In a world dominated for two years by lockdowns and local shortages, we’ve all become more familiar with the omnipresent commercial delivery truck. UPS, FedEx, and other delivery drivers stop at our houses or drive by every day.
We also watch for and, frankly, hope for the loaded eighteen-wheelers carrying goods to our increasingly empty stores. But more delivery trucks mean more delivery truck accidents, which are not necessarily the same as other motor vehicle collisions.
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What Is a Commercial Truck Accident?
A commercial truck is a truck used in business or transporting commercial goods.
You may see these and many other commercial trucks:
- Eighteen-wheeler tractor-trailers – These are large big-rig trucks used for long-haul freight deliveries. These can include day cabs with no sleeping facilities or sleeper cabs with sleeping facilities and even toilets.
- Refrigerated or Reefer Trucks -With the large size of most tractor-trailers, these trucks have added weight from insulation and refrigeration equipment.
- Delivery vehicles – Commercial delivery services such as FedEx, UPS, or local companies use these vehicles. A common type of vehicle for deliveries is the box truck.
- Freight Trucks – Like the 18-wheelers, these are large trucks, often with trailers, for long-distance freight delivery
- Tanker trucks – Used to transport liquids, these vehicles often contain hazardous materials; the instability of liquid cargo can make them prone to rollover accidents.
- Cement Trucks – Loaded with a heavy and rapidly hardening substance, these vehicles are cumbersome and often in a rush to get where they are going.
- Dump Trucks – Loaded with material intended for construction or disposal; they can be very large and heavy.
Commercial trucks are usually larger than a typical pickup, and many have a specific purpose. In most cases, the driver must earn and hold a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL).
How Is a Commercial Truck Accident Different From a Car Accident?
Commercial truck accidents are different from accidents involving individual passenger vehicles for several reasons.
A commercial truck is generally much larger than a passenger vehicle. The average car weighs 3,000 to 4,000 pounds while, at the furthest extreme of commercial trucks, a fully loaded big rig can easily exceed 80,000 pounds. This size differential, combined with basic physics, means that any collision between a commercial truck and a passenger vehicle, the smaller vehicle is in for serious consequences.
More Parties Involved
A company often owns a commercial truck, and an employer or another agent of that employer hires the driver. Even in a no-fault state like New York, if your accident meets the relatively low bar for suing after a motor vehicle accident, you can pursue several parties in addition to the driver.
Who Is Potentially Liable in a Commercial Truck Accident?
The potentially liable parties in a commercial truck accident generally include large corporate entities that may have far more insurance coverage than the driver’s personal insurance.
Some of these other parties include:
- Employer of the Driver – Commercial truck drivers, when acting as employees, are agents of their employer. In agency law, the principal/employer is liable for the conduct of the agent/employee if that conduct occurred during the employee’s employment. This liability is vicarious or, in Latin legalese, liability under a theory of respondeat superior.
- Owner of the Commercial Truck – The law provides that the owner of any vehicle in the state is “liable and responsible” for death or injuries to people or property that happens due to negligence in the use or operation of the truck – in the owner’s business or otherwise – by any person driving the vehicle with the express or implicit permission of the owner. In other words, like the employer, the owner, if a person or entity other than the employer, is also vicariously liable for the accident. However, if the owner is in the business of renting or leasing out trucks, the owner will not be liable under federal law.
- Owner of the Cargo Trailer – Although we don’t often think of it, different parties might own the cargo trailer or tanker attached to a truck and the truck itself. If the trailer owner is separate from the truck owner, this party too may be liable.
- Maintenance Services – If the maintenance of the truck or trailer was a factor in the accident, any third-party entities providing these services may be liable for injuries caused by poor maintenance.
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What Are Common Causes of Commercial Truck Accidents?
Commercial truck accidents have various causes, just like any car accident. More than half of all truck accidents in the United States result from driver error.
Some of the other common causes are:
- Driver Fatigue & Hours Violations – The federal and state governments place restrictions on the hours that commercial truckers can drive consecutively and over a weeklong period. Because of company scheduling rules and the pressure to quickly deliver perishable cargo, drivers often disregard these rules to the detriment of others on the road.
- DUIs – The federal standard for a commercial truck driver’s blood alcohol content is half that of other drivers. Truckers cannot have any alcohol within four hours of driving a commercial vehicle. DUIs are a crime, as is driving under the influence of drugs, legal or illegal.
- Distracted Driving – Distracted driving is probably the fastest-growing cause of motor vehicle accidents in the United States. It is dangerous and illegal, especially for commercial truckers, because of the greater reaction times required by trucks’ sizes. Even a few seconds of taking the driver’s eyes off the road can have terrible consequences.
- Speeding – Many, but by no means all, commercial vehicles are now equipped with speed trackers or speed controllers. Speeding is particularly dangerous for commercial trucks because even for the smallest ones, their weight makes coming to a stop a much slower process than for a passenger vehicle.
- Aggressive Driving – Truck drivers spend a lot of time on the road, driving under high pressure to deliver on time or early and a lot of stress. This condition makes them as a group rather more prone to road rage and aggressive driving than other drivers. Aggressive actions like tailgating, following too closely, or cutting others off can result in serious accidents.
