Truck accidents involving SUVs, pickup trucks, vans, box trucks, dump trucks, and tractor-trailers can cause catastrophic injuries. If you have been injured or lost a loved one in a truck accident, you need an experienced and knowledgeable Palm Beach County and Boca Raton truck accident lawyer to help you recover compensation for your injuries and losses.
Our experienced personal injury attorneys at Kogan & DiSalvo focus 100 percent on personal injury cases, and have the experience, resources, and support staff to aggressively pursue your claim and take appropriate legal action after a truck accident has caused you or a loved one harm.
Truck Accident Claims
Truck accident claims and traditional automobile accident claims vary in many significant ways. The most critical difference is dealing with the trucking company’s insurance carrier. The trucking company will send a designated Accident Response Team to the scene of the accident with the sole purpose of collecting evidence and protecting that trucking company against a claim made by other involved parties. For this reason, some steps common to accidents, such as collecting your own evidence, can be of unique importance to claims involving trucks.
Our Boca Raton truck accident attorneys have decades of experience dealing with such trucking insurance companies and know what it takes to successfully pursue your claim and ensure that the negligent parties are held responsible for your losses.
Common Causes of Truck Accidents
Not only are truck accident claims different from traditional automobile accident claims, but the contributing factors of the accident differ as well. Mechanical failures, such as malfunction of the truck’s air brakes, tire blow-outs, or defects of the hitch, are some causes of catastrophic truck accidents. Unfortunately, the main cause of truck accidents is the driver operating the Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) carelessly or in a negligent manner.
The following are examples of such careless and negligent behavior that warrant the attention of a truck accident lawyer in Boca Raton, as well as a few other common causes of truck accidents:
- Speeding/tailgating Driving too fast or following a car too closely will both reduce the time a driver has to respond to a car braking or incoming obstacle, i.e., a pothole, broken glass, or pedestrian
- Drowsy/distracted driving A drowsy or distracted driver will be less likely to perceive an oncoming hazard, will require more time to do so, and will react more slowly
- Texting/talking on the phone Talking on the phone can take a driver’s hands and attention off of the road. Texting while driving also requires keeping one’s eyes off the road to read. Even using a hands-free device can be distracting.
- Impaired driving Such as from drinking or using drugs. Unfortunately, many truck drivers use legal and illegal drugs to stay awake and work longer.
- Inexperience behind the wheel of a large truck Large vehicles can be incredibly sophisticated and challenging to handle. Some trucks require years of experience and specialized training to drive safely.
- Unbalanced loads Heavy cargo can shift during transport or create an imbalance in the vehicle, affecting the maneuverability of a truck and potentially breaking loose and falling into traffic or causing the truck to roll over.
- Bad Weather Such as snow, ice, or rain, can create hazards on the road, including poor visibility. These conditions can be one of several factors that contribute to an accident.
- Blind spots Commercial trucks have four blind spots close to the truck, which are in front of the truck, behind, and on either side.
- Poor trailer attachment A malfunctioning trailer attachment can create maneuverability issues, cause an attachment to break loose and fall into traffic behind the truck, or even cause a rollover across lanes and into oncoming traffic.
- Downshifting This can help a truck to reduce speed in addition to braking systems but is not appropriate in every situation and can potentially lock up the rig’s wheels. Poor equipment or lack of training in downshifting can affect a driver’s ability to brake and result in an accident.
- Equipment defects A wide variety of defects can occur and cause accidents. These defects can be created at several points, from manufacture to maintenance to repair.
Common Injuries After a Truck Accident
Many injuries caused by truck accidents are similar to those caused by more familiar car accidents. However, the larger vehicles typically weigh tens of thousands of pounds more and transfer more force on impact, exacerbating injuries and property damage. Additionally, the truck’s size makes it more difficult to maneuver, less stable, and harder to stop, making certain types of injuries more likely.
Common injuries include:
- Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) Such as concussions, contusions, brain hemorrhages, intracranial hematomas, coup-contrecoup brain injuries, diffuse axonal injuries, and second impact syndrome.
- Burn injuries Such as first, second, or third-degree burns if oil or gasoline catches a spark.
- Broken bones Any number of bones can be broken in an accident, though ribs are particularly vulnerable.
- Neck and spinal cord injuries The impact of a collision can lead to the head being forced outside its normal range of motion, damaging the neck and causing whiplash. Injuries to the head and neck or spine can lead to restriction of movement or even complete paralysis.
- Internal organ damage Damage to organs can occur from either the collision with an object in the vehicle or rapid deceleration. Sufficient deceleration will cause the skeleton to stop, but the internal organs stay in motion until colliding with the inner surface of the bones.
- Seat belt injuries While it is safer to be restrained by a seatbelt than to go through a windshield or into another object such as the dashboard, the seatbelt will exert pressure to restrain a driver or passenger and cause an injury.
- Cuts and lacerations Cuts and lacerations can result from glass and metal panels being crushed inwards, striking an interior surface of the vehicle, or being struck by other objects inside the vehicle.
Who Can Be Held Responsible for Truck Accidents?
