Truck transport is a thriving business in the United States. An estimated 15.5 million trucks operate in the U.S., with almost 2 million tractor-trailers. About 70 percent of all products reach their destination via a type of truck. Trucks supply essential products, including consumer goods, medical supplies, and equipment.
Cars, motorcycles, and pedestrians share the roads with large trucks. Accidents are a common occurrence. The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that over 500,000 truck accidents happen yearly, and someone is injured or killed in a truck accident every 16 minutes. Those traveling in passenger vehicles are particularly vulnerable. Statistics show that 74 percent of fatal passenger vehicle crashes involve a large truck.
Florida trucking regulations
Both state and federal governments heavily regulate the trucking industry. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is a government agency that works to improve the safety of large trucks and buses. The agency requires many detailed regulations, such as specific driver qualifications, logbooks, regular inspections for the trucks, and specific truck maintenance.
Florida also regulates commercial motor vehicles enforced by the Florida Highway Patrol Office of Commercial Vehicle Enforcement (OCVE).
If a commercial truck driver, motor carrier, or associated vendor violates the state or federal regulations, their actions are negligent.
What types of trucks may be involved in a truck accident?
The general public may refer to large SUVs and pickups as trucks. However, truck accidents typically involve large commercial trucks. This term refers to any truck used for commercial purposes, to carry commercial goods, or provide commercial services driven by professional truck drivers.
The type of truck involved in a crash affects the outcome of the collision. For example, a crash involving an 18-wheeler will be different from a residential mail truck.
The most common types of trucks involved in truck accidents include:
- Tractor-trailers. An 18-wheeled truck with a cab that pulls an enclosed trailer to haul cargo. They usually have large blind spots.
- Flatbed trucks. These trucks may also have 18 wheels but haul an open flatbed trailer instead of an enclosed compartment for cargo.
- Tanker truck. Tanker trucks may carry liquids, gasses, or hazardous or toxic materials. An accident with one of these trucks can be especially dangerous when hazardous cargo releases or catches fire.
- Garbage and dump trucks. These vehicles often haul gravel, dirt, trash, or similar materials. They are often involved in pedestrian and bicycle accidents because of visibility and blind spot problems.
- Mail and delivery trucks. Mail and delivery trucks often cause pedestrian accidents, partly because the drivers are distracted looking at the addresses on mail or packages and trying to locate the appropriate house numbers while driving.
Common types of truck accidents
Each truck accident is different; however, certain accidents are especially likely for trucks.
- Head-on and rear-end collisions. These often cause severe or fatal injuries for those in smaller vehicles.
- Jackknife accidents.
- Underride accidents.
- Roll-over accidents.
- Blind spot accidents.
Factors contributing to truck crashes
As with all motor vehicle crashes, many factors, including alcohol and illegal substance abuse and aggressive driving, contribute to the crash. The Large Truck Crash Causation Study conducted by the FMCSA reported that mechanical defects, fatigue, and new routes are among the most common causes of truck crashes. Mechanical issues with tires, wheels, steering wheels, and brakes are the top causes of accidents. New electronic systems in trucks are also an accident risk.
Large commercial trucks’ enormous size and weight pose a significant risk to those involved in crashes. According to a recent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report, the average weight of a passenger vehicle is 4,156 pounds. Tractor-trailers typically weigh around 80,000 pounds when fully loaded.
A car traveling at 65 miles per hour can stop in about 300 feet. However, a fully loaded semi-truck requires about 600 feet to stop. Stopping times are even slower in poor weather conditions or if the cargo is improperly loaded.
Truck accidents cause severe injuries
Severe or catastrophic injuries often result from truck accidents.
These may include:
- Spinal cord or back injuries
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
- Broken or fractured bones
- Soft tissue injuries
- Contusions or bruising
- Cuts and burns
Who may I hold liable for a truck accident?
Each crash is unique, but most people assume that one of the drivers involved is at fault. However, in some cases, a party not directly involved in the accident, also known as a third party, bears responsibility for the accident and resulting injuries. You need a lawyer to identify all individuals or entities who contributed to the accident. If the accident involves only two cars, liability may be straightforward. However, truck accidents are usually more complex.
Some truck drivers own their trucks and are self-employed. However, many truck drivers work for a trucking company or another business that operates a fleet of trucks. Vicarious liability is a legal theory for employers being legally responsible for their employees’ actions. Therefore, a negligent truck driver who causes a crash while acting in the course of their duties may subject the company to legal fault.
The trucking company may also be liable if they fail to properly hire, supervise, or train drivers. In addition, the company or its vendors may be liable due to dangerous cargo loading or handling practices.
Other potentially liable parties may include:
- The manufacturer of the truck and its parts if malfunctions contributed to the crash.
- Those responsible for truck maintenance and repair.
- The cargo owner.
