Were You Injured In An Accident With An 18-Wheeler?
When 18-wheelers or semi-trucks collide with passenger vehicles, the consequences are usually devastating and in many cases result in catastrophic injuries or wrongful deaths.
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When 18-wheelers or semi-trucks collide with passenger vehicles, the consequences are usually devastating and in many cases result in catastrophic injuries or wrongful deaths.
Any motor vehicle accident can be serious, but accidents involving large commercial trucks like 18-wheelers, tractor-trailers and semi-trucks tend to be exponentially more dangerous and often result in catastrophic injuries or death to those involved. Compared to the average passenger car, which weighs around 5,000 pounds, a fully-loaded 18-wheeler weighs roughly 80,000 pounds and can cause an enormous amount of damage in an accident, not to mention personal injury or death. If you or someone you love has been injured in an 18-wheeler accident through no fault of your own, you may have grounds to file a lawsuit against the truck driver, the trucking company, the truck manufacturer, or other potentially liable parties, in order to pursue the financial compensation you deserve for your injuries and losses. Our consumer advocates at the Consumer Justice Foundation are committed to protecting the rights of 18-wheeler accident victims, and we can help put you in touch with an experienced attorney who specializes in personal injury cases.
18-Wheeler Accidents and Lawsuits
Accidents involving 18-wheelers and semi-trucks can have catastrophic consequences for vehicle occupants, especially when a collision occurs between an 18-wheeler and a much smaller, lighter passenger car or truck, which offers far less protection for occupants. Unfortunately, when truck drivers and trucking companies are negligent, careless or reckless and an accident occurs, other drivers and passengers are the ones who typically suffer serious and potentially life-threatening injuries, which can completely alter the course of their life and rob their loved ones of much-needed emotional and financial support. For injured victims and their family members, pursuing legal action in the form of a truck accident lawsuit may be the best option for holding negligent drivers and trucking companies liable for their actions. Too often though, the insurance companies representing trucking companies will attempt to minimize their potential liability for an accident by pressuring victims into accepting lump-sum settlements that are far less than what they are actually entitled to. A skilled personal injury attorney will fight to protect your rights and ensure that you receive the full amount of compensation you deserve for the harm you have suffered, whether that means pursuing a settlement or filing a lawsuit.
Who is at Risk for a Trucking Accident?
Our economy in the United States relies on semi-trucks, tractor-trailers, 18-wheelers and other large commercial trucks to transport raw materials and finished goods and products across the country, usually from manufacturing plants to retail distribution centers, where they are stocked before being redistributed to retailers, wholesalers, or directly to consumers. These trucks are also widely used in the construction industry, to move heavy loads and transport building materials used in construction, and in other industries to haul essential cargo. In fact, commercial trucks are responsible for the majority of freight movement over land in the U.S., serving everything from construction sites and gas stations to retail stores, banks and hospitals.
As a result of this dependence on commercial freight, our highways and roadways in the U.S. are becoming more and more congested with large trucks, which puts other drivers at a greater risk of being involved in an 18-wheeler accident. Commercial trucks weigh around 20 times as much as passenger cars and they are not able to maneuver as easily or stop as quickly as standard vehicles, which poses a significant hazard to all drivers on U.S. roadways. In 2019 alone, 4,119 people were killed in large truck crashes, and 67% of those accident victims were occupants of cars and other passenger vehicles. Comparatively, only 16% were truck occupants. Unfortunately, it doesn’t necessarily matter how careful you are behind the wheel if you are sharing the road with an 18-wheeler. Virtually any driver – young or old, experienced or inexperienced – can be injured in an accident with a commercial truck through no fault of their own.
Where Do 18-Wheeler Accidents Occur?
