Getting into a car accident is a scary, and often dangerous situation. This situation can be even more dangerous, and cause more harm when the crash is between a passenger vehicle and a commercial truck simply because of the significant size difference. Once the dust settles after the crash, you may find that nothing about this accident is typical, from the damage it causes to the complexity of the claims process. Commercial trucks commonly have insurance policies in excess of $1 million, in order to cover the value of the goods they are transporting, but more importantly to ensure that the risks associated with operating such a large vehicle over such long miles are mitigated.
At first glance, it may seem that a $1 million insurance policy means that you will have a much better chance of getting a fair settlement after your accident. While this may be true, it also means that the entire claims process will require a lot more information, documentation, evidence collection, and research in order to understand the entire situation. This complexity is only one of the reasons why working with a personal injury attorney in San Diego can be the best decision that you make during this process.
We will be happy to use our experience to handle all of the legal matters so that you can take the necessary time to focus on your recovery. Following a serious accident, self-care and rehabilitation should be your primary focuses; unfortunately, dealing with a claims process on your own will seriously undermine these priorities. Contact us now to schedule an initial consultation and learn more about how we can help lighten this burden for you so that you can focus on your personal wellbeing with confidence in your legal team. Read more below to get a better understanding of some general information regarding truck accidents in San Diego.
If you have been injured in a truck accident, you may be eligible to receive significant compensation. While the injuries sustained in these types of collisions can be catastrophic, we can help alleviate the financial stress. Call San Diego truck accident attorney Richard Morse for a free consultation.
Truck Accidents—Dangerous and Deadly
While any vehicle accident can result in serious injuries or death, when a passenger vehicle collides with a semi-truck, the odds that those in the passenger vehicle will be severely injured or die, increase exponentially. When you consider that the average semi-truck and trailer is as long as 75 feet, and can weigh up to 80,000 pounds loaded—as opposed to the average passenger vehicle weighing about 3,500 pounds—you can see why the risk increases.
According to 2010 information from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, those in passenger vehicles are much more likely to die in a trucking accident than the truck driver, as evidenced by the following statistics:
- In 2014, 3,660 people across the U.S. died in a large truck crash;
- 16 percent of those deaths were the occupants or driver of the truck;
- 68 percent of those deaths were the occupants or drivers of passenger vehicles, and
- 15 percent of the fatalities were pedestrians, bicyclists or motorcyclists.
According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, in 2013 in the state of California, there were a total of 4,125 auto collisions which resulted in a fatality. 249 of those fatalities involved a large commercial truck.
San Diego shares a border with Mexico, making it an important gateway for international trade, thus a hub for commercial truck travel. Overall, California is home to a large, complex freight movement market, resulting in an increasing number of commercial trucks on the California highways, transporting goods from place to place and increasing the risk of a truck accident.
Most Common Factors in Truck Accidents
Aside from fatigue and distracted driving, there are a number of other factors involved in the majority of truck accidents, including:
- Bad brakes are another cause of trucking accidents. Because large commercial trucks are so much heavier than passenger vehicles, they require much more force to slow or come to a complete stop. Trucks also spend considerable time on the roadways, meaning the brakes wear more quickly, and are more prone to failure. Although regular brake maintenance is federally mandated, trucking accidents resulting from bad brakes continue to occur.
- Poorly secured cargo is more common than you would think as a cause for truck accidents. Large commercial trucks may carry live cargo such as livestock, steel pipes, cardboard boxes, logs, bulk liquids, hazardous liquids or any number of other cargo items. Any top-heavy load has the potential to flip over when the driver rounds a moderate to sharp curve on the road, resulting in cargo spilled across the roadway and drivers attempting to avoid a serious accident. The news reported on a commercial truck which dumped an entire load of telephone books in a downtown, heavily congested city area. As you can imagine, many collisions followed. Straps may be worn out or can loosen as the truck travels down the road; cargo-shifting can lead to a truck jackknife or rollover. The loading company and the driver are responsible for ensuring the load is secure and not a hazard to other drivers.