- A local government or contractor responsible for highway design or maintenance.
How do you prove a truck accident?
Typically, several investigations follow a truck accident. The law enforcement officers who respond to the accident will file an accident report. In addition, the trucking company, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), investigation and accident reconstruction experts hired by insurance companies, and lawyers may also investigate the crash circumstances.
The trucking company usually has valuable evidence, including:
- The truck that was in the accident
- The truck’s maintenance records
- Logs recording hours of service
- Data from the truck’s electronic data recorder
- The driver’s personnel file
- The driver’s drug and alcohol test results
Federal law permits trucking companies to destroy evidence after a specified time, typically six months. To prevent the loss of critical evidence, your attorney may prepare a spoliation letter requesting the preservation of all relevant evidence. The letter goes to the trucking company and other parties connected to the accident, such as a maintenance and repair company or a shipping company.
What is the process for filing a lawsuit after a truck accident?
Truck accident lawsuits can be very complicated.
To prevail in a court case, your attorney must prove to the judge and jury that:
- The person or entity at fault owed you a legal duty.
- They breached that duty.
- The accident and injuries resulted from the breach of duty.
- You suffered injuries and damages from the accident.
Most accident cases follow certain basic steps, such as:
Filing the lawsuit. The lawsuit begins when your attorney prepares and files the necessary documents with the court before the statute of limitations expires. The complaint contains a description of the facts of the case, the applicable Florida laws, and a demand for damages. Next, the attorney serves the documents to the opposing party. The defendant files an answer, which may present factual or legal defenses to the allegations.
Gathering evidence. The evidence could include, but is not limited to:
- Accident reports and police reports
- Physical evidence from the accident scene
- Photographs and videos of the accident
- Medical records and statements from physicians
- Statements from eyewitnesses
- Testimony from expert witnesses
Discovery phase. The parties exchange information about the evidence and witnesses they plan to present at trial. This process usually takes several months.
To obtain this information, your truck accident lawyer can use:
- Request to produce
- Request for admissions
Pre-trial motions. Pre-trial motions settle issues regarding the procedure and legal issues, such as the admissibility of evidence.
Settlement discussions and trial. Most cases settle before trial, so the parties usually hold settlement discussions throughout the process. Many factors affect the likelihood of settlement. These include the injury’s severity, the time expected for recovery and anticipated treatment costs, the certainty of liability, emotional and mental trauma, and the degree to which the injury disrupts the victim’s life.
If the parties cannot agree on a settlement, the case proceeds to trial. During the trial, both parties present the evidence supporting their case. Unless the case happens before a judge, one of the first steps in personal injury trials is selecting a jury.
After that, the attorneys present:
- Opening statements
- Witness testimony and cross-examination
- Closing arguments
- Jury instruction
- Jury deliberation and verdict
When the case concludes, the judge or jury decides whether the defendant is liable and what damages they should pay. Either side may appeal the decision if they so choose.
If the plaintiff prevails, the judge or jury may award damages.
Economic damages typically include:
- Current and future medical costs associated with the accident. Because truck accident injuries are often severe, the injured person may need extensive medical care.
- Lost income and lost future earning capacity. The injured person may be unable to work during recovery, but their injuries may prevent them from working at their previous job or previous career. The law also provides damages for permanent injury and disability.
Non-economic damages are more difficult to quantify but no less painful and debilitating. Therefore an award for emotional distress and other non-economic damages may be significant. The injury may cause emotional distress, such as anxiety, depression, and other psychological conditions. The victim may experience loss of consortium or companionship, disfigurement, or loss of enjoyment of life.
Punitive damages are rare unless the defendant’s actions were intentional or grossly negligent. The purpose is to punish the defendant or deter others from the same behavior. An award for punitive damages in Florida is usually proportionate to the compensatory damages you receive.
In most cases, the Florida punitive damages statute limits this type of compensation. The award cannot be more than three times the amount of compensatory damages, or $500,000, whichever amount is higher.
Florida’s truck accident statute of limitations
A statute of limitations is a law that determines the maximum time that parties have to file a lawsuit from the date of an alleged offense. In Florida, injured persons have four years to file a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault party. Once that period has passed, the injured person cannot file a lawsuit. However, if the injured person dies due to the accident, the statute of limitations for filing a wrongful death lawsuit is two years.
Insurance claims have different deadlines. Filing an injury claim against the insurance company for the trucker or trucking company is another way to seek compensation. Still, it is not the same as filing a personal injury lawsuit. The time limit for the statute of limitations ticks away until you file a lawsuit.
Truck accident lawsuits are often very complex. Therefore, you should consult a skilled attorney as soon as possible. Your truck accident lawyer can discuss your legal options and guide you through the process.
If a truck accident injured you, contact an experienced, zealous truck accident attorney for more information and your free case evaluation today.