Truck drivers live a good deal of their lives on the road. One part of their life that they must be careful never to mix with their job is drinking. Even one drink may be enough to be driving under the influence. It can cost them their CDL license.
From your standpoint, if an intoxicated trucker injured you, you may recover financial compensation for your damages. First, you should contact an experienced attorney to help you file a claim or lawsuit against the responsible driver.
The good news is that truckers are far less likely to cause an accident when drunk than passenger vehicle drivers. An overwhelming majority of truck drivers do not want to risk their profession and ability to earn a living by doing something illegal and reckless like drinking and driving. The bad news is that driver injuries can be severe, given the large disparity in size between trucks and cars. Any truck accident has the potential to cause critical damages.
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How Alcohol Affects Truck Drivers
- Alcohol slows a driver’s reaction time. Since trucks require far more time to stop than cars, even a split-second delay in reaction time can lead to a serious accident.
- People who are under the influence of alcohol make far worse decisions.
- Alcohol causes people to lose inhibitions and act in far riskier ways.
- Motor control suffers, making it far more difficult for a driver to control such a large vehicle.
Fully-loaded trucks can weigh up to 80,000 pounds. They are difficult to control under the best circumstances by the most experienced drivers.
Truckers who have been drinking will have more difficulty with:
- Keeping a truck in its lane
- Navigating turns
- Reading road signs
- Judging the distance between their truck and other vehicles
- Responding to any incidents on the road
Needless to say, alcohol will interfere with a truck driver’s ability to do their job safely. While much of the conversation about impaired driving focuses on alcohol, truck drivers under the influence of drugs or prescription medications can also cause the same dangers. The increasing availability of marijuana has raised the risks of impaired driving.
Drinking and Driving Laws for Truck Drivers Are Tougher
The laws for truck drivers are far stricter than other drivers. For normal drivers, the legal limit for blood alcohol content is 0.08. For truckers, it is half that. As far as the average person goes, one drink (for example, one beer or one shot of 80-proof alcohol) will lead to a BAC of .025. In other words, more than one drink should put a truck driver over the legal limit.
In reality, truckers should not even push their luck with one drink before driving. One drink may be enough for some truck drivers to be over the legal threshold. Beyond that, alcohol may mix with a medication that the truck driver is taking and have an even greater impact. If the truck driver is already fatigued, the alcohol may worsen the situation.
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The Trucking Company’s Testing Obligations
The trucking company has legal obligations to test the truck driver at certain points.
According to federal regulations, here are a trucking company’s testing responsibilities:
- Before a trucking company even hires a driver, they must look into the driver’s drug and alcohol history, checking their driving record for any drunk driving convictions or accidents. This lookback spans all jobs in the two years before the driver applied to the current company.
- Trucking companies must randomly test their drivers for drugs and alcohol based on an established program.
- Trucking companies must also test drivers if they suspect that the driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The trucking company must train supervisors to spot the signs of impairment.
In addition, trucking companies have strict requirements after their drivers have been in an accident that caused injury or damage that required towing of the vehicle. In that event, the trucking company must test the driver for drugs and alcohol within short time frames after the accident.
If the trucking company cannot carry out this test in time, they must explain exactly why not. Trucking companies can get into serious trouble if they fail to administer tests when they can just because they are afraid of liability.
In terms of your case, your lawyer might start with the police report, which may note whether the driver appeared under the influence. If the truck driver faced charges of DUI, you will learn that in the course of your case. Your lawyer can obtain the trucking company’s test results during the discovery process. If alcohol was involved in the crash, your attorney will learn it at some point.
If a truck driver receives a conviction of DUI, they will lose their ability to drive a truck. The truck driver will have their CDL license suspended for one year. It is a mandatory penalty, and there is no wiggle room. They will also face criminal penalties for a DUI conviction. In addition, these drivers should have a hard time finding employment when they regain their CDL license.
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DUI Criminal and Civil Cases Are Not the Same
If you suffered injuries from a truck driver who was drinking, you do not need to prove that they were drinking beyond a reasonable doubt, as the prosecutor must in a criminal case. First, there is a lower standard of proof in a civil case than in a criminal one. You will just need to prove your case by a preponderance of the evidence, meaning that your side of the story was more likely than not to have happened.
