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Darren Tobin
Darren Tobin
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Truck Wreck Cases – One Crash, One Lifetime of Suffering

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More than 5,000 Americans are killed in collisions caused by tractor-trailer trucks every year. Over 90,000 Americans suffer serious injuries in tractor-trailer accidents.

Bar none, the most devastating crashes on the road resulting in the most serious types of injuries are tractor trailer crashes. Collisions between tractor-trailers, also known as semis and semi-trailer trucks, and regular two-door/four-door sedans result in some of the most catastrophic injuries.

New safety features and mechanisms are constantly being developed to help prevent trucking accidents. However, all the new safety designs in the world can’t make up for poor decision-making out on the roads. And while accidents on the road are sometimes avoidable, the trucking industry as a whole is still responsible for many of the trucking accidents.

Many of our clients have been injured as a result of a tractor trailer company trying to demand more from their drivers than they should. Drivers are expected to save costs wherever possible which leads to tired truck drivers and worn out equipment. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration, one out of nine traffic fatalities last year resulted from a collision involving a large truck or semi. On average, 380,000 large trucks are involved in crashes. That number could easily be reduced if more care was taken by trucking companies and their drivers.

Following a trucking accident, it is crucial that a thorough investigation be done as soon as possible. 911 recordings from police departments are only kept for a certain period of time, often as short as 90 days. If a request for the 911 records is not made to the police department in a timely fashion, the records can be lost. Similarly, “roadway evidence” such as skid mark – marks left on the roadway from a vehicle that locked its breaks – and yaw marks – marks left on the roadway when a vehicle’s tires spin in a circular motion – are key pieces of evidence which get washed away within a few days after the crash. The best thing if possible is to retain the services of an accident reconstructionist who can investigate the accident scene.

Most importantly, operational documents that are maintained by the trucking company may magically disappear (destroyed either purposefully or in the ordinary course of its document retention procedures) unless the company is instructed to hold onto the records. A spoliation letter from a trucking attorney instructing the company to properly secure all reports and logs is essential to argue that the trucking company should have retained the records beyond the six months required by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations.

In addition to operational documents, a request should also be made that the company remove the electronic control module (“ECM”) from the tractor and preserve it for future inspection. The ECM controls the systems on the tractor unit, and electronically records data relating to the operation of the tractor. The information it records will include speeds, brake system operations and engine controls. This information can be downloaded by the manufacturer and may play an important role in determining what happened at the time of the crash.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations is a set of rules issued by the United States Department of Transportation, which govern tractor-trailers. Not always, but oftentimes, a trucking accident is a result of a violation of one of these rules. According to Rule 391.21, semi-truck companies are required to keep the driver’s detailed application forms, called a Driver Qualification file. Before a trucking company can hire a driver, they must first obtain: (a) verification of all prior truck driver’s licenses; (b) verification of the driver’s prior truck driving experience; (c) verification of all prior crashes and traffic tickets in the prior three years; and (d) contact all of the prior trucking companies that the driver worked for over the last three years. As a practical matter, the tractor trailer company sends out faxes to the driver’s old employers inquiring about the driver’s safety and substance abuse issues.

A different rule mandates a potential employer to request three years of driving history from the DMV before hiring; if the driver does not meet the minimum standards, the company must decline to hire. The smaller a trucking company is, the more they tend to fail to follow these procedures. If they fail to do what they are supposed to, then the company has acted negligently. Under a theory known as “negligent hiring” or “negligent retention”, a trucking company can be held legally liable for injuries resulting from one of their drivers who should never have been employed in the first place. And when a driver or his company engages in reckless or wanton conduct i.e. driving drunk, driving a truck with known problems, or knowingly ignoring important safety federal regulations, an attorney may make a request for punitive damages.

Even when a trucking corporation has complied with the rules and performed their due diligence, a company can still act negligently. Sadly, crashes often occur simply because of tired driving. Part of section 395.3 requires that the maximum driving time a trucker transporting property can drive is 11 cumulative total hours after 10 consecutive hours off duty. If the driver has been working a total of 14 hours in a day, regardless of whether he was driving or not, he cannot drive any more that day. Truck drivers are required to keep detailed logs showing how long they have been driving. Notwithstanding their obligation to dutifully report an honest accounting of their driving time, truckers will often underreport their actual hours driven. The driving records are made to look like the driver has driven less than what he says. That’s a major problem – a tired driver means a distracted driver and that’s what the rule is intended to prevent. One way to catch a cheating trucking company or fatigued driver who doctors his records is through depositions and to compare the driver’s gas station receipts, GPS tracking points and dispatch reports with his hours of service logs.

The key with any trucking collision is to gather the evidence and then establish a legal strategy. Once a trucking attorney has determined what went wrong and what to do next, he can help the injured family members successfully recover for their damages and pain and suffering.

In addition to providing a free review of your claim, an experienced trucking attorney can also provide valuable insight into dealing with your injuries and precautions you should consider. Holding trucking companies and negligent tractor-trailer drivers responsible will ensure safer roads and more lives saved.

The foregoing article touches on just a few aspects of an otherwise complicated and detailed area of the law. If you have any questions regarding trucking accidents or have been injured as a result of a truck crash, please feel free to contact our firm.

2 Comments

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  1. Tony Cantero says:
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    It’s easy to crucify and condemn the trucker for negligence, yet you fail to factor how the situation is seen from a trucker’s perspective. Truckers are under pressure to deliver on-time or be terminated for service failure. Mileage pay is another factor; it gives monetary incentive to falsify logbooks. Under reporting your actual duty hours mean more driving time and more $$ on their weekly paychecks. Sleep is another factor; the human body has a biological time clock that requires sleep at night, yet dispatchers and clients fail to factor a trucker’s need for sleep AT NIGHT when they schedule delivery deadlines. Until lawsuits include clients (shippers and receivers) as defendants in truck accidents, these tragedies will continue. As it now stands, truck accident fatalities are just another part of the cost to do business, seen from the clients’ perspective (shippers & receivers), which is absorbed by the insurance industry.

  2. Darren Tobin says:
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    Tony,
    Thank you for your comment. I appreciate your candor, but perhaps you have misinterpreted the purpose of this safety article. Nowhere in this article do I “crucify and condemn the trucker for negligence.” In fact, I do quite the opposite. From the very outset of the article I acknowledge that truck drivers are expected to “save costs wherever possible.” This article does not take aim at drivers. It examines the trucking industry, and the safety standards which are sometimes violated by companies. Having said that, I would hope you agree that when a trucker makes a poor decision i.e. driving drunk or fudging his driving logs, he should be held accountable. Claiming that drivers who are incentivized to falsify their driving time is somehow someone else’s responsibility is just foolhardy. Remember, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations are intended to promote safe roads. Drivers should not violate Rules in the pursuit of a fatter paycheck. To reiterate, this article recognizes that tractor-trailer companies demand a lot from their drivers. But when a driver engages in negligent behavior, he or she should be held accountable just as any other driver should be held accountable for his or her decisions on the road. On a final note, I take issue with your comment that “truck accident fatalities are just another part of the cost to do business…” Truck accidents are NEVER acceptable. Period. Furthermore, applying the “trucker’s perspective”, if I was a truck driver I think I would (a) follow the law and federal safety regulations; (b) tell the truth and not under report my actual hours driven; and (c) do everything in my power to make sure I am driving as safely as I possibly can so as to avoid any possible collisions. I hope all truck drivers do just that every time they get behind that big wheel. I can tell from your tone that you are one of the responsible drivers who follows what I suggested and takes pride in his profession – I respect that and I thank you for helping do your part to keep our shared roadways safe.