As one of the top exporters in the nation, Florida accounts for 3.9 percent of the overall goods exported from the United States. Many of these goods travel to other countries through one of the state’s ports, but many more ship to other states. As these locally grown or manufactured goods leave our state, items that our residents and visitors need are shipped in. Most products shipped in the U.S. use commercial motor vehicles, also known as tractor-trailers or semi-trucks.
While tractor-trailers constitute a vital part of Florida’s economy, the massive size of these vehicles endangers other drivers.
If a tractor-trailer accident injured you or you lost a loved one to one of these accidents, contact an experienced tractor-trailer accident attorney to learn more about the process of obtaining compensation for the expenses of your injury. An attorney can help explain your rights and ensure that you pursue maximum compensation.
The Hazards of Tractor-Trailers
Each year in the U.S., more than 4,000 people die in accidents with tractor-trailers, and many more sustain injuries. As mentioned, many of the hazards associated with tractor-trailers stem from the large size of the vehicle and associated maneuverability issues that size creates. Tractor-trailers extend 72 feet long, 13.5 feet high, and 8.5 feet wide.
They often weigh 20 to 30 times more than other vehicles on the roadway.
- Significant blind spots on all four sides of the vehicle. A blind spot is an area around the vehicle that the driver cannot see by looking in their side or rearview mirrors. All vehicles have these areas, and in smaller cars, the blind spot may extend around the rear sides. However, certain truck features—including its size and absence of rearview mirrors—create substantial blind spots, with the largest one along the length of the passenger side that extends the width of two adjacent travel lanes.
- Wide turns. Because the vehicle is so long, the driver must swing the front of it into adjacent lanes when attempting to complete a sharp turn, placing travelers in those lanes in danger. The risk of an accident is particularly high for the occupants of vehicles turning alongside the truck and could become trapped by the wide turn between the truck and the curb.
- Increased stopping distance. Braking involves a sequence of steps that include the driver perceiving a hazard on the roadway, responding to that hazard by depressing the brakes, and the brakes working to pull the weight of a vehicle to a safe stop. In other words, no vehicle stops instantaneously. Because tractor-trailers weigh so much more than other vehicle types, they can require up to 40 percent more distance to come to a complete stop after the driver has depressed the brakes. This distance may increase if the vehicle travels too fast or the driver attempts to stop the truck on wet or slippery roadways.
- Higher ground clearance. The higher ground clearance on trucks provides them with suspension that can handle the weight of their loads. Unfortunately, the space between the bottom of the truck and the roadway sits just high enough for a small vehicle to underride, which means it slips beneath the truck and becomes trapped.
- A higher center of gravity, which makes the truck prone to rolling over when attempting an emergency driving maneuver or taking a sharp curve or corner too fast.
- Truck driver fatigue. Tractor-trailer drivers spend many hours a day on the roadway, and many choose to operate the rig during the late-night hours when there is less traffic. Unfortunately, while these drivers enjoy the conditions of relatively empty roads, their natural Circadian rhythm (the body’s sleep/wake cycle) makes them less alert during nighttime hours. Another issue that increases the risk of truck driver fatigue includes sleep apnea, which impacts nearly one-third of the truck drivers in the U.S. Sleep apnea is a sleep-related breathing condition where the individual temporarily stops breathing during sleep. This can happen hundreds of times a night, leaving sufferers feeling untested even if they have obtained enough sleep.
- Driving too fast for conditions. Truck drivers have tight schedules, shipping cargo that needs to arrive at a specific time and place many miles away. Many truck drivers may feel tempted to exceed the speed limit to meet these deadlines. Increasing the speed in a tractor-trailer tends to highlight the maneuverability issues of the massive vehicle, making the driver more likely to lose control of the vehicle.
- Distractions. Driver distractions constitute a major concern with all traffic types, with one of the most concerning distractions being texting and other cell phone use. This activity proves particularly dangerous when driving as it is a manual distraction (your hands are off the wheel), a visual distraction (your eyes aren’t watching the road), and a cognitive distraction (your mind isn’t on the task of driving safely). In the time it takes for a tractor-trailer driver to read or respond to a text while traveling at highway speeds, the vehicle will have traveled the length of a football field with the driver not paying attention to vehicles entering their blind spots, hazards that could require braking, or the other actions of drivers around them, which all constitute major risks of causing an accident involving an 80,000-pound vehicle.
The Types of Injuries Sustained in Tractor-Trailer Accidents
Accidents involving tractor-trailers produce some of the most debilitating, life-altering injuries an individual can suffer. Among these injuries include catastrophic injuries, such as spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries. The spinal cord and the brain make up the body’s central nervous system. The brain controls all the body’s functions and responses, using the spinal cord to communicate with the rest of the body.
