According to a report released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration), approximately 4,300 buses and large trucks were involved in fatal car accidents in 2015. In addition to that, 8,700 trucks were involved in serious injury accidents. This is an eight percent increase in the truck accidents reported the previous year. What is not always clear is what occurs after the crash. Will you be compensated for the damages? If so, by whom? To get these answers, you need to seek legal advice by consulting one of the experienced lawyers at the Orange County Personal Injury Attorney.
Different Parties Who Can be Held Accountable for Truck Accidents
One of the initial steps towards recovering compensation after suffering truck accident injuries in Orange County is identifying the prospective defendant in the case. In short, who caused the truck accident and whom you and your personal injury attorney will bring legal action against.
There can be several parties who can be accountable for the injuries resulting from the accident. However, it is worth noting that most trucking firms use deceitful tactics to prevent victims from bringing personal injury claims against them as well as protect themselves from liability.
Discussed below are different parties who could be held accountable for a truck accident:
Driver's mistake is one of the most common reported causes of truck accidents. The accident can be because of the motorist:
- Was tired before the collision
- Suffered a disease that rendered the driver unfit to drive the truck
- Drove the commercial truck while under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- Was distracted hence failed to observe and pay attention to the road or their surroundings
- Did not anticipate risks in the road
- Broke traffic laws like running red lights and speeding
- Got involved in reckless driving such as tailing other motorists
- Broke the FMCSA's (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) hours of service rule which regulate the number of hours a driver should drive before taking a break
If you sustained commercial truck accident injuries, your lawyer will review the accident and investigate whether the driver has any infractions on their driving record. To get the truck's speed before the accident, your lawyer will also collect data recorded by the black box or truck's event data record.
When Does a Trucking Company Become Liable for a Truck Accident?
Commercial trucking firms should hire skilled drivers, train them, and use alcohol and drug screening to stop substance abuse. In case the firm does not uphold this responsibility, it will be held responsible for the accident.
You can be in a position to seek compensation from a trucking firm if the company:
Hired Incompetent Drivers
Often commercial trucking companies try to fill the rush of employing new drivers because there are few truck motorists in the county. As a result, the companies send out drivers who either don't have adequate training, no experience with large vehicles, or have several traffic violations on the road. If the motorist doesn't have a CDL (commercial driver's license), an understanding of traffic guidelines or laws, or any other necessary qualifications, the company should be held accountable for any accident the driver causes.
Concealing or Failing to Report
There are several violations that an untrained truck driver can commit when traveling throughout California, including:
- Driving while drunk
- Truck exceeding the weight limit
- Inadequate rest breaks and sleep
- Safety violations like running red lights and speeding
The trucking firm is held accountable if it encourages the habits or turns a blind eye when the truck motorist violates traffic laws.
Failure to Maintain and Inspect the Truck
If the firm owns the vehicle, it should maintain the truck and inspect it for repairs regularly. Maintenance and inspections prevent mechanical system failures as well as avoid possible wrongly adjusted items on the truck. Also, there are defects the firm can discover when inspecting the vehicle alongside items like brake pads and tires that require replacement.
Failing to Make Sure the Truck is Well-Loaded
Checking whether a truck is properly loaded involves measuring and confirming all equipment and straps are in place. If a truck doesn't have secured cargo or balance, it could fall or result in the truck rolling over. The vehicle could jackknife and cause a severe road accident that may cause catastrophic injuries or even death.
Failing to Comply with Federal Regulations
Federal regulations require trucking firms hiring drivers to offer time for sleep, break, and rest. Every truck driver should have downtime to get away from the truck and rest. Fatigued truckers experience sleepiness, distractions while driving, jittery nerves resulting from consuming a lot of caffeine to stay awake, delayed reaction time, impaired judgment, and headaches.
If a trucking firm is accountable for failing to adhere to the above federal mandated guidelines, it could be held accountable for your compensation payout.
A firm that loads a commercial truck with a load should make sure the truck's contents are safe and secured for travel. If the injuries are cargo-related, your personal injury attorney will analyze the following when determining if the loading firm is accountable:
- Was the load exposed?
- Was the cargo loose or unsecured before your accident?
- Did the tractor-trailer or truck fall over or trip because the load's weight was not properly distributed?
- Did the cargo or truck's content fall from the truck?
Your attorney will also evaluate the vehicle's cargo records to learn whether it is the loader, transporter, or shipment owner who was responsible for safeguarding the truck's contents.
Truck Parts Manufacturer
Another common root cause of truck accidents in California is mechanical failures and defective parts. If faulty parts caused the accident, you could be in a position to seek compensation from the manufacturer.
Although most mechanical challenges are due to insufficient maintenance, the factors below can indicate your truck accident was as a result of a defective truck part:
- Defective lighting
- Transmission failure
- Broken trailer hitch
- Tire blowouts
- Brake failure
- Steering system failure
Any experienced attorney will evaluate the truck's maintenance logs to check if the car owner's negligence caused the mechanical challenges or not. Besides that, the attorney will investigate to find out whether the truck's part or make/brand is included in a recall or is popularly known as defective.