- Commercial truck under-ride accidents kill as many as 350 people yearly. When a passenger vehicle collides with the rear of a large commercial truck, it can slide underneath, shearing away the top of the vehicle in the process, and killing or maiming the passengers inside. While under-ride bars are now required on most commercial trucks in the U.S., there are weaknesses in the standards regarding how those bars perform.
- Inexperienced drivers are responsible for many trucking accidents. Truck drivers must meet age requirements, be able to speak and understand the English language, have a valid Commercial Driver’s license and be physically able to handle the long hours behind the wheel of an 18-wheeler. Driver must also undergo training, however some trucking companies cut corners when hiring drivers—both in training and in background checks. When companies exhibit negligent hiring practices, serious or fatal accidents can occur; drivers must have the necessary commercial driving skills and must also consistently put the safety of those they share the roadways with above the demands to deliver their load quickly.
The Importance of the ECM (Black Box) in Truck Accidents
In 2012 a bill was introduced into Congress which would require those who own or operate large commercial trucks to install electronic control modules (also known as a “black box”) into the trucks. These data recorders would essentially record such things as:
- The driver’s average speed;
- All stops made by the truck driver;
- RPMs of the truck’s engine prior to a collision;
- Deployment of airbags in the event of a crash;
- Brake usage five seconds prior to a collision;
- Idling times;
- Cruise control status;
- Clutch and gear selection made by the truck driver;
- When the cruise control is engaged;
- Engine malfunctions;
- Steering column angle;
- Whether a safety belt was worn by the driver, and
- Speed at the time of a collision.
While black boxes are currently installed in many large commercial trucks, a significant number of truck drivers feel these recorders are nothing more than an invasion of their privacy. Others believe such a bill would vastly increase the safety of our roadways.
What To Do After a Truck Accident
Assess the Situation
As with any accident, the most important thing to do following a truck accident in San Diego is to make sure that you and your passengers are safe from any additional injuries or accidents, if at all possible. This may mean getting your vehicle to the side of the road, into a breakdown lane, median strip, or sidewalk. If your vehicle is disabled, this may mean getting yourself and your passengers to the side of the road. In other situations, you may determine that remaining in your vehicle is the best decision.
If you are able to, call 911 immediately. If you are unable to, because of injuries or any other reason, hopefully, someone else on the scene is able to. Staying on the line with a 911 operator is a great way to remain calm, speak with someone about what is happening at the scene, and they may be able to advise you on how to handle the situation appropriately while you are waiting for the emergency responders.
Get Medical Attention
The EMTs will be able to take inventory of all of the injuries that have been sustained from the accident, and make a determination on who needs the most immediate care. If they have determined that you need emergency care, it is always in your best interest to accept the care. If you do not require an ambulance or a trip to the emergency room, it is still very important that you schedule time with your primary care physician as soon as possible. Regardless of how you get the medical attention, this both addresses any medical needs, and it establishes a paper trail of these injuries that can be traced back to the crash.
Contact An Attorney
After you have been able to address your immediate medical needs, contact an attorney as soon as possible. You will need to file a claim with the commercial insurance company in a very short period of time, and you will find that this process is overwhelming whether or not you were additionally recovering from significant injuries. When you are represented by an experienced truck accident lawyer in San Diego, this process will be much less stressful for you.
Filing a Claim After a Truck Accident
Following an accident that someone else caused, you will need to file an insurance claim. These claims are frustrating in any situation, but this is additionally true when it comes to commercial policies. The simple reason behind this is because of the sheer complexity of a commercial motor vehicle insurance policy.
There are a number of details that will need to be investigated in order to determine what happened in the crash. Commercial truck drivers are required to maintain meticulous logs of their travels in order to prove their compliance with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, such as their hours of service limitations, maintenance requirements, weight limits, and more. In addition, there may be data from a “black box” that records information such as when the driver applied their brakes, the speed they were traveling at, and more, as well as footage from dashboard cameras, traffic cameras, and eyewitness accounts.