Because commercial trucks are tasked with hauling freight across the country as quickly and efficiently as possible, you might assume that the majority of catastrophic 18-wheeler accidents happen on America’s busiest, fastest-moving highways. However, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that only 31% of all fatal 18-wheeler truck accidents in 2018 took place on U.S. freeways, interstates and expressways, while a whopping 64% took place on other lower-capacity roadways, including principal arterial, minor arterial, major collector and minor collector roads. The remaining 5% of fatal truck accidents that year took place on local roads. Furthermore, of all the fatal crashes involving large trucks in 2018, 56.7% happened in rural areas, while 42.6% happened in cities, or urban areas.
Common Causes of Semi-Truck Accidents
Despite increased awareness about the dangers of 18-wheeler accidents and improved safety measures aimed at minimizing the risk of these types of accidents on U.S. roadways, trucking accidents continue to occur with alarming frequency in this country. Learning about some common causes of trucking accidents in the U.S. can help prevent future accidents from occurring and could also serve to strengthen your personal injury case if a truck driver, trucking company or another party is responsible for your accident injuries. Just like in a standard car accident, there are many different factors that can cause or contribute to an 18-wheeler accident, including the following:
- Driver error/negligence
- Driver fatigue
- Driving under the influence
- Distracted driving
- Poor driver training
- Defective tires
- Brake failure
- Defective products or truck parts
- Cargo load problems
- Violations of vehicle weight restrictions
- Violations of Hours-of-Service rules
- Mechanical malfunctions
- Improper vehicle maintenance
- Inadequate safety measures
- Negligent hiring or retention of drivers
- Poor weather or road conditions
18-Wheeler Accident Injuries
Because of the sheer size and weight of commercial trucks, the consequences of an 18-wheeler accident can be devastating for everyone involved, but especially for drivers and passengers in standard cars or trucks. The following are some common injuries that can occur when an 18-wheeler is involved in a collision with another vehicle:
- Broken bones
- Head injury
- Back injury
- Neck injury
- Seat belt injuries
- Spinal cord injury
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
- Internal bleeding
- Wrongful death
What to Do After an Accident with a Big-Rig
If you have been involved in an accident with an 18-wheeler, you are probably wondering what to do next. Taking the right actions after a trucking accident can help ensure that your legal rights are protected and can also give you the best chance at recovering full and fair compensation for your injuries and losses, and it begins right from the moment the accident occurs.
Call the Police
First and foremost, you should call the police after being involved in a collision with an 18-wheeler. The responding officer will most likely interview the involved parties and any witnesses and make an official report of the accident. He or she may even include a statement about who was at fault for the accident, based on his or her interpretation of events. You want to be honest when you talk to the police, but you should never admit any fault, even if you think you are partially to blame for the accident.
Get the Truck Driver’s Information
If you can safely exit your vehicle, you should get the truck driver’s name and contact information. As they say, a picture says a thousand words, so use your phone to take photos of your vehicle, the truck, and the scene of the accident at this time as well.
Write Down the Names of Any Witnesses
Eye witnesses can be crucial to the outcome of a truck accident case. If there were any other drivers, passengers or pedestrians who witnessed your accident, make sure you write down their names and contact information. If your case goes to trial, these witnesses could play an integral role in corroborating your version of events.
Seek Medical Attention
Whether or not you notice any physical injuries on your person, it is always a good idea to see a doctor right away after being involved in an 18-wheeler accident. There are some truck accident injuries that may not be immediately evident, such as whiplash or internal bleeding, and you will want to get checked out by a doctor to prevent your condition from worsening. By seeking treatment immediately after the accident, you can also prove that any injuries you sustained were caused by the accident and not by something else. If you wait to get medical help, the cause of your injuries could become more difficult to prove.
Keep a File About Your Case
Create a file with as much as documentation as possible relating to your accident, including detailed notes about the events leading up to and including the accident, your medical records, information about the truck driver and witnesses, and any other evidence you obtained at the scene. You could even request a copy of the official police report to include in the file. Keeping a file about your case will help you avoid forgetting anything important about the accident, and if you decide to sue, you can present this file to your attorney as a starting point.
