The trucking industry is a vital part of our economy. According to the Florida Department of Highway Safety, 533,643 Florida residents hold a commercial driver’s license. Thus, Florida drivers share the roads with drivers of tractor-trailers, semi-trucks, and big-rigs. Every 16 minutes of each day in the United States, a person is injured or killed in an accident with a large truck.
When it comes to how many truck accidents happen a year, Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles reports that nearly 32,000 accidents involving a large truck occurred in Florida in one recent year. Of these accidents, 27 people died, 57 were incapacitated, and 1,053 suffered other injuries. Florida trucking accident injuries and fatalities are nearly three times higher than the national average.
How Are Truck Accidents Different Than Other Motor Vehicle Accidents?
Crashes involving commercial trucks, such as semi-trucks, tractor-trailers, and 18-wheelers, are some of the most disastrous accidents that occur on Florida roads. Dealing with the aftermath of a truck accident can be confusing and overwhelming; there is usually a great deal of time-sensitive evidence that must be collected and preserved. State and federal governments heavily regulate the trucking industry.
Truck drivers must also register with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Department of Transportation, both of which require:
- Specific maintenance for the vehicles
- Qualifications for drivers
- Annual inspections
With so many complex regulations involved, it can be difficult to determine all of the factors that play a role in your case.
What Are the Five Main Causes of Truck Accidents?
There may be more than one factor at work in a truck accident. Large trucks are enormous. They weigh far more than passenger vehicles and are higher off the ground. They are also prone to roll over during braking and crashes. Driver error, a malfunctioning truck, or improperly loaded cargo may all play a part. Causes of truck accidents may include:
1. Driver Fatigue
The most common cause of truck accidents is overworked and fatigued drivers. Truck drivers usually travel for long distances, for many hours, and with little rest. They are under pressure from the trucking companies to deliver their loads by set deadlines. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, 13 percent of commercial truck drivers were suffering from fatigue at the time of their accidents. Fatigue causes drivers to lose concentration, coordination, and even fall asleep at the wheel. As of December 2017, federal law requires electronic logging devices to control driver compliance.
2. Alcohol and Drug Use
A worldwide study of truckers found that approximately half of the drivers in the study admitted to drinking. Although, when drivers were tested, alcohol was the substance that was found the least. Truckers in the United States had the highest frequency of positive tests for alcohol at 12.5 percent of American-based drivers. Drugs of choice were generally amphetamines and cocaine, used to help keep truckers awake. Thirty percent of the drivers confessed to taking amphetamines.
In addition, some prescription drugs that the drivers may be using also have the effect of impairing their coordination and judgment, which can lead to road accidents.
3. Poor Driver Training and Truck Maintenance
Regulations require that employers train their truck drivers. However, there are poorly trained and inexperienced truck drivers on the road. Truck owners are also required by law to maintain their trucks. However, it takes time and money to maintain a truck, so owners may fail to keep up maintenance schedules. Badly maintained components, such as tires, brakes, or steering, can lead to fatal accidents.
Truck drivers are often under pressure to meet deadlines. However, sometimes unavoidable delays, such as traffic or weather conditions, can increase the pressure, and the driver may drive faster than the speed limit. While driving at high speeds, drivers may have to brake suddenly or veer into another lane. Speeding also reduces reaction time.
5. Distracted Drivers
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), truckers who are texting when driving are 23 times more likely to cause an accident. FMCSA regulations ban the following activities while driving:
- Reading texts
- Dialing a cell phone that involves using more than one button to begin or end a communication
- Holding a cellphone while making or receiving a call
- Requesting access to a web page
- Using any sort of short messaging service, email, or instant messaging application
Other distractions include using music devices, laptops, a GPS, looking at a map, eating, drinking, smoking, and reaching for something in the truck. Distraction, even for a fraction of a second, can mean the difference between safe driving and causing an accident.
What Types of Personal Injuries Occur?
Injuries suffered in a truck accident are likely to be catastrophic, such as:
- Head and brain injuries—symptoms may not be apparent at first, so it is important to get prompt treatment.
- Back and neck soft tissue injuries
- Broken bones
- Rib and torso injuries
- Spinal injuries and paralysis—spinal injuries can be very dangerous but may not be immediately noticeable, so prompt medical attention is essential.
- Wrongful death
What Are Your Legal Options?
If you have been injured in a truck accident, your legal options may seem simple and straightforward. You may even wonder if it is in your best interest to retain an attorney to represent you.
You may receive compensation for a personal injury by filing a personal injury lawsuit in court or as a result of an insurance claim. Most injury claims are based on negligence, and you also must prove that the negligence resulted in your injuries. Negligence is a “failure to behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances.”
The four key factors to negligence are:
- A duty of care must exist where a person has a legal obligation to act with reasonable care to prevent harm to others.