- Weather Conditions – Because of pressure to be on time, track drivers are less likely to pull off for inclement weather. And that inclement weather reduces their ability to see and to control their vehicles. Bad weather can create massive pile-ups from one truck’s initial problem.
- Road Construction – Drivers don’t always react the right way to construction, going on the shoulder or median, which can cause a rollover or a collision with another vehicle.
- Cargo Issues – Large loads and tire blowouts can be a dangerous combination, as can a liquid load in a truck without proper baffles for controlling the movement of the liquid. Either of these can create the perfect conditions for a rollover accident. On external, badly prepared loads, debris or rollovers can be hazardous to other drivers.
- Brake/Vehicle Failure – Any vehicle can experience an equipment failure, but a loss of brakes on an 80,000 vehicle can be tragic. This circumstance can make the manufacturer or the maintenance company liable as well.
Common Injuries in Commercial Truck Accidents
Because of the physics of commercial truck accidents, injuries can and usually are severe.
Some of the typical injuries seen include:
- Head & Brain Injuries – Because of the huge forces encountered when a large commercial truck hits a passenger vehicle, occupants are often tossed around inside the vehicle or even ejected from it. Brain injury comes from impact to or penetration of the skull. A traumatic brain injury can result in loss of sensation, loss of motion and motor skills, paralysis, and loss of cognitive function. Even seemingly mild brain trauma can have potentially fatal complications. The mild TBI designation relates only to the initial presentation of symptoms and not to the overall prognosis. TBIs that medical professionals call mild can still be severe injuries resulting in serious and lasting effects and complications. If you are diagnosed with any TBI, watch for any complications or lingering effects.
- Fractures & Broken Bones – Again, the tremendous forces at work in a commercial truck accident can cause fractures, breaks, and even amputation of bones and limbs.
- Back, Neck & Spinal Cord Injuries – These can range from apparently mild whiplash to dislocated disks to damage to the spinal cord. This last can cause temporary or permanent loss of sensation or paralysis from the point of the injury, chronic pain, and loss of motor function.
- Burns – Burns are particularly prevalent in commercial truck accidents because of impact explosions and the carrying of hazardous materials.
- Torso & Internal Injuries – The forces behind the blunt trauma in commercial truck accidents can cause severe internal injuries. These injuries can then result in losing one or more organs and life-threatening internal bleeding. Damage to the rib cage can worsen these injuries and even puncture a lung.
- Wrongful Death – Again, the massive physics at play in a commercial truck accident often causes such severe injuries that the victim dies. Victims in big rig accidents are ten times more likely to die than those in a car-to-car accident. When death happens, certain survivors of the victim can sue for damages for the wrongful death.
What Damages Can You Recover in a Commercial Trust Accident?
There are generally three kinds of damages in a personal injury lawsuit. Of course, in a no-fault auto insurance state, you must first clear the bar for being eligible to file suit. For instance, in New York, if there was a serious injury in the accident or your injuries exceed your insurance coverage, you can usually sue to recover your damages. You must file such a suit in NY within three years of the accident. Keep in mind, there may be circumstances, such as a wrongful death claim or claim against a municipal entity, where you may have as little as 90 days to act.
Once you do that, you may recover:
- Economic Damages – These are the relatively objective, easy-to-prove out-of-pocket losses that you experience from an accident. They are usually provable with a paid bill or a timesheet and include:
- Medical and Hospital Expenses
- Lost Wages
- Rehabilitation Expenses
- Property Damage
- Non-Economic Damages – These damages are the more subjective damages that stretch out into the future. They are both difficult to prove and difficult to predict. They include:
- Pain and Suffering
- Loss of Earning Capacity
- Loss of Motor Function
- Loss of Cognitive Function
- Loss of Consortium
- Loss of Enjoyment of Life
- Punitive Damages – Punitive damages are rare because they stem from conduct so reckless that it borders on intentional. They are not supposed to compensate the victim but rather to punish the at-fault driver and deter other drivers from similar conduct.
States like New York do not place a cap on any damages in a personal injury commercial truck accident case.
How Can a Truck Accident Lawyer Help?
If you or a loved one sustained a serious injury in an accident involving a commercial truck, you should consider contacting a commercial truck accident lawyer right away. A skilled and experienced truck accident lawyer will bring that knowledge to bear on your case, leaving you to focus on your emotional, financial, and physical discovery.
Most personal injury lawyers take cases on a contingency fee basis. This arrangement means that you only have to pay attorneys’ fees if the lawyer obtains a successful settlement or verdict for you. Contingency fee agreements must be in writing and must lay out the terms of when and what payment you will have to make.
Contact a truck accident attorney today to receive a no-cost initial consultation and case evaluation. Let the lawyer become your advocate, fighting with insurance company adjusters and lawyers and leaving you free to focus on healing. You want someone with truck accident experience standing up for your rights. The time after a commercial truck crash can bring stress and confusion, but you do not have to face your insurance claim alone.