Accidents involving trucks are more involved in terms of insurance settlement than typical car crashes. The massive sizes of big trucks cause extensive damages and injuries. Additionally, the issue of compensation might get more complicated if the truck driver is an employee of a company or an independent contractor.
You need an experienced personal injury lawyer like the Orange County Personal Injury Attorney to assist you in registering a claim. Our truck accident attorneys understand truck accident case elements, including liability, causation, and damages, which improves the odds of receiving proper compensation.
Overview of Truck Accident Lawsuits
Although statistics reveal truck drivers are more careful on the road, big trucks are involved in many accidents. According to statistics from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, California is leading in terms of truck accidents. In 2015, 415,000 accidents involving trucks were reported to the police. Twenty percent of these accidents caused injuries, while 1 percent caused fatalities. The truck driver might be at fault when an accident occurs while other times, the crash might have different causes like dangerous road conditions or negligence by the other drivers.
The severity of injuries or the extent of damages caused in a truck accident depends on the load being transported. If the material loaded on the truck is highly hazardous, the injuries sustained will be more severe. Therefore apart from the damages stemming from the truck collision, the load itself can cause further harm.
If you have been injured in this type of an accident, the medical bills and other expenses resulting from the injuries can cause a lot of mental and financial stress. Fortunately, the law allows you to seek compensation from the negligent parties. To do that, you must prove liability in negligence and the negligence per se theories.
In a truck accident case, you must address the main elements of a crime, which include liability, causation, and damages to increase the chances of receiving compensation. Liability is concerned with the question of who caused the accident and will be financially and legally liable for the injuries. Causation, on the other hand, focuses on whether the negligence by the responsible party was the proximate cause of the injuries or fatality stemming from the collision. Damages refer to the injuries and damages caused and the dollar value attached to them.
Potential Defendants in a Truck Accident Case
When seeking compensation for your injuries, you must have several defendants because it increases the odds of receiving payment. Apart from the truck driver, other parties that could be defendants in these crashes include insurance companies, trucking companies, and employers.
A trucking company will be liable if you can demonstrate an employment relationship exists between them and the truck driver. In such cases, the shipping company is held responsible for the driver’s negligence. If the truck driver is an independent contractor, for the company to be liable, you must consider the amount of supervision done by the contracting company.
In case you, as the victim of the accident, sustained injuries from the collision, and the injuries were made severer by hazardous products transported by the truck at the time of the accident, you could sue the manufacturer of these products. However, the manufacturer won’t be liable if they had informed the truck driver or trucking company that the products being transported were hazardous.
Who Can Sue in a Truck Accident Case
Any person that sustains injuries because of negligent maintenance or operating of trucks by trucking companies or their representatives can register a personal injury claim against the potential defendants discussed above. The list of potential plaintiffs include minors, adults, occupants of the truck, other drivers, pedestrians, bicyclist, motorcyclists and any other party that sustains injuries in a truck crash due to another person’s negligence.
In some incidents, truck drivers could be the plaintiffs and file a claim against the liable party or entity even if they were partly to blame for the crash. If the victim of the accident dies, surviving family members could sue the responsible party on behalf of the deceased.
Truck Accident Case Settlement
Truck accidents cause life-changing injuries to their victims. They also cause extensive property damage that might require you to replace your vehicle. Apart from the physical and emotional pain these crashes cause, you end up incurring various expenses due to the outcome of the collision. Fortunately, you can seek compensation from the at-fault party through a legal process or informal settlement. Either way, you will need the guidance of a personal injury attorney specializing in truck accidents.
If you choose to settle the matter outside court, you can use mediation, arbitration, or negotiation. In most incidences, however, people opt for alternative dispute resolution (ADR) to settle matters out of court. Out of court settlements are affordable and time-saving, which is why many people opt for it before going to court.
Both parties are allowed to present their evidence to prove the person at fault and the victim. The victim then suggests the amount of money they would like to receive as compensation. If a settlement is reached, you get compensated, but you forego your right to file a claim in court against the liable party. You should, therefore, ensure that you get maximum compensation during a settlement, and if the amount of payment is low, you should turn it down and proceed to court.
Proving Elements of a Truck Accident Case
According to California Negligence law, the person whose actions or inactions results in an accident should take responsibility for the injuries and damages caused. So, if you file a lawsuit in a civil court, there are vital elements that must be proved to increase the odds of compensation. The key elements of negligence in a truck accident that your attorney should address include:
The Duty of Care
All drivers, both truck and standard car drivers have a legal obligation to drive safely while on the road to avoid injuring people or causing property damage. Drivers should observe traffic rules signage and other regulations that are in place to protect road users.
