Truck drivers have stressful jobs. They operate vehicles that are much larger than the cars most of us drive, and they are subject to tight, sometimes unrealistic deadlines. In addition, they must follow a number of stringent regulations concerning their hours of service, the condition of the truck, and more.
Many truck drivers are able to handle the pressures of the job safely, hauling cargo thousands of miles without getting into an accident. However, when a truck driver does make a mistake, the outcome can be catastrophic.
If you have been injured or a loved one was seriously hurt or killed in a collision with a big rig, an experienced truck accident lawyer can help you build a case against the driver and other liable parties. Please call (203) 800-8000 today for a free consultation with Ventura Law in Connecticut or New York.
Proving Negligence in a Truck Accident Claim
There are two principal theories of fault in a truck accident claim:
- The truck driver was negligent behind the wheel
- The driver violated federal trucking regulations
Your lawyer will investigate the accident to determine if one or both of these issues were a factor in your case.
1. Negligence Behind the Wheel of a Semi Truck
As in any motor vehicle accident claim, driver negligence can take many different forms. Prior to the crash, the truck driver may have been:
- Driving too fast
- Following your vehicle too closely
- Not checking blind spots when merging or changing lanes
- Driving aggressively
- Not paying attention to traffic and weather conditions
- Ignoring stop lights and stop signs
- Drunk or high while driving
Proving these and other types of negligence requires assessment of the evidence. During your initial consultation, be sure to share anything you remember from the accident, such as the semi truck driver veering in and out of lanes, the rate of speed compared to your vehicle, blinding headlights in your mirrors, etc.
If you were able to speak to the truck driver at the accident scene, tell your lawyer about the exchange. If the driver was slurring his words, unsteady on his feet, or seemed agitated, he may have been under the influence.
Your truck accident attorney will investigate all aspects of the collision in support of your claim. Driver error may be corroborated through witness statements, review of the police report, examination of the “black box” on the semi truck, and more.
2. Violations of Federal Trucking Regulations
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) maintains regulations for semi trucks and other commercial vehicles. Truck drivers, trucking companies, and other parties involved in the transportation of cargo are obligated to follow these complex rules.
Because these regulations specify how truck drivers are supposed to perform their jobs, violations of the rules may be considered prima facie (“in and of itself”) evidence of negligence. The key is for your lawyer to investigate and present evidence of FMCSA violations.
Some of the most common issues that arise in truck accident claims related to violations of FMCSA rules include:
- Hours of service: Commercial drivers are restricted to 14 hours on duty after 10 hours off-duty. During this 14-hour period, up to 11 hours may be spent driving. It is not uncommon, however, for truck drivers to exceed these limits in order to make their hauls on time. They may even falsify their logs to report driving fewer hours than they actually do.
- Drunk driving: The legal limit for drinking and driving for most drivers is a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08. Truck drivers, however, may not operate a commercial vehicle with a BAC of 0.04 or higher. Commercial drivers are required to submit to alcohol testing on a random basis and in the event of a crash.
- Fatigued driving: According to FMCSA regulations, “No driver shall operate a commercial motor vehicle, and a motor carrier shall not require or permit a driver to operate a commercial motor vehicle, while the driver’s ability or alertness is so impaired, or so likely to become impaired, through fatigue, illness, or any other cause, as to make it unsafe for him/her to begin or continue to operate the commercial motor vehicle.” Hours of service violations may be at issue in these circumstances.
- Inspection of parts and accessories: During the course of a haul, truck drivers are required to perform inspections of the brakes, tires, steering, lights, and other components. Failure to inspect these parts and report them may increase the risk of an accident.
- Cargo securement: Truck drivers are also required to inspect the distribution and securement of the cargo both before driving and at intervals in the course of the haul. Failure to do so may result in the cargo shifting during transit, which can result in rollover accidents, cargo falling out of the truck and into the road, and more.
Comprehensive evaluation of the records – the truck driver’s as well as the trucking company’s – is necessary to determine potential FMCSA rules violations. Truck accident lawyers frequently enlist trucking industry experts to identify errors, inconsistencies, and omissions in the records for signs of negligence and misconduct.
Trucking companies are not required to keep records indefinitely. Some of the documentation that is relevant to your claim may be destroyed in as little as six months. With this in mind, it is crucial to contact a truck accident lawyer as soon as possible to start building your case.
Preserving Evidence in a Truck Accident Claim
Although you may be able to document some of the conditions at the scene of the truck accident, such as damage to the vehicles, skid marks, your injuries, etc., these typically represent only a portion of the evidence you need to make a compelling case for compensation. Your lawyer will collect much more information on your behalf to determine how the accident occurred and who is at fault.
One of the most powerful tools for building a truck accident claim is a letter of spoliation. This letter is delivered to the trucking company and calls for the preservation of key evidence such as:
- The truck driver’s log book
- Records from the electronic logging device on the truck
- Maintenance records for the semi truck involved in the accident
- Inspection reports for the truck and its cargo
- Trucking company records on the driver’s background and employment
- Alcohol and drug test results for the driver after the accident
- Investigative reports undertaken by the trucking company after the truck accident
- The damaged truck itself
Many truck accident claims are resolved through settlements before the matter even proceeds to trial. In the event that your case does go to court, your attorney will request any and all relevant records from the trucking company as part of the discovery phase (the process of sharing and examining information prior to trial).
Start Building Your Truck Accident Claim Today
If you or a loved one has been involved in a trucking accident, it is important to take immediate steps to preserve the evidence in your case and determine who is at fault for the crash. The negligence of the truck driver is a key consideration, but the trucking company, the company that loaded the truck, and other parties may be partly liable as well.
Ventura Law is committed to helping clients navigate the complexities of truck accident claims. Our attorneys fully investigate your case and pursue full compensation on your behalf.
Please call (203) 800-8000 today for a free case review. Our truck accident lawyers serve clients throughout Connecticut from offices in Danbury, Bridgeport, Hartford, and Norwalk, as well as in New York.