You probably don’t think about what would happen if something flew off your car and landed on the interstate. Long-suffering movie families routinely lose luggage off the tops of their station wagons, but in real life we generally store duffel bags and suitcases in our trunks. Unless you’re carrying a bicycle or towing a grill, there’s nothing on the outside of your personal vehicle in danger of coming loose and causing problems for other motorists.
But consider an 18-wheeler flying down the freeway at a speed of 75 miles per hour carrying several tons of coiled steel on a flatbed trailer. Consider what would happen if the last coil broke loose and began rolling down the freeway. You may have purchased your SUV because it’s safer than a compact car, but it’s going to be no match for three tons of steel coming at you sideways.
The resulting damage can be catastrophic, totaling one or more vehicles and possibly injuring or killing multiple passengers.
This kind of accident is uncommon, but it happens more often than you might expect. On average, there are 11 fatal truck accidents a day in the U.S., killing nearly 4,000 people each year, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. These numbers are getting worse. Fatalities have increased steadily since 2009, as more goods are being shipped on American highways thanks to an improving economy. When an increased pressure to deliver causes workers to skip safety protocols - if, say, the coils were loaded improperly or secured with damaged or outdated equipment - a semi-trailer truck speeding down the interstate can become a recipe for disaster.
If you are involved in a semitruck accident, an investigation should start immediately. Call the police and make sure law enforcement officers fully survey and document the crash site, taking photos of where the vehicles came to rest after an accident; any and all damage caused to the vehicles; skid marks or road hazards near the scene; and any other pertinent physical evidence. In addition to these photos, make sure an officer locates the truck driver’s “black box,” an Electric Control Module (ECM) integrated with engine components. This ECM is designed to capture a variety of data regarding the truck’s operation over the past 30 days, including average speed, highest speed, time driven, seat belt usage, and the number of hard stops made.
A number of states have passed legislation making ECMs the property of trucking companies. This means that a trucking company may destroy data following an accident unless it is subject to a court restraining order. An experienced truck accident litigation lawyer will reach written agreement with parties to the accident or file an immediate protective order to ensure preservation of ECM data. This goes for the truck itself as well: a court order strictly limiting access or movement of the vehicle makes it much easier for experts to examine the truck and trailer before its owners can destroy or hide evidence. Comparing the condition of the truck with the ECM and the driver’s log book can indicate a lack of compliance with trucking industry regulations.
Commercial truck drivers must carry a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), which is generally acquired after three to seven weeks of training. As the demand for new drivers grows larger, companies tend to push candidates through CDL training as quickly as possible before putting them behind the wheel of a 50,000-pound truck. But it doesn’t take an inexperienced truck driver to cut corners or incorrectly maintain his or her vehicle. Many veteran semitruck drivers will drive on little to no sleep in order to make deadlines. And although new regulations have been put in place to screen commercial truck drivers for past criminal offenses or drug addiction, this doesn’t guarantee that everyone driving an 18-wheeler is qualified for the job.
Most of the time, the truck itself isn’t at fault for causing an accident. Either the driver was inattentive or those securing the truck’s cargo failed to perform a safety check. Commercial semis must be properly maintained and kept up to specific standards.
The carrying of freight by commercial vehicles on the Interstate Highway System is governed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. An attorney experienced with trucking-related litigation can find the necessary witnesses to testify about the loading and securing of cargo onto a truck and why a failure occurred. This attorney will understand that time is a factor in these cases, as information about loading and unloading may be “lost” or “misplaced” by the trucking company once an investigation begins.
This time crunch makes it imperative that those injured in accidents involving commercial trucks immediately contact an attorney familiar with the federal regulations concerning trucking. This attorney can demand the trucking company maintain its records and even file a lawsuit to preserve evidence. While suggesting to a jury that missing evidence may have been purposefully discarded can help your case, actually having that evidence will put your case in a much better position.
Trucking companies are often structured in such a way as to make it difficult to track down the proper entity against whom a lawsuit should be filed. And they can frequently go out of business, file bankruptcy, or disappear. Hiring an attorney experienced in trucking litigation can be invaluable when trying to track down the proper party against whom to file a claim.
18-wheelers can weigh up to 40 tons. Pressure on truck drivers to deliver more and more in less and less time is greater than ever before. Even if cargo is properly secured, a tired or distracted truck driver can cause a catastrophic accident. Trucking companies will do everything in their power to weasel out of a lawsuit. Navigating the highways of trucking litigation requires a litigator experienced in the field.
If you or a loved one has been involved in an accident caused by a commercial truck, please call us at (402) 817-6550 or contact us online. Your consultation is free.