Despite the importance of both these organs, neither the brain nor the spinal cord proves particularly efficient as healing from injury, meaning these injuries often result in permanent disabilities that will render the individual unable to earn an income or to accomplish personal care tasks independently.
Other injuries that individuals can sustain in a tractor-trailer accident include:
- Damage to the spinal vertebrae or discs, which can result in loss of stability in the back and neck, loss of range of motion, and chronic pain.
- Broken bones, which can lead to complications, including infection, loss of use, and chronic pain.
- Internal injuries, which involve damage to organs, such as the lungs, spleen, liver, and kidneys. Internal injuries can often lead to dangerous blood loss, known as a hemorrhage, organ failure, and even death.
- Deep cuts and lacerations, which can result in permanent scarring and carry a risk of infection.
- Burns, which can result from contact with heat or flames, the chemicals used in the tractor-trailer and other vehicles, or even caustic chemicals transported by the tractor-trailer.
Seeking Compensation for a Tractor-Trailer Accident
In Hillsborough County, more than 3,000 tractor-trailer accidents happen each year, resulting in more than 900 injuries and more than a dozen fatalities. If you sustained injuries or lost a loved one in a tractor-trailer accident, you can seek compensation for the expenses and impacts of your injury. You file these legal claims in civil court and seek to prove who caused the accident and establish the expenses and quality-of-life impacts you incurred.
#1. Personal Injury Claims
Your case will likely begin outside the courtroom when your attorney sends a demand package to the at-fault party’s insurance provider. The demand package details the facts of your case, supplies documentation of your injury and expenses, and a demand to pay the full value of the claim. The insurer can accept the liability of their insured and pay the claim, deny the claim and furnish the claimant with a reason for the denial, or offer a settlement.
A settlement constitutes an out-of-court resolution in which you accept money in exchange for dropping your legal action against the defendant. Generally, an at-fault party’s insurer will offer a settlement if they accept the liability of their insured but dispute the value of the claim.
Your attorney will negotiate to get you fair compensation for your expenses and impacts through the settlement. You file a personal injury lawsuit when the insurer refuses to offer a fair settlement. While the settlement negotiations can last up until the court decides your lawsuit, you must file the lawsuit itself within four years of the date on which the accident occurred. Often, you will file the lawsuit when settlement negotiations stall, and many insurers—when faced with the uncertainty of litigation—will feel more motivated to settle once this occurs.
The types of compensation you can seek through a personal injury claim include:
- Medical expenses
- Lost wages
- Loss of future earning capacity
- Property damage you incurred in the accident (damage to your vehicle)
- Physical pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
#2. Wrongful Death Claims
When an individual dies as a result of a tractor-trailer accident in Tampa that resulted from the carelessness or recklessness of the truck driver, that individual’s family members can receive compensation for losses they sustained as a result of the death through a wrongful death claim.
Although the family members constitute the beneficiaries in this type of action, along with the deceased’s estate, a named executor or court-appointed administrator of the deceased’s will must pursue such a claim. While the process appears similar to the personal injury claims process, you must file your wrongful death lawsuit within two years in Florida.
The family members who benefit from a wrongful death claim include the deceased’s spouse, children, parents, and other family members who depended on the deceased for services and support.
The types of compensation you can receive through a wrongful death claim include:
- The cost of medical expenses incurred during the treatment of the deceased’s final injury.
- Funeral services and the cost of burial or cremation.
- The loss of support and services provided by the deceased to their loved ones.
- Loss of parental companionship, instruction, and guidance.
- Loss of the companionship and protection provided by the deceased to their spouse.
- Lost wages, benefits, and other earnings incurred by the deceased from the time of their injury until their time of death.
- The value of earnings and benefits the deceased’s estate would have accrued throughout the decedent’s career if they had survived the accident.
#3. Potential Sources of Liability in a Tractor-Trailer Accident
Determining who bears liability in an accident often proves complicated, even if the facts of the case suggest otherwise. A truck driver is one source of liability in a truck-involved accident. If the driver works for a trucking company, it can also bear liability.
Companies of all types can face vicarious liability for actions taken by employees during the scope of their work-related activities. However, trucking companies have an even greater regulatory burden. Trucking companies must vet their drivers through criminal and background checks, ensuring that they have the proper license and insurance to perform the work, and have the training necessary to do the job safely.
Shipping companies—who often load the cargo into the truck’s trailer, can also bear liability if the accident resulted from improper loading. They also have to ensure that the transportation methods have adequate insurance and remain in good standing with the federal regulating agencies. Other roadway users can also bear liability for your accident.
One of the many services that experienced car accident attorneys provide to their clients is determining all sources of liability and associated insurance resources that can provide your compensation.
Tractor-Trailer Accident? An Attorney Can Help
To learn more about how a truck accident attorney can help you seek compensation, contact one today.