Contact an Experienced Truck Accident Attorney
For those who have been injured or lost a loved one in an 18-wheeler accident, the best thing you can do is contact a personal injury attorney who has experience handling commercial truck accident claims. As you’ll see below, commercial truck accidents are not the same as accidents involving standard passenger cars. Truck drivers are held to higher standards than everyday drivers, the trucking industry is very tightly regulated at the federal, state and local levels, and the consequences of 18-wheeler accidents tend to be far more severe than regular car accidents, which means the stakes are higher, too. While there isn’t any law requiring you to hire an attorney after being injured in a trucking accident, retaining a skilled attorney to represent your side can make all the difference in your case.
Trucking Accident Prevention
Who is Liable for 18-Wheeler Accidents?
Negligent Truck Drivers
Safely operating a Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) requires a higher degree of skill, knowledge, experience, and physical ability than driving a non-commercial vehicle, and commercial truck drivers are required to undergo special training and pass both skills and knowledge testing in order to obtain a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL). According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), these drivers are also “held to a higher standard when operating any type of motor vehicle on public roads.” And “serious traffic violations committed by a CDL holder can affect their ability to maintain their CDL certification.” These higher standards mean truck drivers are subject to strict rules and regulations specifically designed to reduce the risk of commercial truck accidents and keep U.S. roadways as safe as possible. They include:
- Hours-of-Service regulations governing how long truck drivers are permitted to drive before taking a break,
- Alcohol and drug testing, including a lower blood alcohol content (BAC) threshold for DUI charges to apply, and
- Cell phone use behind the wheel, including restrictions on the use of any hand-held mobile device while driving.
Truck drivers who fail to comply with these regulations or others enacted by the federal government or state or interstate agencies may be liable for any accidents or injuries that occur as a result of their negligence, as may truck drivers who violate traffic laws or fail to safely operate their vehicles.
Trucking companies are responsible for the safety and competence of the drivers they hire and may be liable for any injuries that occur as a result of their drivers’ negligence or careless conduct. The trucking industry as a whole is subject to a series of rules and regulations set forth by the federal government, and all trucking companies have a duty to ensure that their drivers follow these regulations and practice safe driving techniques behind the wheel. However, not all trucking companies abide by these guidelines, and some skip them entirely in an attempt to save time and money, which can have catastrophic consequences. For instance, while there are strict limits on the number of hours truckers can work before taking a break (Hours-of-Service rules), drivers are often pressured to work longer hours without rest to make deliveries on time. Studies have shown that drowsy driving can be just as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol and this is especially true for truck drivers operating an 80,000-pound vehicle. If an 18-wheeler accident occurs because a trucking company failed to comply with trucking industry regulations, failed in its duty to hire and retain responsible, qualified drivers, or otherwise failed to take reasonable measures to prevent a crash, the trucking company may be to blame for the accident.
Truck and Truck Part Manufacturers
Most trucking accidents in the U.S. are caused by human error, or more specifically, the negligence of the truck driver. However, in some commercial truck accidents, at least part of the blame lies with the companies responsible for designing, manufacturing or marketing unsafe or defective trucks or truck parts that lead to accidents. A major factor in the safety of 18-wheelers and other commercial trucks is the quality of the parts the trucks are built with, including the truck’s tires, brakes and airbags. There are certain cases where 18-wheeler accidents are caused by a defective or malfunctioning truck part, in which case the company that manufactured the truck or its parts may be held liable in a truck accident lawsuit. For instance, if because of a brake failure, a commercial truck is unable to slow down on a steep grade to avoid traffic and a collision occurs, the manufacturer of the brake part may be liable for damages. Victims of such an accident may take legal action against the manufacturing company for the role their defective product played in causing the accident.
Many common causes of accidents involving commercial trucks are factors that are within the driver’s control. For instance, a trucking accident caused by speeding could have been avoided had the driver been traveling at safe speeds. However, there are other possible causes of 18-wheeler accidents that may be completely unrelated to acts or omissions on the part of the driver. For instance, if the roadway where the accident occurred was negligently designed or if the road was poorly maintained, the government entity responsible for designing or maintaining the road may be to blame for the accident. A truck accident victim may also have a legal claim against a government agency if the truck involved in the accident was a government vehicle.