- Breach is a failure to perform that duty. For example, drivers have a duty to drive within the legal speed limit. Breaking the speed limit constitutes a breach of their duty of care.
- Causation is the relationship between the breach of duty and the resulting harm. In a personal injury case, the breach must have caused the harm.
- Harm is the injury suffered by the victim. Often, this means physical injury, but it may also mean mental trauma or other special forms of damages.
Some truck accidents involve complicated legal issues. In those cases, an experienced attorney will likely have the skills and resources necessary to guide you through the process. Even in less complicated cases, the insurance company’s goal is to minimize the amount of money that it must pay. Keep in mind that while most trucking companies and their insurance representatives deal with these issues every day, it may be your first contact with the legal system, particularly as a plaintiff.
The person making a claim has the burden of proving certain elements, such as fault and damages. A strong case can improve your negotiating position and, therefore, your compensation.
What’s the Difference Between a Trial and a Settlement?
In a personal injury case, such as a truck accident, the victim usually receives compensation in one of two ways. In many cases, the defendant or insurance company makes an acceptable settlement offer, or the case goes to trial. There may be settlement offers at various times during the process, starting even before the filing of a lawsuit. If the parties agree to a settlement, the injured person gives up his or her claims arising from the incident.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, only four to five percent of the personal injury cases in the United States go to trial. Representatives for the defendant often make a very low offer, but your attorney will negotiate on your behalf. People often agree to a settlement because they want to avoid a trial and conclude the matter. If the case is not settled, then it will most likely proceed to trial.
What Does a Personal Injury Lawyer Do?
Each case is unique. However, it is best to have representation from the beginning to avoid mistakes or delays in the case. It is important to know that all states have time limits, or statutes of limitations, for personal injury lawsuits. Claimants must file within those time limits. Filing a claim to obtain fair compensation for injuries is often more complicated than one might think. Even a case that appears simple at first may turn out to be highly complex. Your attorney’s work may include the following:
One of the challenges in personal injury cases is identifying all of the responsible parties and all potential defendants. In the trucking industry, there are a lot of parties who may play a role in vehicle maintenance and accident prevention, and thus many individuals who may have acted negligently.
A personal injury firm should have the skills and resources needed to gather evidence that will support the victim’s claim. Trucking companies are not required to keep certain records indefinitely. Therefore, after a truck accident, it is important to send preservation letters, requiring the company to retain records pertaining to the crash. Your legal team will gather vital evidence, such as medical records and police reports, and will find witnesses and examine the scene of the accident. There will probably also be technical evidence from the truck’s “black box” and satellite data. You may need expert testimony to establish the long-term consequences of the plaintiff’s injuries.
Negotiate With Insurance Companies
An experienced personal injury lawyer can review all of the details of the insurance policy and establish the compensation that may be available in a specific case. The lawyer will also handle all communications with the insurance company.
Prepare and File Legal Documents
If the insurance company refuses to settle, the lawyer may draft a complaint and file a lawsuit in the appropriate court, within the legal time limits. The complaint sets forth the facts of the case and how much compensation the injured person is requesting.
In a personal injury case, the discovery process allows both sides to exchange information about the case, including witnesses and other evidentiary information. After discovery is completed, both sides may be in agreement about the strengths and weaknesses of the case, which sometimes leads to a settlement.
There are four key types of discovery. Interrogatories are written questions regarding the lawsuit to be answered by the opposing party. Requests for production ask that the opposing counsel produce tangible documents for review. A request for admission is a factual statement, served on the other party, who is required to either admit, deny, or object to the statement. A deposition is a process in which a witness gives sworn testimony outside of court.
Represent Clients at Trial
If your case proceeds to trial, a personal injury lawyer will represent you in court. Your lawyer will use all of the evidence to prove the facts of your case. An enormous amount of preparation goes into any trial. Your attorney will advise and support you throughout the process.
The steps in a complete trial (assuming there is no settlement) include:
- Selecting a jury
- Making opening statements
- Examining and cross-examining witnesses
- Making closing arguments
- Knowledge of appropriate jury instructions
- Jury deliberation and verdict
Most personal injury lawyers are experienced in court procedures and know-how to present all evidence while zealously protecting your rights.
What About Compensation?
Most people do not know how much money they should seek following a truck accident. The consequences of your injuries may extend well into the future.
Depending on your injuries, there are different types of compensation available to help compensate you for your losses, including the following:
- Compensation for the cost of medical bills arising from all injuries caused by the crash
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Wrongful death
- Loss of companionship/loss of consortium
- Punitive damages. Courts only award punitive damages in cases involving gross negligence or intentional misconduct; however, the amount is statutorily limited.
Consult a Truck Accident Attorney
Truck accident claims are usually complicated and may require detailed investigations. If you or a loved one were in a truck accident, you should consult an experienced truck accident lawyer. A truck accident attorney will evaluate your case, advise you of your legal options, and guide you through the whole process.
Orlando, FL 32814