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Personal Injury

How a Lawyer Can Help You after a Tractor-Trailer Accident

Weighing up to 80,000 pounds when fully loaded and featuring significant blind spots on all four sides, commercial motor vehicles—also known as tractor-trailers or semi-trucks—prove far more difficult to maneuver than other vehicles. Operating one safely requires skills that drivers of smaller vehicles don’t need.

For this reason, the trucking industry operates under heavy regulations. However, despite the regulations, truck drivers and trucking companies often bend the rules, either by driving without the proper qualifications or hiring unqualified drivers.

If you sustained injuries or lost a loved one in an accident caused by an unqualified truck driver, you can seek compensation for your expenses. An experienced attorney can seek the maximum compensation available.

What Makes a Truck Driver Unqualified?

To understand what makes a driver unqualified to operate a commercial motor vehicle, you have to first look at the qualifications that truck drivers must have per federal regulations. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) oversees and regulates the trucking industry. The FMCSA proposes and enacts new rules to govern the safe operation of commercial vehicles to transport goods and people from one destination to another—even across state lines.

To operate a commercial motor vehicle, the driver must obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL) in the state where the driver resides or is based. The driver does not have to—nor can—obtain a CDL in every state where they drive. Drivers must obtain certain hazard endorsements, however, in the state where they will transport it. To obtain and keep the CDL, the driver must meet certain qualifications.

The Qualifications Required for a CDL

We should note that the CDL qualifications discussed here simply provide a glimpse at the regulations and do not constitute an exhaustive list.

#1. Basic Criteria

Anyone wishing to obtain a CDL must have reached the age of 21 years old, hold a high school diploma or GED, and must know how to read, speak, and comprehend English at a level that they can easily:

  • Converse with shippers, receivers, emergency personnel, and others as required for the job
  • Understand highway traffic signs and signals written in English
  • Respond to official inquiries and make notations on reports and records

#2. Criminal and Driving History

To obtain and maintain a CDL, the driver must have a clean criminal record and driving history.

Does it have to be completely spotless? No, but certain crimes and driving offenses can result in disqualification, such as any criminal activity involving a motor vehicle, any traffic offense involving impairment by alcohol or drugs, and excessive moving violations.

Once the driver obtains a CDL, the driver can temporarily or permanently lose it for:

  • Driving while impaired. Note: CDL-holders have a lowered legal blood alcohol content limit than the .08 grams of alcohol per deciliter of blood. For commercial truck drivers, the BAC limit is .04.
  • Committing a felony involving the use of a motor vehicle.
  • Leaving the scene of an accident.
  • Serious traffic violations.
  • Violating out-of-service orders, which law enforcement officers issue as a result of a safety violation.
  • Rail-crossing violations.

#3. Physical Requirements

Truck drivers must undergo a physical exam before obtaining a CDL.

Some of the physical requirements for obtaining and maintaining a CDL include:

  • 20/40 vision or better with the use of glasses or contact lenses.
  • At least 70 percent field of vision in each eye.
  • The ability to assume a crouched position, which is required to perform pre-trip safety inspections on the truck.
  • The ability to assume step up and kneeling positions as required to get into and out of the truck.
  • The ability to lift at least 30 pounds from the floor to over the head.
  • The ability to perform a horizontal push maneuver to properly open and close the trailer doors.
  • No untreated medical conditions that would impair the driver’s performance.
  • Passing drug and alcohol screenings, which the CDL requires to obtain or maintain.

#4. Knowledge Requirements

To obtain a CDL, the driver must pass written and driving tests to prove they acquired the knowledge necessary to operate the vehicle, including understanding pre-trip inspection procedures, air brakes (if applicable), and general vehicle control. If the driver seeks specific endorsements to transport hazardous materials or passengers, they may require additional tests.

Scenarios Involving Unqualified Truck Drivers

Most often, the victims of injury or death in truck-involved traffic accidents are the occupants of smaller vehicles. Because the risk to others posed by unqualified drivers is so great, not only do truck drivers bear legal responsibility for meeting the qualifications for the job, but the trucking company they work for and the shipper who contracts them to transport the cargo can also bear liability if the driver lacks the necessary qualifications.

