Accidents that involve commercial trucks differ from “normal” car accidents in a number of important ways. Big-rig accidents involve a different set of challenges, a different group of players, and even different scientific properties than accidents involving passenger cars.
A semi truck accident is many drivers’ worst nightmare—and for good reason. Semi truck accidents are more likely to cause serious injuries, death, and major property damage than accidents involving passenger cars. When it comes to a truck accident, it is important to have a lawyer on your side who specializes in commercial truck accidents and understands the unique challenges that a big-rig accident presents. Here are five components of a truck accident case that a truck accident lawyer can help with:
Collect Truck-Specific Evidence
Car accident attorneys are accustomed to collecting evidence after a crash, including witness statements, security camera footage, photographs of the vehicles involved, and police reports. However, when a commercial truck is involved, there is a different set of evidence that must be collected.
Evidence in a commercial truck accident can be divided into three distinct categories:
- Driver evidence, which includes the driver’s qualifications file, the driver’s training file, the hours of service documentation, the driver inspection records, and post-collision drug and alcohol screening results
- Vehicle evidence, including downloads of the on board systems, maintenance history documentation, inspection history, and data GPS tracking systems
- Cargo evidence, including weight tickets, trip envelopes, dispatch instructions, delivery documents, and bills of lading
Understand Complex Liability Issues
In a typical car accident case, the only players involved are the driver of the vehicle and potentially the employer or owner of the vehicle (if the owner and the driver are two separate parties). However, in a commercial truck accident, there are more parties involved and their relationships can make things complicated.
The players in a semi truck accident depend on who the driver works for, who owns the truck itself, and the relationship between the driver and the trucking company. It also depends on whether the driver is driving under dispatch with a loaded trailer, driving with an empty trailer, or driving without a trailer at all. It is also worth noting that, under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, the tractor the the trailer are separate commercial vehicles; sometimes the owner of just the trailer will be liable, and other times just the owner of the tractor itself will be liable.
In addition to the trucking company and the driver, those who deal with the truck’s cargo could also be found liable. Shippers, loaders, brokers, freight forwarders, and consignees could be responsible if the accident is caused by the cargo (e.g. an improperly secured load or a load that is too heavy to transport safely). Third-party maintenance and repair companies could also be found liable if the accident was caused by a failure to properly maintain the commercial truck.
Understand the Scientific Background
The complexity of driving heavy machines is a major consideration in semi truck accident cases. Generally speaking, commercial trucks take longer to stop, accelerate more slowly, need more space to maneuver, and require special handling when turning and backing up. In addition, the physics of a truck/car collision are much different than those of a car/car collision. As such, a personal injury attorney working on a truck accident case must look at the accident from the perspective of a truck driver—not the perspective of a passenger vehicle driver.
Know and Utilize Trucking Regulations
In a typical car accident, attorneys or insurance adjusters will try to piece together the moments leading up to the crash and determine the proximate cause of the accident; once the cause is determined, they will compare the driver’s conduct to the New Jersey Rules of the Road to see if he or she acted negligently. However, in the case of a truck accident, the rules and regulations go beyond the Rules of the Road.
Commercial truck operators are typically held to higher legal standards and must follow more stringent driving rules. Truck drivers must follow hours of service regulations (i.e. not drive more than x number of hours in a row without rest), as well as specific rules for certain driving situations.
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