Understanding Comparative Negligence Laws
Commercial trucks are big and unwieldy vehicles, and in most crashes involving an 18-wheeler, it is not difficult to determine who is at fault for the accident. If the truck driver loses control of the vehicle while speeding and collides with another car, the truck driver is likely to blame. If the trucking company fails to ensure that the truck is in working condition and an accident occurs because of poor truck maintenance, the trucking company may be at fault. And so on and so forth. However, there may be some cases where truck accident victims are partially responsible for their own injuries. For instance, if you make an illegal turn in front of a commercial truck that is driving well above the speed limit and the truck collides with your car, you and the truck driver may share blame for the accident. This is known as comparative negligence or comparative fault. In states where comparative negligence laws exist for car accident and truck accident cases, these laws can have an impact on the amount of compensation a truck accident victim can recover for his injuries.
Pursuing Compensation for Truck Accident Injuries
How to Sue After an 18-Wheeler Accident
In most 18-wheeler accidents, the principal liable parties are the truck driver and the trucking company. Trucking companies are responsible for the competence and training of the drivers they employ, and if you sue after a truck accident, you may be suing not only the driver but the trucking company the driver works for. Taking legal action against a trucking company can be intimidating, but keep in mind that filing a lawsuit after an 18-wheeler accident doesn’t necessarily mean your case will go to trial. Many personal injury attorneys are able to settle truck accident claims out of court, but you will want to make sure the attorney you choose is prepared to take your case to trial if that is what is needed to get you the compensation you are entitled to. You have a right to recoup the money you need for your medical bills, pain and suffering, property damage, and lost wages, and you want a personal injury attorney on your side who will fight for that right.
How a Trucking Accident Lawsuit Can Help
In the aftermath of an 18-wheeler accident, you may get a call from the trucking company’s insurer. It is important to remember that, no matter how kind and understanding an insurance adjuster may seem, he is not on your side. If fact, it is his responsibility to help the trucking company (or more specifically, the trucking company’s insurer) pay out as little as possible for your claim, which is why many truck accident victims who can’t get a fair payout from the trucking company end up filing a lawsuit. Whatever the circumstances of your case, you should avoid speaking to an insurance adjuster without first consulting an attorney. If an insurance adjuster reaches out to you following an 18-wheeler accident and starts asking questions about the accident, tell them that you have retained legal counsel and let your attorney deal with the adjuster for you. With a reputable attorney on your side, you can determine exactly who is responsible for your accident and weigh the pros and cons of accepting a settlement versus pursuing a lawsuit, to ensure that you do not settle for less than you deserve.
Suffering injuries or a tragic loss in an 18-wheeler accident is a devastating event, and if you find yourself in this situation, you are probably wondering how you will manage to pay your bills and get your family through this difficult time. By filing a lawsuit against the person or party responsible for the trucking accident, you can pursue compensation for the following:
- Current and future medical expenses
- Lost wages due to missed time at work
- Loss of future earning capacity
- Physical pain and suffering
- Emotional trauma
- Physical disability or disfigurement, if any
- Property damage
- Punitive damages (meant to punish the responsible party for behaving in an especially harmful or reckless manner)
How Trucking Accident Lawsuits Differ from Car Accident Lawsuits
In addition to being associated with a considerably higher risk of serious and potentially life-threatening injuries, truck accidents differ from car accidents in other ways, too. For one, trucking companies and drivers are bound by strict rules and regulations put in place by the federal government to reduce the risk of 18-wheeler accidents on U.S. roadways. And because of the special guidelines regulating commercial trucks and the trucking industry as a whole, lawsuits resulting from 18-wheeler accidents also tend to be more complicated than standard car accident cases. Depending on the specific facts of the case, the trucking company the driver works for may also be liable for damages, which means instead of taking on an individual driver, you could find yourself up against a sizable business with a team of lawyers on its side. Trucking companies are required to track and keep records of driving hours and rest periods for their drivers, as well as truck maintenance and other important information about their drivers and trucks, and any potential violations of these regulations could come into play in an 18-wheeler accident case.