If the truck driver is the defendant in your case, your injury attorney could explore some regulations that show the driver owed you a duty of care. Where the accident was as a result of a truck driver who doesn’t meet state or federal government qualifications, your attorney could quote the California Vehicle Codes and regulations that outline the responsibilities of a truck driver.
Under California VC sections, any person operating a big commercial truck must have a special driver’s license and pass a special examination. The law forbids any person from being issued with a truck driver’s license until they pass a written and driving test that meets the federal government’s minimum requirements. For safety reasons, the law also requires truck drivers to possess a license that restricts them from operating trucks with air brakes until they pass a knowledge test of air brake components.
Truck drivers who operate double trailers, tank automobiles, or carry hazardous products must have DMV authorization to run these big trucks. On top of these requirements, truck drivers must:
- Possess a medical certificate
- Be in good health
- Be 21 years or older.
- Read and speak English.
- Operate the truck safely.
All these requirements are necessary to ensure safety when operating trucks, and it is the responsibility of these drivers to ensure they meet these requirements.
On the other hand, if the accident’s cause was negligence by the trucking company, your attorney could prove they owed you a duty of care by mentioning some of their responsibility under the law. The FMCSA requires trucking companies to keep a driver qualification file (DFQ) for all its drivers. The archive contains the following information about the driver:
- Driving records
- Employment history
- Drug and alcohol test results
- Records for service hours
- Records of vehicle maintenance
- Training certificates
- Copies of licenses
- Any medical certification
- Employment applications
Trucking companies also have a non-delegable duty to use reasonable care to equip and maintain trucks as per the law. The commercial vehicles owned by the company should be furnished as per regulations and undergo proper maintenance for safe operating.
If the manufacturer of the truck or automobile repair shop entrusted with the truck’s maintenance is negligent, you should prove they owed you a duty of care. Agencies in charge of roads also must ensure routes are safe for usage.
Once you have proved that the defendants owed you due diligence, the next step is to prove they breached that duty.
The Breach of Duty of Care
Knowing what caused the accident can help you prove the person that breached the due diligence during a lawsuit, thus enhancing your likelihood of getting compensation. Commercial big trucks pose a lot of danger to other vehicles, so all drivers need to understand the risks they pose on the road and follow all the set guidelines. That way, truck drivers and other typical motorists will drive cautiously.
Keep in mind that minor mistakes on the road are often the major causes of truck accidents. These mistakes are avoidable, and rules have been put in place to ensure the mistakes are prevented, but unfortunately, due to negligence, the errors keep happening. Discussed below are some aspects that can prove the defendant failed to adhere to rules and guidelines causing an accident:
Negligence by Other Drivers
Mistakes by typical car drivers are among the primary causes of truck accidents. Performance capabilities of trucks are different from those of standard vehicles because they don’t brake instantly and have poor visibility. Most passenger vehicle drivers are ignorant of this hence causing many accidents.
One of the common mistakes that standard vehicle drivers make is driving beside or behind a big commercial truck. These areas are known as no-zones, and standard motorists are forbidden from operating in these areas because of low or zero visibility by truck drivers. A car driving in a no-zone area has a high chance of crashing with a truck because the truck driver might not notice it.
Another mistake that typical car drivers make is changing lanes abruptly in front of a truck. Others maneuver to the right side when trucks are making a right turn, causing accidents. A standard vehicle driver might also misjudge the speed of an oncoming truck when crossing the road or making a left turn, causing a severe collision. Improper merging in traffic by a passenger car driver might cause a truck to brake instantly or maneuver. Because of the weight of the truck, the driver may lose control lamming into other vehicles.
When a truck is merging or changing lanes, standard car drivers fail to slow down or accelerate hence the reason for truck accidents. Besides, these collisions may occur during unsafe passing when a passenger car driver passing a truck comes across a crosswind, which blows the vehicle out of position into the way of the truck resulting in an accident.
If a typical car driver pulling into the highway in front of a truck fails to accelerate adequately, the mistake could lead to a truck collision. Driving in between two big trucks is also a colossal mistake by standard motorists that usually cause accidents.
Proving the other driver made any of the above mistakes while driving, leading to an accident, will be enough to show they breached their duty of care.
Negligence by Truck Drivers
If you are suing the truck driver, your attorney could prove they breached their duty by speeding, operating the truck while under the influence, or by disregarding traffic rules. Proving that the driver was operating an air brake truck without passing an airbrake exam could also show a breach of duty. If the driver didn’t possess a special driver’s license for trucks, it is an indication of a breach of duty.
As stated earlier, truck drivers are more cautious on the road than other drivers. Despite this fact, truck drivers still cause accidents by ignoring state and federal regulations. Because the trucking industry has a shortage of drivers, some drivers are forced to get behind the wheel even when they don’t meet the required qualifications. A driver who lacks the necessary training and technique to operate a truck safely has a high probability of causing a truck accident.
