Cities with larger populations often experience traffic congestion. With traffic congestion comes the inevitable issues of accidents and broken down vehicles, along with the appearance of tow trucks on the roadside as they clear disabled vehicles so that traffic can begin flowing again.
Unfortunately, the tow trucks themselves present unique hazards that can create additional accidents and risk of injury or death not only for the tow truck driver but for other roadway users as well.
If you have sustained injuries in a tow truck accident—either as the driver of a tow truck or the occupant of another vehicle—you can seek compensation for the expenses and impacts of your injuries through a personal injury claim. To ensure your best chance of success, you should consult an experienced tow truck accident attorney to discuss the details of your accident and determine your eligibility to pursue compensation for your injuries.
Don’t let the insurance company or the at-fault parties attempt to limit your compensation; retaining the services of an experienced personal injury attorney will ensure that you protect your rights and don’t miss out on potential compensation.
The Dangers of Tow Trucks
While several types and sizes of tow trucks operate on public roadways, all of them are considerably larger and harder to maneuver than the average passenger car and require the driver to obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL) and to obey the regulations of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the federal agency that oversees the U.S. trucking industry.
Most of the dangers faced as a result of tow trucks on the roadway relate to the size of the vehicle, its proximity to other vehicles, the risks of improper training or loading of cargo, improper maintenance of the tow truck, and the driving behaviors of other roadway users.
Dangers Faced by Tow Truck Drivers
In just five years in the U.S., 191 tow truck drivers died in roadside accidents, making operating a tow truck one of the deadliest jobs in the nation. One of the major causes of deaths and injuries to tow truck drivers involves other roadway users—often distracted or speeding—who collide with the tow truck while providing roadside assistance. This hazard prompted Florida and nearly every other state in the nation to pass “move over” laws.
Florida’s move over law requires drivers to:
- Move over one lane to provide more space for emergency vehicles, including tow trucks, to operate on the roadside.
- If unable to move over a lane, drivers must slow to a speed of 20 miles per hour less than the posted speed limit. On roadways with a speed limit of 20 miles per hour or less, drivers passing by a tow truck must slow down to 5 miles per hour.
Dangers Faced by Other Roadway Users
The hazards that other roadway users face as a result of a tow truck are mainly attributed to the size of the vehicle.
Like other commercial vehicles, tow trucks feature:
- Significant blind spots make it difficult for drivers to ensure that they have a clear path when changing lanes or backing up.
- A longer stopping distance is required once the driver has depressed the brakes, as the brakes then pull the heavy vehicle to a stop. The bigger the vehicle, the more stopping distance needed. Commercial trucks can require up to 40 percent more distance to come to a complete stop.
- The risk of the cargo shifting on the truck, making the truck even more difficult to control.
- Wide turns can cause the tow truck to swing into adjacent travel lanes or even trap cars in adjacent turn lanes between the truck and the curb.
- Improperly loaded cargo, which can become separated from the tow truck in traffic and collide with other vehicles.
Common Injuries Caused by Tow Truck Accidents
With most types of commercial motor vehicles, such as semi-trucks and box trucks, the individuals at most risk of becoming injured or killed in an accident are the occupants of other vehicles.
While tow trucks pose the same risks to other drivers related to size, the requirement that the tow truck drivers stop on the side of busy roadways, such as I-275, and spend extensive time out of their vehicles, can place them at an even greater risk.
The injuries seen in accidents involving tow trucks resemble those seen in motor vehicle accidents as well as pedestrian-involved traffic accidents, including:
- Catastrophic injuries, such as traumatic brain injuries and spinal cord injuries, which generally result in permanent disabilities that will prevent the sufferer from earning an income or accomplishing personal tasks independently.
- Other injuries to the head, neck, and back, including facial lacerations, fractures to the bones in the face, and damage to the spinal vertebrae and discs that can severely impact the stability of the spine, resulting in a loss of range of motion and chronic pain.
- Bone fractures, which can require surgery and months of physical therapy and rehabilitation, and can also lead to complications including infection, chronic pain, and loss of movement in an affected limb.
- Internal injuries, which refer to damage to bodily organs, such as the lungs, liver, spleen, or kidneys. Internal injuries often result in uncontrolled internal bleeding, also known as a hemorrhage, which can lead to organ failure or even death.
- Limb amputations. Traumatic limb amputations can occur during an accident when the limb tears off or becomes trapped within the wreckage. Amputations are sometimes provided surgically after an accident on limbs that have sustained too much damage to properly repair or that have become severely infected after injury and require removal to improve the patient’s outcome.
- Psychological impacts, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression that individuals who have experienced a traumatic accident or a life-altering injury often experience.
