It may not seem obvious to regular motor vehicle operators, but there are significant differences between car accidents involving personal vehicles and large commercial truck accidents. These are differences in the physics of the accident and the injuries possible, differences in the laws, and differences in how to pursue legal action.
It is important that you understand some of these differences when looking for truck accident lawyers to represent your case. Regular car accident lawyers are not experienced in handling these special considerations and may not get you the settlement you deserve.
Difference in the Physics and Possible Injuries
The first thing to understand about an accident involving a commercial vehicle is the simple difference of physics. These are larger vehicles, sometimes weighing in well over 80,000 lbs. Consider this to the mere 3,500 lbs. most personal vehicles weighs in at, and you see the big discrepancy.
This weight difference means there is a lot more energy transferred to your vehicle, and your body, than when hit by another personal vehicle. More energy means a bigger impact on your body, and more serious injuries.
If you walk away from an accident with a commercial truck with even a significant case of whiplash, you are exceptionally lucky. This difference in weight is why drivers must undergo special training licensing to operate these large vehicles. Drivers must understand the extra stopping distance, the difference in road conditions, and all the other factors making operating these vehicles more difficult.
If you have been involved in an accident involving a commercial truck, keep in mind your injuries may not be limited to those treated immediately following the collision. You may experience lost work due to neurological injuries that manifest after the initial shock wears off. These may also be hiding in the background while you are recovering from injuries that are more significant.
This is why an attorney must be patient and understand how to work with medical professionals to assess the full extent of your injuries before seeking compensation. A rushed investigation may mean you disabled because of the accident, but are unable to seek additional damages.
Difference in Vehicles
Aside from the sheer difference in gross vehicular weight, large commercial vehicles have many other variables that affect their safe operation. If one of these variables is neglected, severe injury can follow. Here are some of the mechanical differences in a commercial truck:
- Load weight and balance. If the weight is not properly balanced, it can throw off how the vehicle handles, causing it to swerve on the road or be more susceptible to natural variables like wind.
- Air brake system. The idea of air brakes is actually quite simple, and has fail-safes built in. However, when something in the system fails, it can be catastrophic on the road.
- Extra wheels and tires. The simple fact there are more tires means there is an increased risk of a tire failing and blowing. A blown tire can cause motor vehicle accidents, even if the rest of the truck is not involved. There is still liability for the company and driver in this case, especially if the tire was not properly inflated and maintained at the correct tread depth.
- Hazardous Material. Many trucks haul hazardous materials. If you are involved in an accident with one, this increases the risk of significant injury or death, and the liability to the company and driver. Transporting hazardous material requires even more licensing and special training for the driver.
Difference In Laws Governing Truck Accidents and Car Accidents
State, county and municipality laws solely govern accidents involving personal vehicles. Commercial vehicles and drivers, on the other hand, are governed by federal regulations, in addition to the state, county and local laws. They are also subject to industry standards as well as company policy.
What that means is there is a lot more effort in investigating an accident involving a commercial truck. Without properly investigating all the possible aspects of the accident, you may not receive some of the compensation the law affords you.
Federal and Local Requirements
The federal law regulates the maintenance of the vehicles, as well as the operating condition of the driver. Here are some of the questions a qualified attorney will investigate regarding the company and the truck itself:
- What was the tread depth of the tires on the commercial vehicle?
- What was the operating condition of the brakes?
- Did the company conduct the required preventative maintenance according to industry standards?
- Was the truck loaded and the weight balanced appropriately?
Now there are questions about the driver and operation at the time of the accident. These may include:
- Did the driver perform a proper pre-trip inspection; including bleeding down the breaks to ensure the air system and emergency brake was functioning correctly?
- How long was the driver working, and how much sleep did they get the night before the accident?
- Was the driver operating a two-way radio, cell phone, GPS, or some other device that may have distracted them leading up to the accident?
These are all exceptionally important details when it comes to the safe operation of a commercial vehicle. The federal department of transportation and local ordinances regulates all of them.
Company and Industry Policy
Industry organizations and companies enact policies more efficiently than the federal or state government passing new legislation or issuing new regulations. This means day-to-day operations can change quickly with new information from events involving commercial vehicles. Courts allow consideration of these policies for this exact reason.
If a company is not following industry standards for the maintenance and operation of its fleet, it is liable for injuries sustained due to that negligence. Likewise, if the company is not enforcing its own stated policy or drivers are not following them, there is liability on both the side of the driver and company.
Unfortunately, the commercial trucking industry has many companies who do not enforce written policies. Some of these companies also push drivers to operate their rigs in ways they know is unsafe. Whether this is operating an improperly maintained vehicle, improperly balancing the load, or asking drivers to work longer than federally permitted, these infractions are almost commonplace.
Understanding how to investigate where the breakdown has occurred so the correct party is held liable is important. Companies will usually attempt to lay blame on a driver. However, is it really the driver’s fault, and therefore liability, if the manager threatened to terminate that driver if they did not break the policy? Further, are you likely to collect damages if awarded against a driver? This is of particular important if they now are unemployed or are injured themselves.
These are all very important considerations and can be challenging to ferret out during the investigative process leading to litigation. This is why an experienced lawyer who understands commercial trucking laws and regulations is what you need.
Why the Difference in Lawyers Matter
As you can see, not all lawyers have the experience needed to ensure you gain the proper compensation when you are involved in a commercial truck accident. Do not settle for the general personal injury attorney who may not have pursued all of the possible implications of commercial vehicle accident.
You must understand what is at stake, for both you and the company involved, let alone the driver. For you, there is the injury you have sustained because of the accident. Then there are the implications of those injuries, such as temporary or permanent disability, loss of work and more. These stakes are certainly high.
However, companies who operate commercial fleets and their insurers have much different stakes in mind. There are large insurance policies, in many cases upward of $1 million. A large settlement would mean increased premiums for the operating company and a loss of revenue for the insurance company.
Then there is the risk of lost business contracts, and damage to the reputation of the company. This could easily result in tens of millions of dollars lost revenue. The stakes could not be higher for the companies and their insurers.
Due to these stakes, the defending attorneys will ruthlessly pursue any means possible to find a way to prevent a fair settlement. The best truck accident lawyers will pursue justice for you just as intensely, looking for all possible issues that may have led to your accident.
General car accident lawyers, on the other hand, usually stop by looking at the possible errors by the driver, never pursuing the deeper issues and liability.
Make the Right Decision for Your Case
If you have been injured by a commercial truck accident, you need the best representation. As you interview attorneys, be sure to ask:
- Do they have experience representing commercial vehicle injury cases specifically?
- What is the fee structure?
- Do they have established relationships with expert witnesses? Are these both medical experts and trucking industry experts?
- Do they prefer to push for trial or attempt to gain a settlement?
These questions will help you find a qualified truck accident lawyer who also matches your tolerance for litigation.