How It Can Affect Your Life and What Legal Options You Have
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, there are over 100,000 people harmed or killed each year because of large truck accidents. When roads become slick or visibility is limited, these accidents can become even more deadly and frequent. Many truck drivers have difficulty controlling their vehicles on these hazardous roadways.
Florida’s residents know that when storms hit, they can hit hard—often causing unrelenting rain and poor visibility that can impair any motorist’s visibility. Even though truck drivers are trained to handle these adverse conditions, devastating accidents still happen, and innocent victims are left to suffer debilitating injuries, extreme pain, and astronomical medical expenses that will forever impact them and their family’s lives.
In this blog post, we will delve into the topic of truck driving during adverse conditions and the accidents that can result. While also helping you understand the legal options you can pursue when one of these trucking accidents turns your life upside down.
General Hours of Service Guidelines for Truck Drivers
To reduce the number of trucking accidents in the United States, the Federal government established hours of service regulations for truck drivers. These regulations dictate not only how many hours per day a driver can travel, but also how many rest breaks these drivers need to take.
Among these regulations:
- Truck drivers cannot work more than 60 hours on-duty over seven consecutive days or 70 hours over eight days.
- Truck drivers must take a mandatory 30-minute break by their eighth hour of coming on duty.
- Truck drivers may work for up to 14 hours following ten hours off duty; however, drivers are limited to 11 hours of driving time.
- The 14-hour duty period can be extended with off-duty time for fuel stops or other breaks.
- Each duty period begins with at least 10 hours off-duty.
- A reset occurs when a driver has had marked 34 consecutive hours off duty.
The Adverse Driving Conditions Exception and How Commercial Drivers Must Still Account for Such Conditions
In addition to these standard hours of service guidelines, the FMCSA recently issued some updates to these rules, which specifically laid out numerous exceptions that allow commercial truck drivers extra time (up to two hours) to complete their routes if they encounter unexpected delays due to traffic congestion or weather issues. For instance, if a driver has a maximum driving window of 14 hours, the driver may have 16 hours if bad weather delayed their drive.
These new rules were designed to allow drivers to wait out bad or unexpected weather and traffic, rather than risking an accident by trying to complete the trip before the adverse weather hit. With this extra two-hour window, the hope was that truck drivers could make proper safety decisions regarding their route without worrying about running out of time.
However, in addition to this adverse driving conditions exception, FMCSA regulations still indicate that if a commercial vehicle is traveling in these hazardous conditions, it must do so with extreme caution. Thus, if a driver fails to use this caution when the conditions are poor because of rain, fog, smoke, or mist, the driver may face liability for any resulting accidents.
How Do Adverse Driving Conditions Result In Trucking Accidents
According to the U.S. Federal Highway Administration, over 20 percent of all vehicle accidents are weather-related. Ice, snow, sleet, and even rain can create treacherous driving conditions that can impact a motorist’s ability to stop. This situation may prove even worse for truck drivers since these trucks can weigh almost 20 to 30 times more than a typical motor vehicle, which makes stopping a truck more difficult, even on a good day.
However, when road conditions are slick, sudden stops can cause the tractor and the truck’s trailer to fall out of balance because of a lack of friction, leading to jackknifing, which happens when the front and the back end of the truck fold into one another forming a “V” or “L” shape. These jackknifing incidents are incredibly dangerous for other motorists on the road, as the truck driver will often have no control over the vehicle.
Another leading cause of truck accidents in adverse conditions is rollover accidents, which occur when truck drivers do not adjust their speed to curves on the road. When roads are wet, conditions are slick, or visibility is poor, rollover accidents pose a particularly high risk, as drivers will have even less control when going around these curves. When these rollovers happen, it causes the truck to crash into other motor vehicles in its path or block every lane of traffic, causing terrifying collisions.
Common Types of Trucking Accident Injuries
If a trucking accident does not kill a victim, these accidents often end up leaving victims to suffer catastrophic and devastating injuries that forever change their quality of life.
Some of these horrific injuries include:
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Head and neck injuries
- Deep lacerations
- Spinal cord damage
- Severe fractures and broken bones
- Soft tissue injuries
- Knee and foot injuries
- Back injuries
- Internal injuries
- Internal bleeding
- Wrongful death
Who Is Responsible for a Trucking Accident
Even though adverse conditions may contribute to a trucking accident, you must consider all of the circumstances surrounding the crash before determining the accident’s cause, including the driver’s behavior, the road conditions, and the weather conditions at the time of the accident.
Truck drivers need to account for the conditions in which they are driving, their personal state, and their truck’s safety any time that they drive through adverse conditions. Consequently, if drivers fail to slow down while driving in the rain or try to cut off other vehicles when the conditions make it hard to see, and a collision occurs, the drivers may face liability for their negligent actions and responsibility for the victim’s harm and damages that result.