City or County Government
In California, government entities can be held responsible for injuries that take place in their ground. Therefore, it is essential to take a look at the area where the accident has happened. Is it poorly maintained? Was there poor visibility that contributed to the accident's circumstances? If so, the government authority accountable for maintaining that area or for the design could be partially accountable for the circumstances that caused the crash.
It could also because a negligent truck driver who is a government employee caused your accident. Since the government employs the driver, the authority that employs them should compensate you for the injuries suffered.
Getting compensation from a government entity can be overwhelming and requires strong legal representation
Can a Trucking Company be Held Responsible for a Worker's Negligence?
The answer is yes.
This is because of a legal principle called "respondeat superior''. The Latin phrase means let the superior make a reply.
A trucking company will compensate you for the damages provided:
- The employee's act was not deliberate, and
- The act was committed in the course and scope of the worker's job and job responsibilities.
Sometimes the respondeat superior imputes or transfers the truck driver's accountability to the motorist's employer as if the firm itself was the negligent party. However, this occurs depending on factors like:
Was the negligent driver a contractor?
For you to recover compensation from a trucking firm, you should present evidence that the negligent motorist was a worker of the firm. This is because a truck company can't be held responsible if the motorist is an independent contractor.
The motorist is an independent contractor if:
- They were driving a truck that they own, insure, and maintain, and
- The trucking company doesn't hold back taxes from the motorist's income.
As a result, the liability for your injuries will fall only on the motorist.
Course and Scope of Employment
Determining the motorist's course and scope of employment is difficult. Usually, the court will put into consideration the nature, location, and time of the negligent act as well as the independence level the driver usually has when performing their duties.
A trucking company cannot be accountable for the intentional conduct of its employees. A perfect example is a truck motorist who intentionally crashed into another car after a road rage occurrence.
But if the employee collided with you while on the job, the truck firm will be accountable for the injuries sustained. This is because the motorist was acting within their course and action of their job.
What Happens When Multiple Liable Parties are Involved?
California follows a pure comparative negligence rule when more than one party is liable for a personal injury. Under this rule, every party found liable for the accident is accountable for their portion of fault. This is done to make sure you recover at least a percentage of the damages you suffer. Additionally, it will prevent you from receiving compensation caused by your own fault.
Assume you collide with a truck driver. The truck driver runs a stop sign while you are speeding. While the truck driver could be eighty percent to blame, you are twenty percent liable for the truck accident. If your total damages amount to one hundred dollars, your damages will be reduced by twenty percent. That means you will be rewarded eighty thousand dollars.
It is worth noting that pure comparative negligence rule applies in cases where the court determines the accountability of the parties involved. It can also apply when an insurance adjuster is evaluating a personal injury claim. They may decide on the percentage of liability of all parties involved and then make a settlement based on the decision.
What is the Role of the Law Enforcers in Identifying Liability After a Truck Accident?
After a truck accident, it's wise to stay at the accident scene until the police reach. This is particularly essential if you think the truck driver caused the accident. The police will interview all parties involved in the crash as well as witnesses. This will help the police get a clear picture of what took place.
The police will then put the account in a police report, which can include their opinion of who caused the collision. Even if the report contains a statement regarding liability, the statement does not necessarily determine legal responsibility. Instead, it could be convincing to the court and insurance providers when determining fault.
Moreover, if the law enforcers think that the truck driver broke the law, they will issue a citation, investigate further, or arrest the motorist. For instance, if the driver looks drunk, the police can perform chemical tests to get concrete proof if the motorist was illegal driving while drunk.
If the truck driver is charged with an offense or cited, this is enough evidence of fault that is hard to challenge.
Are There Other Ways to Determine Fault?
In most cases, the police get it right approximately eighty percent. But 20% of the time, the police report is wrong. This is true when a victim cannot speak for themselves because they were severely injured and was rushed to the hospital or even died on the spot. In this case, the police will only take in the account given by the other party and document that in their report.
If you get an experienced personal injury lawyer, the attorney will engage investigators and accident reconstruction experts who will measure all skid marks as well as determine what took place from the damage on the cars. Your lawyer will also talk to the ambulance personnel and witnesses who aren't included in the police report.
Proving Fault in a Truck Accident
To recover damages in a truck accident in Orange County, you should prove that:
- The defendant owed you a duty of care,
- The defendant breached the duty of care through negligence or carelessness, and
- The negligence was a significant factor in causing your injuries.
To get a better understanding of how liable parties in a commercial truck accident are determined, here are the definitions of key legal terms:
Duty of Care
According to California's personal injury law, people owe others a duty of care. Often, the law created the duty. For instance, a truck driver has the responsibility to adhere to traffic laws so that they cannot create the risk of pedestrian knockdowns or accidents.