Below, we discuss some accident scenarios that reveal the importance of truck driver qualifications:

  • A truck driver from another part of the country arrives during severe weather. Having never experienced one of Tampa’s rainstorms, the driver loses control of the truck, causing it to crash into another vehicle. While inclement weather contributed to the event, the driver’s failure to control the vehicle in commonly experienced weather conditions caused the accident, which drivers must have the ability to do to maintain a CDL.
  • A truck driver causes a collision as a result of truck driver fatigue. An accident investigation may reveal that the driver had received a diagnosis of sleep apnea. While the diagnosis would not preclude the driver from maintaining a CDL, the driver must receive treatment for the condition so that it does not impair the driver’s work performance when on the job.
  • A truck driver strikes a pedestrian and flees the scene of the accident. Later, when police determine the driver’s identity and proceed with questioning, the driver tells the police that they fled the scene because of alcohol impairment and a fear of losing their CDL. In this case, the driver would most certainly lose their CDL and would likely face even more severe criminal consequences.

All three of these scenarios show how unqualified truck drivers cause accidents that result in the injury and death of others.

Seeking Compensation After an Accident Caused By an Unqualified Truck Driver

Accidents involving commercial motor vehicles produce some of the most devastating injuries an individual can incur, including many that will result in a permanent inability to earn an income or accomplish personal care tasks independently. These cases can become big and complex, often featuring high-powered attorneys working for the trucking company and the driver, a high valued claim, and even additional complications involving federal investigations and news media.

If an unqualified truck driver injured you in an accident or killed a loved one, protect your right to compensation by hiring an experienced truck accident attorney

Federal regulations and required documentation in the trucking industry make for a lot of evidence that requires a thorough examination, and serious injuries require the case to be valued high enough to ensure that enough money exists to cover the likelihood of future expenses.

You will want an attorney with the confidence to go up against the trucking company’s legal counsel, and who feels comfortable fighting for your right to compensation through either the process of a negotiated settlement or through litigation.

Proving Liability in Your Unqualified Truck Driver Accident

To have a successful outcome to your truck accident claim, you must prove that someone else’s actions caused the accident in which you sustained your injuries. As previously mentioned, more than one source of liability may exist for the accident.

When investigating your claim to determine the sources of liability, your attorney will want to see several pieces of potential evidence, including:

  • Accident reports taken by the police on the scene. We should note that the National Transportation Safety Board assumes investigative powers over some types of truck accidents, particularly those involving multiple vehicles or fatalities or those resulting in the spillage of hazardous materials.
  • Electronic logs for the driver, which will reveal whether they complied with hours of service regulations, which require drivers to take off-duty breaks.
  • The vehicle’s maintenance schedule, reports from its last service, and pre-inspection safety inspections conducted on the vehicle by the driver.
  • Proof of the driver’s qualifications, including their CDL, driving record, physical exams, and drug and alcohol screenings.
  • Statements from individuals who witnessed the events.

To show that any party bears liability for causing your unqualified truck accident, you must prove:

  • The at-fault party owed you the duty to take reasonable actions in the given circumstances to protect your health and safety. Following federal trucking regulations, CDL requirements, and state and local traffic laws all constitute a part of this duty, often called a duty of care.
  • The at-fault party breached the duty of care by taking actions that contradicted the duty owed.
  • This breach resulted in an accident in which you sustained injuries or where you lost a loved one. Your injuries or loss caused you to incur expenses and impacts.

The Compensation You Can Receive

The processes for truck accident and wrongful death claims are similar. The compensation you can receive and the statute of limitations for each claim differs.

Injured individuals must file a lawsuit in court within four years of the accident while surviving family members must file a wrongful death action within two years of the death.

The type of compensation you can receive through a personal injury lawsuit includes coverage of expenses and impacts, such as:

  • Medical costs
  • Lost wages
  • Lost earning capacity
  • Property damage
  • Physical and emotional pain and suffering

The type of compensation family members, such as spouses, children, or parents of the deceased, can obtain through a wrongful death lawsuit include:

  • The costs of treating the deceased’s final injury;
  • Funeral and burial costs;
  • Lost companionship, guidance, and nurturing afforded by the deceased to their loved ones;
  • Loss of services and support that the deceased provided; and
  • Lost inheritance.

Let an Attorney Help With Your Unqualified Truck Driver Accident Claim

Truck accidents can prove quite complex legal undertakings. If you sustained injuries in an accident that a commercial truck driver caused, you should retain an attorney to handle your legal claim. By retaining an attorney, you free up your time to focus on your physical and mental recovery. For your free case evaluation, contact an experienced attorney today.

During your claim evaluation, you can discuss your accident, ask questions about your legal options, and determine your eligibility to pursue compensation for the full cost of your injuries. Don’t wait to reach out to an attorney, and don’t attempt to handle your claim on your own. Instead, contact a lawyer today to begin your path toward justice and compensation.