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.