Semi-truck accidents often result in severe injuries or death due to the immense size and weight of the trucks. Heavy truck accidents are not like traditional vehicle and car accidents. These large commercial truck accidents introduce several differentiating factors such as the people involved, different sets of laws and regulations, fatigue and drug use by truck drivers, and of course, the potential for significantly more serious injuries.
If you or a loved one were injured or killed due to the negligence of a semi-truck driver, you may be entitled to significant compensation for your injuries.
Large trucks are defined as anything over 10,000 lbs but when talking about semi-trucks, semi-trailer trucks, tractor trailers, big rigs, 18-wheelers these trucks can weigh as much as 80,000 pounds (which is the maximum weight allowed).
That’s 40 tons! You can imagine how hard it is to slow down an 80,000 pound vehicle and the type of damage this vehicle can cause.
In California there are roughly 5,000 injuries from semi-truck accidents, with around 250 deaths each year. In the U.S. There were 3,921 people killed and 104,000 injuries from accidents involving over 330,000 large trucks.
While only accounting for 3% of all vehicle collisions, 8% of all fatal vehicle accidents in California involve large trucks. This jump in fatalities can be partially explained by the immense weight of the trucks, as well as the other factors involving the driver (fatigue, drug use, stress etc.).
There are many potential causes of these crashes. However, some specific to semi-truck accidents include:
Driver fatigue. Truck driver must drive long distances. Under federal law truck drivers are not allowed over a certain number of hours, and must keep a log detailing hours driven and hours rested. But it is well known that drivers often disobey these safety regulations and put everyone around them at risk.
Excessive speed. While truck drivers aren’t often exceeding the speed limits of any particular road, they are susceptible to be driving too fast for the conditions due to how long it takes to slow down or stop a fully loaded tractor. If the flow of traffic on a freeway is clear but then suddenly becomes congested, it is harder to slow the truck down to a safe speed. Now there is an 80,000 lb missile on the roadway. Downhill inclines are also dangerous for semi-trucks.
Improper loading. If a trailer is not loaded the right way, the truck may be hard to control especially with windy conditions.
Drug use. Truck driving is challenging, often with long distances and short deadlines. In order to battle fatigue some drivers resort to stimulant use. This is a worldwide problem.
Aggressive or reckless driving. You have heard of, experienced, or witnessed road rage during traffic hour before. Now imagine a driver on the road for days and weeks, unending turns, and straightaways. Add an impossible deadline to that formula and you have all the elements of a dangerous situation.
Unsafe speeds is the second most common cause of fatal truck accidents where the truck driver was at fault.
Mechanical errors. It is tough to move and keep moving an 80,000 lb truck. Stopped big rigs are a cause of truck accidents.
Jackknifing. The back end of the trailer swings to the side, often blocking many lanes of traffic for hours. Usually caused by sudden braking because the front of the vehicle is slowing down while the back still wants to go fast.
Rollovers. Due to the height, weight and sometimes off-balance storage inside the trailers, semi-trucks are prone to rollovers.
Tire blowouts. Simple math. 18 wheels, heavy loads, lots of miles. If the blowout causes the truck to lose control a serious accident can follow.
Lane changes. The blind spot on a semi-truck is huge.
Improper turning. According to the California Highway Patrol, improper turning is the most common cause of fatal semi-truck accidents in California.
Regulation of semi-trucks and drivers are expansive. They include federal regulations such as Department of Transportation or Department of Homeland Security rules. There may be California specific laws such as those from the Public Utilities Commission and even local/city rules.
California even regulates what roads these large trucks may travel on. It’s why you don’t usually see a fully loaded semi in your quiet neighborhood cul-de-sac.
Understanding the regulations is crucial in truck accident cases because oftentimes violation of these rules actually cause the accidents. Showing a violation of a safety regulation is one way to prove negligence, and therefore helps you win your case.
Every truck driver must follow California’s rules of the road.
But the biggest regulation of truck drivers and their behavior is the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Hours of Service regulations.
Specifically, the federal maximum driving time
Section 395.3 says:
- Truck drivers may not start a shift without at least 10 hours of uninterrupted rest.
- At that point, they can start a 14 hour shift.
- Of these 14 hours, the driver can not drive more than 11 hours.
- No more than 8 hours uninterrupted for those 11 hours
- No more than 60 hours of driving in one week, or 70 hours in 8 days for companies that drive every day.
Federal law requires truck drivers to record their hours and rest time.
But the longer you wait to pursue a claim the greater the chances of the truck driver losing, misplacing, or outright destroying these records. Drivers logs, vehicle maintenance records and cell phone records can be valuable evidence in a case to determine liability.
Soon after an accident, the insurance companies for the truck driver and/or the truck company will have insurance adjusters and attorneys gathering evidence and building a defense.
You will be at a disadvantage unless you have professionals working for you as soon as possible.
The most important thing to do after a truck accident is to seek immediate medical treatment for serious injuries. Your health is the most important issue after a semi-truck accident - not a potential case in the future.
So, if you are in need of emergency medical treatment, you shouldn't, and won’t be able to do anything else. But if someone is there to help you, it is best to collect as much evidence as possible at the scene of the accident.
If your injuries are not severe, then:
Photos, names and numbers of witnesses, what they saw. Get the ID and insurance information from all parties involved. When you’re in an accident with a semi-truck, you may be facing large corporations with lots of time and resources.
Get as much info as you can about the truck driver’s company, the client of the company. Photos help with property damage and road conditions. Start snapping photos with your iPhone or Android phone.
That includes witnesses at the scene, family members, nobody.
If the other insurance company is asking for a record statement, tell them you will absolutely not give them a recorded statement. They do not have any rights to demand you give a recorded statement. If it is your insurance company that is asking for one, politely decline. I rarely (if ever) allow my clients to give recorded statements.
I’ve had insurance companies trick clients into signing papers granting them authority to request all of your paperwork.
Big rig accidents present a unique set of issues, one of which is, “who do you sue?’ As a lawyer I usually say, anyone involved. But that list of possible parties is long: