Any type of motor vehicle accident can lead to serious or even fatal injuries. But when the collision is with a semi-truck or tractor-trailer, the potential for catastrophic injuries is even higher. According to the California Highway Patrol (CHP), in 2017 alone, 6,897 people were injured and 327 people were killed in collisions with trucks.
If a truck driver caused an accident, then the driver and/or their trucking company may be held responsible for any injuries that they caused. These types of cases are often complicated, involving both federal and state law — along with large insurance companies looking to protect their bottom line.
By filing a personal injury claim, you may be able to recover compensation for medical bills, lost wages, property damage, pain and suffering, and more. A seasoned California truck accident attorney can help you with the process, starting with a free consultation.
Causes of Truck Accidents
Truck accidents can happen in any number of ways — just like car accidents. Because truck drivers operate commercial motor vehicles for a living, they may be more prone to making certain types of mistakes. They are typically behind the wheel for far more hours than the average driver.
Both truckers and the companies that employ them are subject to a complex web of state and federal laws and regulations. These rules govern every aspect of their jobs, from how long drivers can be on the road without a break to the type of mud flaps that a tractor-trailer can have if the vehicle will cross state lines. While most trucking companies are conscientious about these rules, others cut corners to increase profits — putting public safety at risk.
Some of the most common causes of truck accidents include:
- Distracted driving
- Impaired driving
- Lack of experience
- Failure to obey traffic rules
- Poor judgment
Any of these reasons can lead to serious, or even fatal, truck accidents. In some cases, the accident is directly linked to a violation of federal or state laws that govern commercial vehicles.
For example, under federal law, drivers are limited by “Hours of Service” rules. These rules place a strict limit on the amount of time that truck drivers can be behind the wheel, based on the type of truck and what it is transporting. Once truck drivers have reached that limit, they are required by law to rest for a specified period of time.
Too often, trucking companies incentivize drivers in ways that encourage them to break hours of service rules. They may set targets that are impossible to meet unless a driver is on the road for longer than permitted or provide financial rewards for getting from Point A to Point B in a shorter period of time. These types of systems not only lead to violations of hours of service rules but may encourage truck drivers to speed or otherwise drive in ways that are unsafe.
Of course, many of the most common causes of big rig accidents are similar to the causes of passenger vehicle collisions. The difference is that when a semi-truck is involved, the likelihood of severe or deadly injuries is that much higher. If a trucker drives under the influence, texts while driving, or speeds, the potential for seriously harming someone in a passenger vehicle is incredibly high given the difference in size between the two vehicles.
Whatever the cause of the accident may be, a skilled California truck accident lawyer can evaluate the case and investigate what occurred. From there, your attorney can make a strong case for you to recover the maximum amount of compensation possible under the law.
Filing a Truck Accident Claim
Like other personal injury lawsuits, truck crashes involve a question of negligence. A person acts with negligence if they fail to exercise the level of care that a reasonable person would in a similar situation. Negligence involves four elements: duty, breach, causation, and damages.
First, the truck accident victim must demonstrate that the at-fault driver owed a duty to them. This is usually not difficult to prove in motor vehicle accident cases, as all California drivers owe a duty of care to others to operate their vehicles in a way that is safe and reasonable under the circumstances. Driving the speed limit and paying attention to the road are examples of meeting this duty of care — while drunk driving and speeding are examples of violating it.
Second, the accident victim must show that the truck driver breached this duty in some way. This can happen in any number of ways, from following too close (leading to a rear-end accident) to texting and driving to drowsy driving. In trucking accident cases, a violation of laws and regulations that govern truck drivers may be sufficient to demonstrate that a breach occurred.
Third, the injured person will have to prove that the truck driver’s violation caused the accident. This is often referred to as “but for” or proximate cause. In other words, the crash would not have happened “but for” the breach committed by the at-fault driver.
Fourth, the accident victim will need to demonstrate that they suffered damages. This can include any losses that the victim incurred as a result of the crash, such as property damage, medical expenses, lost wages, scarring, or disfigurement.
Who Can Be Sued in a Truck Crash Case?
There are a number of potential defendants in a truck accident case. A skilled truck accident lawyer will analyze the facts of your case to ensure that all potentially liable parties are brought into any lawsuit or claim.
The truck driver will typically be a defendant in a truck wreck claim. If the driver acted with negligence, then they may be held responsible for any losses that an injury victim suffered.
The trucking company may also be sued in a truck accident lawsuit. This may be possible if the truck driver was an employee of the company, or simply because the truck company failed to do something that it should have done. For example, if the trucking company did not properly maintain its fleet of trucks, and that led to an accident, then it could be financially liable for any losses.
In other situations, the truck company may have failed to adequately supervise its employees. The truck driver may have failed a drug test or had a string of accidents in the past. If the trucking company was negligent in hiring, training, or supervising the trucker, then it can likely be held at least partially responsible for the crash.
Third parties may also be brought into a truck accident lawsuit in certain situations. For example, if a company that is responsible for loading and securing cargo in large trucks did not properly secure a load, the shifting cargo could cause a rollover or other type of accident. In this situation, that company may also be held liable for any injuries that resulted.
Manufacturers of faulty equipment and third-party maintenance companies can also be named as defendants in some truck accident claims. For example, if the crash occurred because the commercial truck’s brakes failed, the manufacturer of those brakes may be held responsible for putting a dangerous or defective product on the market. Similarly, if the brakes failed because the mechanic did not install them properly, then that person could be held liable as well.
Major corporations and large insurance companies are often involved in many truck accident cases. They often have teams of lawyers and adjusters whose job it is to deny or minimize personal injury claims. Working with a seasoned truck accident attorney can help to level the playing field and increase the likelihood of a favorable outcome.
What Types of Damages Are Available in a Truck Accident Claim?
There are three types of damages that you may be able to recover in a truck accident lawsuit: economic, non-economic, and punitive damages. The first two are considered compensatory damages, as the goal is to compensate a person for losses that they have suffered. The third kind, punitive damages, are meant to punish a wrongdoer and deter others from engaging in similar conduct.
Economic damages include compensation for financial losses. It may cover things like medical expenses for broken bones, traumatic brain injury, internal injuries, paralysis, and other injuries. It also may include lost wages, loss of earning capacity, the cost of remodeling a home to accommodate an injury and loss of employment benefits.
Non-economic damages are meant to compensate a person for the intangible losses that they have suffered. It may include pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, scarring, disfigurement, and emotional distress.
In some cases, you may receive an award for punitive damages. Typically, this requires a showing that the at-fault driver or trucking company acted with something more than negligence, such as recklessness or intentional conduct. For example, if a truck driver was under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol at the time of the crash, they may be on the hook for punitive damages.
Injured in a Truck Accident? Reach Out Today.
There are few types of motor vehicle accidents that are more devastating than those involving commercial trucks. The potential for serious or even fatal injuries is shockingly high in these types of crashes. If you or your loved one has been hurt in a truck accident, our team of personal injury attorneys can help.
At Kuvara Law Firm, we have years of experience representing Californians who have been injured in all types of accidents — including those involving trucks. With offices in San Jose, San Rafael, San Francisco, Oakland, Redwood City, Vallejo, Fairfield, and Fremont, we advocate for clients throughout the Bay Area. To learn more or to schedule a no-cost, no-obligation consultation, contact us today via email or call us at 415-479-7070.