If the accident occurred while the truck driver is on the job, the trucking company may also face accountability for its driver’s actions.
Damages Available Following a Trucking Accident
If you have suffered harm in a trucking accident due to a truck driver’s negligent actions, you may qualify to recover specific types of compensation. Typically, in Florida, this compensation includes economic, non-economic, and punitive damages.
Economic damages: These damages are actual and verifiable losses that result from the accident and typically include:
- Medical bills, including past, present, and future medical expenses, such as doctor visits, prescription medications, surgeries, hospital stay, and rehabilitative therapy
- Lost wages
- Lost earning capacity
- Personal property damages
- At-home nursing care
- Replacement services
- Other out-of-pocket expenses
Non-economic damages: These damages are losses that result from an accident, but unlike economic damages, they are more subjective and not easy to quantify. Non-economic damages include:
- Pain and suffering
- Mental anguish
- Loss of consortium
- Loss of companionship
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Loss of reputation
- Loss of a limb
Punitive damages: In exceptional cases, victims may also recover punitive damages. However, unlike the other types of damages, which compensate victims for their losses, punitive damages punish defendants for their egregious actions and deter them and others from committing these acts again. Yet, for a court to grant punitive damages in Florida, the victim must show with clear and convincing evidence that the defendant engaged in intentional misconduct or gross negligence.
Proving Negligence in a Trucking Accident
It is not uncommon for trucking companies and truck drivers to blame their accidents on bad weather or adverse conditions to avoid paying damages to victims. However, if a trucking company or driver caused your accident due to negligence, you should hold the at-fault party accountable. If the truck driver’s negligent actions caused your accident, for example, you should hold the driver accountable.
To prove that the driver was negligent, you need to establish:
- The defendant owed you a duty of care;
- The defendant breached this duty of care;
- This breach resulted in an accident in which you suffered extensive injuries; and
- These injuries have caused you to endure losses and damages.
Working with an experienced truck accident lawyer can help you tackle these complex arguments and show that these trucking company’s and their drivers must face accountability for their actions.
Be Careful What You Say to the Insurance Companies
Insurance companies are businesses first and foremost, and they want to make a profit. Consequently, the less money they pay you for your claim, the more money they end up making. That is why insurance adjusters will try any tactic they can to get you to admit fault for the accident, so they can reduce the amount of your claim or deny it altogether.
When you are talking to these adjusters following your trucking accident, you need to remember that what you say can hurt you. This means that you need to avoid making any definitive statements about the incident or apologizing for any part of the accident. Instead, you just need to relay the basics of what happened and let these adjusters know that all future communications should involve your attorney. Once a skilled truck accident lawyer takes over these discussions, the lawyer can ensure that you do not say anything that may impact your claim while fighting for maximum compensation.
The Statute of Limitations Following a Trucking Accident
The statute of limitations is a law that sets the maximum amount of time you have to file your legal claim following an alleged offense. If you do not file your case within this time frame, you may miss out on collecting compensation for your injuries.
In Florida, the statute of limitations to file a claim following a trucking accident is four years from the accident date; however, there are numerous exceptions to this rule that can change the amount of time you have to file your case. That is why you should not wait. If you want to protect your rights, you need to speak to an experienced trucking accident lawyer as quickly as possible.
These attorneys can not only figure out exactly how much time you have to file your claim but also ensure that your legal documents are filed correctly and before the statute of limitations expires.
How Can an Experienced Truck Accident Attorney Help You With Your Claim
Trucking accident claims are extremely complicated to prove and may involve multiple parties that add complexity to the case. Trying to determine who was at fault for a trucking accident when the weather conditions were poor can prove incredibly daunting.
Fortunately, you do not have to tackle these legal complexities on your own. When you work with an experienced truck accident lawyer, we can provide you the assistance you require to get through this challenging ordeal:
- We can make sure to go over your case in detail, answer any questions you may have, and determine which legal options you should consider pursuing.
- We can investigate the accident thoroughly, secure valuable evidence, and prepare a comprehensive claim on your behalf.
- We can handle the negotiations with the insurance company from a position of strength and make sure to get you a fair settlement.
- We can bring in the experts, such as accident reconstructionists, engineers, economists, and doctors, to substantiate your claims.
- We can take your case to trial, if needed, and fight for the maximum compensation on your behalf.
If you or a loved one has suffered harm in a trucking accident, do not wait any longer to get the legal help you need. Instead, contact an experienced trucking accident attorney today for a free consultation and start fighting for justice and compensation. An attorney can help you understand all of your legal options, determine your best path forward, and represent your interests every step of the way.