The Emotional Costs of Serious Injuries
Sustaining injuries in a tow truck accident can impact an individual’s entire life, with impacts that can include:
- The inability to work, resulting in lost wages. If an individual’s injuries prove particularly severe, they can permanently change the sufferer’s earning capacity, making him or her unable to earn the same income as before the accident.
- Changes in your work or school schedule that you must make to accommodate the injury, including shorter days or fewer consecutive hours of work or instruction.
- Changes to family relationships. Serious injuries often force family members to take on a considerable amount of caregiving tasks.
- The inability to participate in hobbies or events that you previously enjoyed.
Seeking Compensation After Sustaining Injuries in a Tow Truck-Involved Accident
Florida’s insurance laws require all drivers with vehicles registered in the state to obtain a personal insurance protection (PIP) policy of at least $10,000, including tow truck drivers. This is a type of no-fault insurance that can cover a portion of your medical benefits and wage loss if you suffer injuries in a traffic-related accident, regardless of fault. To seek compensation through the legal personal injury claims process, the injury must meet the state’s serious injury threshold.
Florida’s serious injury threshold includes injuries that result in:
- Significant and permanent loss of an important bodily function.
- Permanent injury, within a reasonable degree of medical probability.
- Significant and permanent scarring and disfigurement.
Filing a Personal Injury Lawsuit
Contrary to the portrayal in television shows and movies, not all legal cases play out in the courtroom. Most tow truck cases resolve before they ever see the inside of a courtroom. As litigation usually proves time-consuming and expensive for everyone concerned, most parties will generally feel motivated to resolve the claim through a settlement before even filing the lawsuit.
The settlement negotiation phase of your claim generally begins when your attorney submits a demand package to the at-fault party’s insurance provider. This package provides details of the accident, documentation of the injuries you sustained, and demands payment for the value of your claim. Once the adjuster receives and reviews this package, he or she can either accept the claim and process it for payment, reject the claim and notify the claimant as to the reason for denial, or accept liability of the insured party but offer to settle the claim for less than the claim’s value.
In Florida, individuals who have suffered injuries in a tow truck-involved accident must file their claims in court within four years of the accident. Remember that once you file your claim, settlement negotiations can continue. If your case does go to court, the at-fault party’s insurance provider can continue to make settlement offers until the court decides the matter.
For your truck accident claim to succeed, you must prove that your injuries resulted from someone else’s negligence.
You can prove liability by showing:
- The at-fault party owed you a duty of care. This refers to actions that a reasonable person would take to protect the safety and property of others. All tow truck drivers must operate their vehicles safely and legally. Because tow truck drivers have to obtain a CDL to operate their vehicles on Florida roadways, these drivers have a higher duty of care, which includes a lower alcohol impairment limit, a higher level of liability insurance, background and driver history checks, annual health screenings, and other requirements.
- The at-fault party breached the duty of care, which occurred when the at-fault party took an action that contradicted the duty of care they owed to other roadway users. This could include distracted driving, speeding, impairment by drugs or alcohol, or failing to observe the state’s move over law.
- The breach resulted in the accident that caused your injuries and also caused you to incur expenses and impacts to your quality of life.
What You Can Receive Compensation For
In Florida, individuals who suffer injuries in tow truck accidents and meet the state’s serious injury threshold can seek to recover both economic and non-economic damages. You can seek to obtain compensation (damages) for the expenses (economic) and impacts (non-economic) of your injury.
Examples of the type of economic damages you can seek include:
- Medical expenses;
- Lost wages;
- Lost earning capacity; and
- Property damage (such as damage to the vehicle you were driving when the accident occurred).
Examples of non-economic damages that injured individuals can claim after a tow truck accident include:
- Physical pain and suffering;
- Emotional distress;
- Loss of the enjoyment of life; and
- Loss of consortium, which an injured person’s spouse can seek for the loss of physical intimacy and companionship often experienced after a serious injury.
Injured in a Tow Truck Accident? An Experienced Attorney Can Help
Tow truck accidents can produce serious injuries that can leave individuals struggling to recover while also encountering a major loss of income and other financial and psychological costs. Following an accident, injured individuals should focus on their recovery rather than the legal complexities of their accidents. An experienced attorney can handle the legal details and allow you to worry about following your doctor’s recommendations.
An attorney can help value your claim, negotiate a settlement, gather evidence and witness testimony, litigate your claim collect your compensation—all crucial to ensuring your right to seek compensation for injuries you sustained on Florida’s roadways.
Don’t hesitate to contact a truck accident attorney today to help with your claim. Most attorneys offer free consultations to prospective clients, during which injured individuals can discuss the details of their accidents, ask questions about their potential legal options, and determine their eligibility to pursue compensation for the full cost of their injuries.