What are the Legal Claims for an 18-Wheeler Accident?
Personal injury is an area of the law that deals with situations where someone behaves in a negligent or careless manner and that negligence or carelessness causes harm to others. Personal injury claims are civil lawsuits filed by injured victims against one or more other parties the victim alleges should be held financially liable for the damages they have incurred as a result of an accident. If you have been injured in an 18-wheeler accident and you believe the accident was caused by the negligent or wrongful acts of another person or entity, such as the truck driver involved in the accident or the trucking company that employs the driver, you may have grounds to file a personal injury lawsuit against the potentially liable parties.
A wrongful death lawsuit is a type of personal injury claim brought by the estate and/or the loved ones of a deceased person against a person or company who can be held liable for that person’s death, either through negligence or because of some misconduct. By filing a wrongful death lawsuit against the negligent truck driver, the trucking company, or another allegedly negligent party after a fatal 18-wheeler accident, you and your family can hold the person or party that caused the accident legally liable for your loved one’s unexpected death. There are two main categories of damages you could potentially collect in a wrongful death claim. The first category covers damages experienced by the decedent from the moment the accident occurred to the time of his or her death, and may include medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. The second category covers losses suffered by the family members after the decedent’s death, and may include funeral and burial expenses, loss of financial support, and loss of consortium.
Product liability claims are different from personal injury claims in that they have to do with injuries caused by defective products. As we mentioned above, trucking companies are responsible for the maintenance of their vehicles and may be liable for accidents caused by vehicle failure. However, there can also be issues with the way a truck itself was designed or the way a truck’s parts were manufactured, which falls under the scope of product liability. The most common product liability claims in 18-wheeler accidents involve problems with:
- Brake failure
- Defective tires
- Steering issues
- Load straps
- Trailer hitches
- Coupling systems
If a trucking accident occurs because a part of the truck fails, either the manufacturer of the truck or the manufacturer of the truck part may be a liable party. The fact that an 18-wheeler can be built with parts that come from several different manufacturers only complicates things further, which is why we recommend consulting a knowledgeable product liability attorney before pursuing a claim.
In some 18-wheeler accidents, victims can hold parties other than the truck driver, trucking company, or truck part manufacturer liable for personal injuries, if those parties share some responsibility for causing the accident. This is known as third-party liability and, in the case of a commercial truck accident, the parties that may be liable include the following:
- The owner of the truck, if the truck was leased from someone else and a truck defect or malfunction caused the accident;
- The companies or individuals responsible for repairing and maintaining the truck if improper maintenance or shoddy repairs contributed to the accident;
- The shipping company or distributor, if an improperly loaded truck or poorly secured load caused the accident; or
- Another driver on the road, if the driver’s reckless or unsafe driving behavior caused the truck to swerve and collide with another vehicle.
Finding the Right 18-Wheeler Accident Attorney
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Accidents involving commercial trucks can result in catastrophic or possibly even fatal injuries, and taking legal action after such an accident can be stressful and intimidating. That is why it is imperative that you hire an experienced trucking accident attorney after being injured in an accident with an 18-wheeler, one who is familiar with the federal regulations governing the trucking industry and the many ways in which trucking accidents differ from car accidents. When you retain legal counsel following a trucking accident, your attorney will investigate the circumstances surrounding the accident, deal with the insurance adjusters on your behalf, handle all negotiations, and identify all potentially liable parties, to ensure that you recover the highest possible amount of compensation for your medical bills, property damage, and other damages. Contact our consumer advocates at the Consumer Justice Foundation today to find out how to successfully file a lawsuit after being injured in an 18-wheeler accident.