Some commercial trucks weigh as much as 80,000 pounds and can be very long and difficult to control or stop. This can make them highly susceptible to causing accidents. When a 80,000 pound 18 Wheeler hits a passenger car, the result can be catastrophic to the occupants of the car. The legal responsibility of truck drivers and their companies is similar to the rules for car accidents, but more responsibility is placed on truck drivers. It is important to understand these rules before you start a truck accident negligence case.
Trucking companies only make money when the trucks are operating. This causes drivers to drive when the weather is bad, when they are tired and when the truck is overloaded. Drivers are frequently paid by the mile, which can result in them taking chances that most drivers would not take, and oftentimes, drivers have been poorly trained before taking to the road. Drivers are required to keep logbooks showing how long they have been in service, but some trucking companies look the other way when drivers falsify their logs or fail to demonstrate competence in operating a big rig. Getting these logs is vitally important to determine if a driver involved in a truck accident was driving too long and without sufficient rest. Another issue that has surfaced in Wyoming Trucking Accidents is that a lot of the drivers operating on our highways do not speak English. We have cases where the commercial drivers were unable to read road signs, understand weather reports because they did not speak the language. Trucking companies are now actively recruiting drivers from other countries to driver their trucks. In a wrongful death case we had last year, we had to hire an Armenian interpreter to take the deposition of the driver that caused the death of our client. The national trucking company he worked for produced his training record where he signed a certification that he had read and understood the company safety manual. He couldn’t read a single page of it and we later discovered that he signed the certification the same day he got the 300 page manual. This driver was simply unqualified and the company knew it.
Most trucks driving along our Wyoming highways are now equipped with ECM or Qualcom systems, which are similar to black boxes used in commercial aircraft. They can show the speed, RPM levels and braking distance, as well as track the route and measure time in service before the crash. This can be vital information in evaluating whether the trucking company is at fault for an accident. After a wreck, the data from these black boxes is in the possession of the trucking company. Unless a specific request is made early, this information may be destroyed. You can count on it being destroyed if it demonstrates a violation of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Act. This is the Federal law that controls commercial interstate trucking operations.
The first thing that should be done in any truck accident case is to demand in writing that the company maintain all data from the black box in the truck and all operational documents including things like the drivers logs. The logs are written documents that all truck drivers must use to keep track of their hours in service. Drivers falling asleep are frequently the cause of terrible Wyoming truck crashes. The trucking company has a responsibility to make sure their drivers comply with the Federal hours of service limits. If you have been involved in a wreck with a truck, you must act quickly to preserve this evidence because if the evidence does not help the trucking company in the case, you can be pretty sure it will be destroyed as soon as possible.
Truck drivers are also drug tested after wrecks. This testing may show the driver was under the influence of some illegal substance at the time of the wreck. Some drivers take illegal amphetamines to keep awake for long periods. Sometimes they have been drinking before the crash. This information is vital to evaluating their reaction time and ability to avoid the crash.
Weather is another huge factor in truck accidents. Some trucking companies take a load to a destination and make return trips with empty trailers. With the wind in Wyoming, these trucks are much harder to handle. There are safe ways to avoid this problem such as putting weight in the trailers, but most companies don’t like to do it because that uses too much fuel.
Trucks also make unusually wide turns. This is especially true if they are running with several trailers. When a truck moves into the left lane coming up to an intersection, that may mean that it is going to turn left; however, it may also mean it is going to turn right, but must make a wide swing to negotiate the turn based on the length of the rig. Trucks have blind spots that do not allow a trucker to see all of the traffic in the immediate area, so when an untrained driver tries to make one of these turns, he may miss a driver attempting to pass in a blind spot.
DEALING WITH INSURANCE COMPANIES
Truck accident cases usually result in severe injuries or death, which is why trucking companies are required to maintain large insurance policies. Immediately after a truck wreck, the insurance company sends out accident reconstruction engineers and various other experts to help defend the company. If you or a loved one have been involved in a trucking accident, it is important to have a lawyer familiar with this process representing your interests from the very beginning.
There are a variety of different kinds of expert witnesses who are usually required in trucking accident cases. Accident reconstruction engineers can recreate an accident based on the physical evidence and photographs of the scene. The Wyoming Highway Patrol usually takes a series of photographs at an accident scene that are also frequently used by the experts. It is important to get copies of these photos as soon as possible. The investigating officer will also take measurements which are recorded on the accident reports. With the photos, the measurements and by looking at the physical damage to the vehicles, an accident reconstruction expert can tell how fast the vehicles were traveling at the critical events of a crash. We have cases where we had animated recreations of the crash created by the reconstruction engineers from the view of each driver in the crash so that the jury can actually watch the accident happen in real time. These can be very helpful in proving how the crash happened. More importantly, they can demonstrate how the accident could have been avoided. Other types of experts involve truck driving specialists who can talk about proper driving procedure and human factors engineers who can tell us what happens to human beings when they are involved in a serious crash.
Truck crashes are very complicated cases. Both state and federal law regulate how commercial vehicles must be operated and a complete understanding of the law in this area is crucial to evaluating and bringing a lawsuit against a commercial trucking company. At the Whitaker Law Office, we have handled many Wyoming truck crash cases involving wrongful death and catastrophic injuries. If you have questions about your situation just give us a call.
For more information on commercial truck crashes, check my blog on this site for several articles I have written about truck wreck cases.