Trucking companies have different ways of compensating employees. However, some companies use systems that encourage drivers to speed or spend long hours behind the wheel to make more money. When a truck driver is after making more money, he or she is likely to engage in conduct that will lead to a truck accident.
California VC makes it an offense for a driver to spend long hours without rest. The purpose of the Code sections is to prohibit companies from setting unreasonable schedules and targets for truck drivers. This will encourage speeding and disregard the safety of other drivers. The need to make more money makes big truck drivers withhold information about the hours they have been on the road. Others are pressured to meet impossible schedules leading to truck collisions.
Some of the accidents occur due to the inability of drivers to function or pay attention to the road. Driving for long hours causes fatigue, making these drivers fall asleep while driving, posing a grave danger to other road users. The FMCSA has set a limit of eleven hours for truck drivers to be behind the wheel and ten others for resting before starting another shift. Failure to follow these rules risks the lives of the truck driver and the lives of other road users. You can subpoena records of their hours of service to show the driver ran the truck for more than eleven hours without rest when the accident occurred.
Negligence by the Trucking Company
Trucking firms are after making profits. Because of that, they might end up cutting corners when it comes to safety requirements and rules of transportation, thus violating the regulations that govern the industry. If a breach of any safety or transportation rules by a truck company causes an accident, the company should take the blame.
California VC 35551 makes the trucking company liable for allowing an overweight truck to get on the road. These companies, however, violate this rule by overloading trucks beyond the designated limit. An overloaded truck is a risk to truck drivers and other drivers because the chances of such a truck losing control while on the road are high.
Trucking companies also have a responsibility of ensuring their trucks are roadworthy through regular repairs and maintenance. Failing to take these automobiles for repairs makes them unsafe, and in the event of an accident, the company should carry the blame. Failing to ensure that the cargo is well balanced before proceeding with the journey is a violation of safety requirements and could cause the truck to lose balance and topple, leading to an accident.
It is the responsibility of trucking companies to recruit and train their drivers. When a company cuts corners during recruitment and training, the drivers they are going to entrust their trucks with will not be qualified, which increases the possibility of truck crashes. A company that recruits or retains incompetent drivers will be held responsible for the accidents caused by those drivers.
The routes trucks use, their weight and size are regulated by both federal and California statutes. Any trucking company that falsifies paperwork to breach these regulations should be held accountable for the truck accident outcome.
You can prove they breached their duty of care by failing to instruct the driver on the truck’s safe operation, recruiting drivers negligently, or failing to maintain the truck regularly. To prove that the trucking company hired negligently, your attorney could subpoena the trucking company to release DFQ files of the driver involved in the accident. The records will contain information that can help prove the company or the driver is liable for the accident. If the file shows the driver:
- Is unlicensed
- Operates the truck past the required hours
- Failed a drug or alcohol test
- Operates an airbrake truck whereas he or she has not passed the knowledge test
- Has no special training
- Has a suspended license
The company will be held responsible for the accident because of breaching their duty of care, which ensures the drivers they allow to operate their vehicles have complied with regulations.
Your attorney must demonstrate that the defendant’s breach of a legal duty was the direct cause of the injuries or damages. You could argue that the driver was unlicensed, and his or her lack of training or experience led to the accident. Remember that when proving causation, you must show cause-in-fact. This means that the breach of duty must have directly led to the disaster.
Suppose it’s the trucking company liable for negligence when hiring. In that case, you could argue hiring an untrained, or unlicensed driver led to the accident and that you could not have sustained the injuries if a licensed or trained driver was operating the vehicle. The inaction by the defendant to exercise due care must have led to actual damages.
Finally, you will need to prove that the accident caused direct injuries or damages. Although the physical injuries and the damage caused on your property are visible, the attorney from the opposing side will discredit your facts. For this reason, you need to be equipped with facts to support every damage you seek. If it’s medical expenses you are claiming, you must provide medical documents and receipts to support it. Some of the damages you could seek in a truck accident lawsuit include:
- Medical expenses
- Personal injury
- Wrongful death
- Lost income
- Loss of consortium
- Pain and suffering
Remember that these damages are classified either as economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages are those that have dollar value or are calculable. Non-economic damages, on the other hand, are those that are difficult to estimate.
If you are confident that all the elements of negligence in your truck accident case are present, you will still need a personal injury attorney to receive maximum compensation. An experienced attorney will know the evidence they need to prove all the elements of the case and estimate damages, which will improve your chances of reasonable compensation.
Find a Truck Accident Attorney Near Me
The secret to winning a truck accident case is identifying the liable parties and knowing the cause of the accident, which will prove the elements of negligence in your case. Luckily, at the Orange County Personal Injury Attorney, we can help you investigate the accident and elements that will help win your lawsuit. Call us today at 714-876-1959 for a free consultation.