Accidents involving commercial trucks are the cause of more than 4,000 fatalities in the United States each year, with the majority of those deaths affecting the occupants of passenger vehicles. In addition, thousands more people sustain injuries in accidents with large trucks.
If a crash involving a commercial truck has injured you or tragically taken the life of a loved one, you undoubtedly have lots of questions about how to recover financially, physically, and emotionally. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions we receive about truck accidents.
Many of the issues that cause commercial trucks to be dangerous relate to the massive size of these vehicles. As explained by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a fully-loaded tractor-trailer can weigh 20 to 30 times more than the average passenger car.
These vehicles are also much taller and longer than other motor vehicles. They make wide turns and cannot stop as quickly as other vehicles. Their high center of gravity makes them prone to rolling over if their drivers attempt to maneuver them too quickly, or misjudges their appropriate speed on a curve.
Tractor-trailers also have large blind spots, making it difficult for truck drivers to see and track the location of other vehicles on the road, and creating hazards for those vehicles when a truck turns or changes lanes. Finally, tractor trailers have a high ground clearance, which presents the risk of a smaller vehicle slipping beneath it during an accident, which is known as an underride.
Truck accidents result from a wide variety of circumstances, many involving human error. Some of the more common causes of truck accidents include:
- Fatigued driving
- Alcohol impairment
- Distracted driving
- Unfamiliarity with the roadways
- Poor maintenance
- Inadequate training
- Inclement weather
Both state and federal governments have laws regarding the operation of heavy trucks. Federal regulations created and overseen by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration set rules for “interstate” trucking (that is, truck travel across state lines). They include:
- Hours of service and documenting of hours through an electronic logging device
- Physical examinations and drug testing required
- The amount of weight the truck may carry in accordance with its size and proper loading procedures
- Regular maintenance schedules
- Required background checks on all truck drivers, including ensuring that the driver meets licensing requirements, amount of training, and has a satisfactory previous driving history
- The proper procedures and training required for transporting hazardous materials
Massachusetts also has laws that govern the “intrastate” trucking industry (within the borders of the Commonwealth), which include weight limits for specific roadways and a process for obtaining a permit to operate a truck on Massachusetts roads.
Truck accidents resulting in injury or more than $1,000 worth of property damage must be reported to local law enforcement in Massachusetts within five days, according to the law. If you have been injured in the accident and a police officer has responded to the accident, he or she will make out the report.
If emergency services were not called at the time of the accident, however, you still must ensure that the accident gets reported to the appropriate authorities within five days.
If you self-report the accident, you will need the truck driver’s information, including license plate number, make and model of the vehicle, name and contact information for the driver, company that the driver works for, and name and policy number of the insurance provider for the truck.
Massachusetts law generally entitles individuals injured in motor vehicle accidents to recover accident-related damages from liable parties through legal action. Some of the damages truck accident victims may have the ability to claim as damages include:
- Economic damages such as loss of wages due to being too injured to work or missing work to attend doctor’s appointments; loss of future earning capacity if you suffer a permanent disability as a result of the accident and are no longer able to work or to perform the work-related tasks you were hired to do; medical expenses including the costs of ambulance service, hospitalization, diagnostic testing, surgical services, prescription medication, and rehabilitation; property damage, including the cost of repairing or replacing your car.
- Non-economic damages, including pain and suffering, loss of a limb, loss of consortium, and loss of companionship.
- Punitive damages in some cases, designed to punish a driver or a trucking company for particularly egregious behavior.
If you lost a loved one due to a truck accident, you may have the right to recover similar damages through a wrongful death lawsuit. An experienced personal injury lawyer can advise you about this type of legal claim.
To have a successful outcome to your personal injury claim, you must be able to prove that the truck driver is legally liable for causing your accident and injuries.
Liability is often shown by establishing negligence, which essentially involves showing:
- The truck driver owed you a duty of care. Generally, the duty of care that a truck driver owes to others on the road is to operate the truck safely and within state and federal regulations.
- There was a breach of this duty of care. The breach may consist of distracted driving, fatigued driving, or any other action that created a condition that increased the likelihood of an accident.
- This breach caused the accident and your resulting injuries.
There are often multiple parties with potential legal liability to victims of a truck accident. In addition to the driver, other potentially liable parties may include:
- The trucking company that was tasked with ensuring that the driver had the proper licensing and training to operate the truck and who placed the truck driver on the road as their employee.
- The shipping company, to the extent its decisions affected the safety of the trucking equipment or cargo.
- An individual or entity tasked with maintaining and repairing the vehicle so that it remained in a safe condition.
- The manufacturer or distributor of truck parts, if the accident resulted from the failure of a defective part.