Second, all you need to prove is that the driver was negligent, meaning they acted unreasonably under the circumstances. Even if you cannot prove that they were intoxicated, you just need to show that they made an error behind the wheel that caused your injuries.
Of course, it helps your case to show that the driver was drinking. In a best-case scenario, a police report from the accident notes alcohol as a contributing factor in your accident. If the truck driver pled guilty to DUI, the conviction will serve as evidence in your civil case.
The Trucking Company Is Liable for Damages
In any truck accident case, unless the driver is an owner-operator, a trucking company is legally responsible for their driver’s actions. In any employment relationship, the employer must pay for the damages that the employee causes while on the job. Even if the employee is doing something wrong and is breaking the law, their employer still must pay. So long as the operator is driving for the trucking company at the time of the accident, the employee will be liable.
With a trucking company, a large insurance policy may cover all damages. If the trucking company does not have this insurance coverage, its assets are at risk. Like any company, they do not want to be put out of business because they do not have enough insurance. If the policy is inadequate, you can go after the trucking company’s bank accounts and assets to satisfy any judgment.
Insurance Companies Will Fight Hard Against Your Legal Claim
Because truck accident claims usually involve more damages, insurance companies and their policyholders will take them very seriously. Their main goal with these claims is to settle them for as little as possible. In their book, they do best when they take a potentially large claim and turn it into a medium or small one. Therefore, you have to handle all the firepower and tricks that an insurance company has to throw at you when dealing with serious injuries from the accident.
An insurance company does not have nearly the power it thinks if your case involves a trucker who was drinking. While the insurance company and their policyholder may try to save some money on a settlement claim, they must take care. If you decide that settlement negotiations are not to your liking, they have everything to fear from a jury. There are very few defenses for an intoxicated trucker who injures another driver, and a jury may be angry at the drunk driver.
Drunk truckers may even cause the jury to award punitive damages in your case. These damages apply in rare cases when a jury wants to send an unmistakable message to the defendant. When truckers have been drinking and driving, in obvious violation of the law, it may be exactly when a jury wants to get tough with the defendant. This is why a defendant may fear going to trial in these cases, and you can use this to your advantage. However, insurance companies will not pay punitive damages as part of your settlement.
Your Legal Options After a Drunk Driving Trucking Accident
In any truck accident case, you will follow the same legal procedure to receive financial compensation:
- You can file an insurance claim with the trucking company’s insurer
- You can file a lawsuit in court seeking damages
If you choose to deal with the trucking company’s insurer, do not expect an easy time, even if liability is very easily apparent. In these cases, your fight will be more about getting the full compensation that you deserve for your injuries. Even if the insurance company very clearly owes you money, they do not want to pay it.
Damages in a Drunk Driving Trucking Accident
In a truck accident case, you may recover:
- The complete cost of your medical bills
- Lost wages for money that you did not earn at work
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Emotional distress
- Loss of consortium damages for a spouse
In a truck accident, these damages can be considerable. Many people are focused on getting the average truck accident settlement for their injuries. As far as you are concerned, there is no such thing as an average truck accident. You should receive payment for all of your accident damages.
If your loved one died in the accident, your family can file a wrongful death case to seek damages for the loss of your family member. The estate may also file a survival claim for the damages that your loved one suffered before they died.
It may take some time and multiple exchanges of figures to reach a settlement agreement. Insurance companies do not like to write large checks, and they will make you work hard for every dollar they offer.
When you are up against an insurance company in a high-dollar value claim, you must have an experienced lawyer who knows how to deal with everything that they have to give you. If money is on the line, they have quite a bit in store for you.
In any truck accident case, the important thing is getting enough compensation to pay for your damages. Hiring an attorney will often make a big difference in the size of your check. Even after paying a lawyer’s percentage, people represented by counsel do far better than those who try to deal with claims on their own. Having a lawyer means the difference between being grateful for getting a paltry check and saying no when a settlement offer does not pay you what you deserve.
There is no excuse for drunk truck driving, and you want a lawyer who will stand up to trucking companies and their insurers for you. Criminal penalties are not enough, and your lawyer can help impose civil liability.