What the duty is and whether the duty is owed depends on the case circumstances.
The law defines negligence as failing to apply reasonable caution to prevent injuries to oneself or others. An individual is negligent when they:
- Do something that a reasonably cautious person wouldn't do in a similar situation or
- Fail to act in a similar situation that a reasonably cautious person would do in a similar situation
Truck Accident Injuries
Generally, in a truck accident, the occupants of a passenger car suffer more severe damage compared to the truck driver. This is because a tractor-trailer can weigh about 80,000 pounds. Even without towing a trailer, a truck could weigh more than twenty thousand pounds. Moreover, trucks are higher off the ground, giving the truck driver an advantage over other motorists.
Injuries suffered in a truck accident depend on factors such as:
- The trailer and truck's weight
- Areas of the crash (is it urban or rural?)
- Safety features of the vehicle
- Speed of the cars involved
- Vehicle model
The most severe truck accident involves car damage, where passengers are trapped inside. It may need emergency response to rescue the victims. The longer it takes to free the occupants and receive medical care, the more severe the injuries can get. Trapped victims are at an increased risk of sustaining severe burns as well as bleeding to death.
Common truck accident injuries include:
- Neck and Back Injuries
This includes injuries like dislocated discs in the spine. Since your neck and back are very instrumental in almost everything you do, these injuries could prevent you from performing your daily activities and work responsibilities.
- Broken Bones
Due to the weight of a truck, you are more likely to suffer broken bones after a truck accident than in a car wreck.
- Paralysis and Spinal Cord Injuries
Injuries to your spine can be devastating and result in paralysis. The injury does not manifest immediately. That is why if you get involved in a truck accident, you need to seek medical attention.
- Seat Belt Injuries
Even though seat belts are designed to protect you, they can result in injuries such as whiplash.
- Rib Injuries
Truck accident injuries to your ribs are fatal since the ribs protect vital organs in your body.
- Head Injuries
Trauma to the head in a truck accident can lead to brain injury, which could be life-altering. It is important to understand that a brain injury can happen even in the absence of direct trauma as a result of rapid acceleration, deceleration, or whiplash. Suffering a brain injury does not always mean being knocked unconscious.
You may experience symptoms such as vision challenges, cognitive difficulties, nausea, and confusion.
Statute of Limitations
To recover compensation, you should bring a personal injury claim against the liable party. Nonetheless, it is worth noting that the lawsuit should be brought within a given amount of time (statute of limitations). Otherwise, you lose the entitlement to the compensation. Here is what you should know:
Personal Injury Claim Involving Injuries
The deadline for bringing a personal injury claim is two (2) years from the date of the truck accident. Well, it could look like you have a lot of time, but time will fly quicker than you think. As a result, it is imperative to take legal action immediately.
Claims Against Government Authorities
Like previously mentioned, government authorities are sometimes accountable for truck accidents. If injured by a government employee, you have six months to file the lawsuit against the at-fault entity. For this reason, it is wise to involve an experienced personal injury attorney who will help you move quickly.
The deadline for filing a wrongful death claim is two (2) years from the date of your loved one's demise. Assume your loved one got injured in a truck collision and was dashed to the hospital where they stayed for two weeks before succumbing to the accident injuries. In this scenario, you have 2 years from the date of death, not the date of the accident to file the lawsuit.
But, if your loved one died on the spot, you have two (2) years from the date of the truck accident.
Different Types of Damages Awarded by Liable Parties
Compensatory damages are designed to compensate you for the losses suffered in the truck accident. In California, there are two types of compensatory damages. They include economic and non-economic damages.
Economic damages are damages whose dollar value can be determined. They reimburse the financial expenses you have incurred or will incur in the future. They could include:
- Medical expenses (ER treatment, medical supplies, ambulance, and medical supplies)
- Lost wages
- Vehicle repair
- Lost earning capacity
Non-economic damages, on the other hand, are hard to attach a dollar figure. This is because they are losses that you have suffered emotionally. They include:
- Emotional distress
- Loss of consortium
- Loss of enjoyment in life
- Pain and suffering
- Physical disfigurement or disability
Sometimes a plaintiff can be awarded punitive damages if the liable party caused the accident through extreme carelessness or intentionally or acted with malice. Punitive damages are designed to punish the responsible party for their reprehensible actions.
Find a Truck Accident Attorney Near Me
If you have been injured in a truck accident, you can recover damages by filing a personal injury claim. Like previously mentioned, to have a claim, you need to determine who the liable party was and prove whether they were negligent. However, a successful personal injury claim depends heavily on the legal skills and knowledge of a competent personal injury lawyer. The legal team at Orange County Personal Injury Attorney is well conversant with both California traffic laws and personal injury laws. Call us at 714-876-1959 to book your initial consultation.