Each of these individual pieces of information will need to be pulled into our investigation in order to piece together a comprehensive understanding of what happened leading up to your accident. In order to make the most sense of this information, it is helpful to have a history of professional experience dealing with truck accidents and insurance claims processes, like the team at our law firm.
Who is Responsible for Your Truck Accident?
Trucking accidents differ from two-car collisions in many ways, due to the severity of the injuries as well as the fact that there may be more than one defendant.
The truck driver may have been at fault, negligent, distracted or driving recklessly. The trucking company may be liable for hiring an inexperienced driver or allowing the driver to exceed the legal number of driving hours.
If the truck is independently owned, then the owner could be at fault, as well as the leasing company, or even the owner of the trailer. The truck may have been poorly maintained, resulting in an accident, or the truck—or specific parts of the truck—could have a defect in the design. Even the company responsible for loading the truck could be held liable for a trucking accident if the unsecured or improperly secured cargo was the cause of the accident.
“Typical” Injuries Associated with Truck Accidents
Those who survive a collision with an 18-wheeler are likely to be left with extreme injuries that could take months, years, or even a lifetime to heal—if they heal at all.
Common injuries sustained in a truck accident often include:
- Traumatic brain injuries,
- Spinal cord injuries,
- Limb amputation,
- Internal injuries, and
- Broken bones
Victims of truck accidents may wonder whether their life will ever return to anything remotely resembling normal. They may be unable to work, therefore unable to provide for their family and pay even the most basic living expenses.
The trauma of colliding with a huge commercial truck can also leave victims with serious emotional issues, including PTSD, severe depression and chronic insomnia. Many victims of a trucking accident find it difficult—if not impossible—to ever get behind the wheel of their vehicle again.
Fatigued Driving and Truck Accidents
As of 2012, truck drivers may drive a maximum of 11 hours following 10 consecutive hours off-duty, or a maximum of 10 hours after 8 consecutive hours off-duty, and may not drive after 60/70 hours on duty in 7/8 consecutive days.
Those who have ever driven eleven hours at a stretch know just how exhausting it can be, yet truck drivers drive these hours, day in and day out. Furthering the problem is the fact that truck drivers often keep two sets of log books—one to show to DOT in the event they are stopped, and the “real” set. This is such a widespread problem that log books are often known as “comic books” among those in the industry.
Truck drivers only get paid for the time they are behind the wheel, on the road, therefore their motivation is simple—a bigger paycheck at the end of the month. Trucking companies may turn a blind eye to the issue because the faster loads are turned around, the more money they make.
Fatigue is an extremely dangerous issue, however, and many believe it is responsible for a significant number of truck accidents with the U.S. Department of Transportation declaring driver fatigue a “leading factor” in collisions.
Distracted Driving Just as Dangerous for Truck Drivers
Distracted driving is fast moving up to the number two spot as a cause of truck accidents, following fatigued driving. Visual distractions occur when the driver takes his eyes from the road, whether to look at a cell phone, look at the radio while changing stations, search for an item in the truck, or look at something happening on the side of the road. Manual distraction occurs when the hands are taken from the wheel.
Truck drivers often eat while driving, meaning their hands are engaged in a task other than driving. Cognitive distractions occur when the driver is thinking of something other than the road and the drivers ahead, behind and on either side.
Daydreaming, listening to music with headphones on, talking on a cell phone or concentrating on a conversation with a passenger are forms of cognitive distraction. Truck drivers are, perhaps even more prone to distracted driving than other drivers, simply because of the sheer number of hours spent behind the wheel.
Call our San Diego Truck Accident Attorney Today
A knowledgeable San Diego truck accident attorney can thoroughly evaluate your case, determining who should be held accountable. Your attorney will work hard on your behalf to ensure you receive an equitable settlement that fully covers your medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
Experience is a key factor in your eventual settlement; your attorney will be accustomed to handling lawsuits with multiple defendants and will know who to target in your truck accident. If you want to be able to look to your future, while being able to deal with your injuries and the pain and trauma of your truck accident, having a personal injury lawyer in your corner is essential.