Tractor-trailer style trucks are a staple of the American economy, responsible for transporting goods across the country. These large vehicles, owned and managed by trucking companies and other commercial enterprises, are several times larger and exponentially heavier than typical passenger vehicles owned and driven by individuals. As such, tractor-trailers are inherently more dangerous than most other vehicles, and trucking accidents are generally far more damaging than accidents involving smaller vehicles. Our Tampa trucking accident attorney has years of experience handling these cases.
Due to the United States’ economic dependency upon tractor-trailers and the relatively dangerous nature of these vehicles, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) exists to regulate and oversee the trucking industry. The FMCSA operates within the U.S. Department of Transportation and performs several essential functions, including:
- Enforcing safety regulations and evaluating existing regulations for consistency and efficiency.
- Targeting high-risk motor carriers and truck drivers.
- Raising awareness and encouraging a strong company culture that reflects safety as a top priority among American motor carrier companies.
- Dedicating resources to developing better vehicle equipment and technologies. The FMCSA also helps raise operating standards and provides training in proper use of new equipment and technologies.
- Improving safety information systems, such as real-time truck tracking technology and driver monitoring. Data analytics also provide more accurate traffic prediction and optimized shipping routes.
The FMCSA often works closely with local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies in the event of a trucking accident. Additionally, since tractor-trailers are almost exclusively used for commercial purposes, the FMCSA also interacts with safety and labor oversight groups and motor carrier industry figures.
Common Causes of Truck Accidents
Truck drivers, while performing an essential function, must rely on potentially dangerous vehicles to do their jobs. In this role they are held to a higher duty of reasonable care than typical drivers. Not only must truck drivers adhere to the same rules of the road as all other drivers, but they must also maintain awareness of their vehicles and the potential risks they may pose to other drivers.
Since truck drivers must spend long hours behind the wheel, the FMCSA enforces strict rules concerning shift limits and required rest periods. If a truck driver is concerned about meeting a tight delivery deadline, he or she may be tempted to over-work to ensure the job gets done. While this may sound noble, truck driving is more taxing than driving a typical vehicle, and after an extended period of time behind the wheel of a big rig, the chance of driver error increases.
The average truck can weigh more than twenty times the weight of an average passenger vehicle. As such, it takes tractor-trailers more time and distance to come to a complete stop. If a sleepy truck driver fails to notice a hazard in time, he or she risks hitting something, or swerving dangerously to avoid it. Some cars are small enough that a tractor-trailer can actually drive over the back end, completely crushing the top of the car. These are the most fatal kind of trucking accidents.
The trailer portion of the tractor-trailer is the heaviest part of the vehicle when full, but is significantly lightened once emptied of its cargo. If a truck driver suddenly swerves, it can cause the trailer to swing out sharply to one side or tip over. In either case, the likelihood of damage to other nearby cars is high. Tractor-trailers rolling at high speed can cross several lanes and damage multiple cars easily. If a trailer swings out it can damage other vehicles in adjacent lanes and cause the driver to lose control of the vehicle.
Truck drivers must maintain awareness of their surroundings so they can react safely to changing road conditions. Truck rollovers are also common during heavy precipitation, high winds, and on icy patches of road.
Driving Under the Influence
Driving while intoxicated by alcohol or other drugs is extremely dangerous for any motorist. Even a small vehicle is capable of catastrophic damage with a drunk driver behind the wheel. Due to the size of tractor-trailers, the risk is much greater when truck drivers choose to use drugs or alcohol while driving. Some truck drivers use illicit drugs to keep themselves awake and alert for longer periods of time, and the risks of drinking and driving are well known. When truck drivers cause accidents due to driving under the influence (DUI), with the help of a good trucking accident lawyer they can be held liable for punitive damages in any civil actions resulting from an accident as well as face criminal charges.
It’s important to note that trucking accidents are not always the fault of a truck driver or the trucks themselves – all drivers should exercise caution behind the wheel, and exercise good judgment at all times. Tractor-trailer style trucks are nowhere near as maneuverable as the average passenger car, and they take much longer to come to a stop at higher speeds. Drivers near tractor-trailers should take care not to drive aggressively or unpredictably around large trucks, and take into account the several blind spots in which a truck driver would be unable to see them.
If you drive near tractor-trailers, try to give them as much space as possible. Do not tailgate a tractor-trailer, even if the driver seems to be going slower than what is reasonable for the flow of traffic. The driver cannot see directly behind the trailer, and you will not have enough time to stop should the truck driver suddenly hit the brakes.
When passing a tractor-trailer, make sure you have plenty of room to get well ahead of the tractor-trailer once you re-enter the lane. You don’t want to pass a big rig and then quickly pull back into the lane directly ahead of them – doing so may startle the driver, or you may misjudge the speed and distance and wind up causing an accident with the front of the tractor-trailer, the worst place for a smaller passenger car to collide.
