking while driving
Injuries Associated with Truck Accidents
When a commercial driver is distracted, they may not realize that they're about to cause a collision until it's too late to take evasive action. High-speed, direct collisions can lead to a wide range of injuries for those involved, including:
- Lacerations and contusions
- Broken or crushed bones
- Internal bleeding or organ damage
Have you been hurt in a trucking accident?
If you have been hurt in a trucking accident, whether as a driver or passenger, the most important thing is to get to safety and tend to any injuries.
Call 911 to alert the police and summon the fire services or an ambulance, if necessary. If you do not need an ambulance, you should still seek medical attention promptly for any injuries. Even minor injuries can develop into major problems, or can lead to infection and scarring. Any medical reports and the police report will be important to any future insurance claim or legal claim in relation to the accident.
Gather evidence at the scene. Take photos or video, if you can safely do so, of the scene of the accident to document the position of the vehicles and the conditions at the time of the accident. Photos can also be a useful way to quickly record license plate numbers, insurance information, and similar information. Get contact details for any witnesses.
Get insurance and employer information from the truck driver. The truck driver should give you their contact details and insurance details, including insurance provider and policy number. Often truck accidents involve commercial vehicles so you should also get contact details for the truck driver's employer and/or transportation company. Sometimes this information will be displayed on the cab or body of the truck.
Do not admit fault. You should not admit any fault or liability at the scene of the accident or at any time before speaking to an experienced trucking accident attorney. You should not speak to any representatives of the trucking company or other involved parties, or their insurers, before getting legal advice. Any statements that you make could be used to reduce your entitlement to compensation for your injuries from an insurance company or in a lawsuit.
Talk to a trucking accident attorney. It is important to understand and protect your legal rights after a truck accident by talking to an attorney at the earliest opportunity. Most attorneys, including the trucking accident attorneys at Morris James, will offer you a free, no obligation consultation to review your case.
Do you really need a lawyer if you have been hurt in a trucking accident?
In short, yes. It is always advisable to get legal advice if you have been hurt in a road traffic accident, and it is essential in a trucking accident.
Any accident involving a truck has the potential to be more complex than other road traffic accidents because of the increased severity of injuries and the number of parties involved. A car accident often only involves the driver and their personal auto insurance policy. However, a trucking accident may involve the truck driver, their employer or hiring company, a trucking and transportation company, the cargo loaders and handlers, the truck manufacturer, the truck maintenance company, and the commercial insurers of any, or all, of these parties. Each of these parties and their insurers will try to reduce their own exposure by shifting blame for the accident on to another party, or onto you. It is especially risky for you if the parties have a business relationship that they want to continue. In those situations, it would be in their best interest to protect each other and try to point the finger of blame at you. You should have a lawyer who understands the relationship between all of these parties, who will explain the law and your rights to you, and who will speak on your behalf to the other parties and their insurers.
Trucks that are involved in interstate commerce are subject to federal regulations. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issues and enforces safety regulations for commercial vehicles that are operating interstate, which regulate driving hours, driver physicals, safety inspections, and vehicle maintenance schedules. Drivers and trucking companies are required to keep detailed records of driving hours and maintenance. These regulations are complex and may be crucial in a trucking accident claim. If a driver has not taken the legally mandated driving breaks or a truck has not been maintained in accordance with federal regulations, the driver or trucking company is more likely to be considered at least partly at fault in the accident. It is advisable to have the advice of an experienced trucking accident lawyer who understands the state and federal laws that are relevant to your claim.
Businesses and insurers that are involved in a trucking accident will almost always offer an unrepresented victim less compensation than a victim who has a lawyer.Truck drivers and trucking companies are required by law to carry insurance that typically has higher coverage amounts than a standard auto insurance policy. Big businesses and insurers will have their own lawyers, legal departments, and deep pockets to handle accidents and claims. On the other side, unrepresented victims are sometimes unaware of all of the types of compensation that they are entitled to by law, or they underestimate their expenses. An experienced trucking accident attorney will ensure that you do not overlook or undervalue your expenses and help to maximize your compensation. Your compensation as an injured victim in a trucking accident should include:
- Medical expenses
- Future medical expenses
- Lost wages and future lost earnings
- Pain and suffering a.k.a non-economic damages
Calculating these expenses requires more than just gathering up doctor bills (though that is a very important step.) It requires estimating and calculating ALL of the harm caused to you by the accident, including how much your care may cost in the future, how much your ability to earn a living will be affected by your injuries, and attempting to put a dollar amount on your emotional trauma. Non-economic damages are particularly difficult for a victim to value. These can include physical and psychological damage caused by the accident, physical discomfort, fear, anxiety, insomnia, and loss of enjoyment of life. The amount of these damages will be affected by your lifestyle before and after the accident, the length of your recovery, and, if you go to trial, by what a jury thinks is reasonable.
You deserve and need the knowledge and skill of a trucking accident attorney to ensure that you are properly compensated and can afford to pay your bills into the future.
There is no risk in talking to a lawyer
If you have been hurt in a trucking accident, you will have a lot of questions. A lawyer can answer many of these for you. Most lawyers will discuss your case with you before you have to make any commitment to them. They will listen to your story, and explain your rights and how their fees are paid. Many trucking accident attorneys will take your case on a contingency, or "no-win-no-fee," basis, which means that their fees are paid out of any compensation or settlement that you receive. You only have to pay their fees if you receive compensation or a settlement.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.