Ultimately, the same best practices you follow for safe driving around any other vehicle hold true for driving near tractor-trailers. However, it’s important to remember the inherently dangerous nature of these vehicles and adjust your driving accordingly.
Poor Vehicle Maintenance
Some trucking accidents are caused by incomplete, inconsistent, or improperly conducted vehicle maintenance. Tractor-trailers spend much more time on the road than typical personal vehicles. They cover exponentially more miles and make trips more frequently, too. As such, tractor-trailers require thorough, careful maintenance.
The FMCSA has strict guidelines when it comes to acceptable service standards for tractor-trailers. Motor carrier companies must ensure that all vehicles in their fleets are well-maintained and regularly inspected for safety. If a vehicle technician uses an incorrect or defective part, performs a maintenance procedure incorrectly, or fails to complete a necessary diagnostic check during routine maintenance, the technician (and by extension, the motor carrier company) would be liable for any damages resulting from a crash.
Defective Vehicle Parts
Trucks experience far more wear-and-tear than standard passenger cars and require part replacements more frequently as a result. If a part manufacturer sells a defective part and a court deems the company liable for damages from a resulting crash, the manufacturer can be held accountable under product liability laws. Essentially, if a truck part manufacturer sells a product that is a defective design, improperly manufactured or assembled, or falsely advertised, that company is responsible in the event the defective part causes a crash.
Tires are one of the biggest problem parts when it comes to tractor-trailers. Due to the extensive use these tires endure, tire blowouts are common. Most drivers have seen the shredded remains of tractor-trailer tires on the side of the highway at some point. When these blowouts happen, they can sometimes cause accidents from the truck driver’s or other nearby drivers’ reactions or the debris striking other vehicles. It’s crucial for trucking companies to ensure truck tires are regularly inspected and replaced as necessary.
Proving Negligence in a Trucking Accident Case
If you are involved in a truck accident and are lucky enough to survive, it’s important to know your rights when it comes to securing compensation for your injuries and damages. Many trucking accidents are fatal, so if you have lost a loved one in a trucking accident and need to pursue a wrongful death claim, it’s important to know what is necessary to win your case and secure the compensation you need to recover. Wrongful death claims function very similarly to personal injury lawsuits with a few key exceptions, so speak with a reliable Tampa wrongful death attorney about these details.
In order to win a personal injury lawsuit against the party responsible for your injuries and damages, you’ll need to retain the services of an experienced personal injury attorney. Your lawyer will help you gather the evidence necessary to build a case and guide you through the legal proceedings.
The first step in a personal injury case is establishing the defendant’s negligence in the matter. Proving negligence requires three things:
- Your attorney must establish that the party being sued owed you, the plaintiff, a duty to act with reasonable care.
- Then, your attorney must show the court that the defendant breached this duty in some way. For example, a truck driver who drives drunk and causes an accident would be breaching his or her duty to drive safely and legally.
- Finally, your attorney will show the court that your injuries and damages were the direct result of the defendant’s negligent actions.
Damages and Compensation
Once you prove the defendant’s negligence, the jury in your case will consider the evidence your Tampa trucking accident attorney provides him to assess your damages and award an appropriate amount. Damages in a truck accident case usually include:
- Property damage. Smaller vehicles rarely come away from tractor-trailer accidents with minimal damage, so you can sue for damage to your vehicle and other personal property lost in the crash.
- Medical expenses. Trucking accidents have the potential to cause serious and sometimes fatal wounds, such as broken bones, internal organ damage, blunt force trauma, spinal cord injuries, and traumatic brain injuries. The medical report you receive from your doctor will be crucial for establishing the extent of your injuries. You can sue for hospital bills, the costs of rehabilitative care, and permanent damage.
- Pain and suffering. Your lawyer will likely consult with expert witnesses to testify as to the level of pain your injuries caused. The judge will consider their testimony and award an appropriate figure.
- Lost income. If your accident caused you to miss work or will prevent you from returning to work, you can sue for the income you would have been able to reasonably expect to earn had the accident not occurred.
- Punitive damages. If the defendant was engaged in any illegal activity at the time of the accident, or acted intentionally or with willful intent to cause harm, the judge may award you punitive damages in addition to your other compensation.
Trucking accidents typically involve several parties and may necessitate discussions of laws at local, state, and federal levels. It’s important to hire a reliable and experienced personal injury attorney in the event you are involved in a tractor-trailer accident.
Trust the Experience | Tampa Trucking Accident Lawyer
The Fiol Law Group of Tampa, Florida specializes in personal injury lawsuits, and we employ the full range of our resources to achieve positive outcomes in our clients’ cases. Reach out to us for more information about trucking accidents in Florida or to set up a free case evaluation. We’ll review the details of your situation and let you know how we can help.