Truck accidents are complex because more parties are involved. For example, while the truck only had one driver, there may be several parties that could bear at least some level of liability for the accident. These parties can include the following:
- Driver who may have been negligent for many reasons, including allowing themselves to get distracted or getting intoxicated before driving.
- Truck owner that may have allowed a hazardous condition to develop by not properly inspecting and maintaining equipment like the engine or tires.
- Loading company that could have overloaded the truck or loaded goods onto the truck in an imbalanced or otherwise negligent way creating a hazardous condition that led to the accident.
- Truck company whose policies may require their drivers to drive too many hours, drive vehicles they are not qualified or able to drive or otherwise engage in unsafe practices on the road.
- Truck maintenance company that improperly maintained or negligently repaired a truck that results in or contributes to an accident.
- Truck manufacturing company that created a defect–such as in its design, production, or even marketing. It can include faulty brakes, transmission failure, defective tires, defective steering, or other mechanical defects, and misleading claims in their marketing that can cause or contribute to an accident.
Some things that an attorney will need to consider to establish liability will include the driver’s logs and the trucking company’s policies. Also, a knowledgeable attorney may be familiar with a problematic trucking company and able to research a pattern of bad behavior. These issues can be raised while arguing for a settlement or in front of a judge.
Sleep Deprivation and Hours of Service Regulations
Truck drivers are required to drive a limited number of hours a day and get enough sleep. However, stories of drivers using stimulants to stay awake are common. These stimulants can be legal substances like coffee or caffeine pills or illegal substances like meth and cocaine. However, exhausted drivers can lack awareness, decision-making skills, and reaction time even without drugs.
Because of the reality of fatigued drivers being pressured to continue to drive, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) requires certain truck drivers to work a limited number of hours and log entries of their time. These federal rules, called the hours-of-service rules, apply to drivers who:
- Drive between states
- Drive trucks of 10,000 lbs. or more
- Transport hazardous materials
- Drive vehicles designed for 9 passengers or more for compensation
- Drive vehicles designed for 16 passengers or more, with or without compensation
For drivers carrying goods, this includes:
- Only driving a total of 11 hours per shift, after 10 consecutive off-duty hours
- Not being on duty for more than 14 consecutive hours (including time spent on non-driving tasks). Only spending 14 hours on-duty after 10 consecutive hours off-duty
- Taking a mandatory 30-minute break by the 8th hour
- Not being on-duty for more than 60 hours over 7 days or 70 hours over 8 days
Florida has its own laws regarding maximum hours that can be driven intra-state. These Florida-specific HOS regulations include:
- Driving no more than 12 hours after 10 consecutive hours off duty
- Not driving after the 16th hour after coming on duty following 10 consecutive hours off duty
- Not driving after 70 hours on duty in 7 consecutive days or 80 hours on duty in 8 consecutive days. 34 consecutive hours off constitutes the end of the 7 or 8 day period.
Next Steps After a Truck Accident
After an accident, the first step should be to check the well-being of others involved in the crash. Then, if anyone is injured, call emergency medical services and the police. After this, additional next steps include:
- Complete a police report. The police will take a report. Although the police are not the witnesses in the report, it will be an important document to use as evidence when negotiating with insurance companies or pursuing a lawsuit.
- Record your own account. By making a video of your immediate impression of the circumstances of the accident while it is still fresh in your memory, you can preserve a very reliable account with details that may later be more difficult to recall.
- Documenting evidence at the scene. This includes taking photos that display road signs, traffic lights, weather, damage to other vehicles, any road hazards, and damaged public or private property.
- Speak with potential witnesses. Make sure to get their account and their contact information. However, do not talk unnecessarily about the details of the accident. This can include why you think the accident happened, or things that may have been going on in the car, such as a phone call or a crying child that can be used against you later.
- Receive medical evaluation and treatment Injuries can often be masked by adrenalin. Many of these masked injuries can be detected and treated early, and the diagnostics involved can inform what compensation an accident victim may be entitled to.
- Common mistakes Some mistakes to avoid often involve sharing too much information on social media that can later come out and undermine a case. This includes posting photos or updates about the accident.
As previously mentioned, truck and insurance companies will often have a team sent to the scene to start documenting evidence to strengthen their case, which will be to deny or minimize a payout. Collecting your own evidence at the scene and following up can help to refute their claims. Learn more about what kinds of evidence may help you prove your truck accident case.
Proving Driver Negligence
Negligence is proven by a particular formula that considers how the actions of a defendant may have caused an accident and how this accident harmed the plaintiff. Essentially, it is an analysis of duty, breach of duty, causation, and damages:
- Duty: Did the defendant owe a duty to the plaintiff? In the case of a truck accident, this would be the duty to act as a reasonably cautious truck driver.
- Breach: Were the actions of the truck driver inconsistent with their duty, thus breaching it? For example, driving while intoxicated.
- Causation: Did the breach of duty injure the plaintiff?
- Damages: How can the court compensate the plaintiff? Typically, with monetary compensation for repairing or replacing the vehicle, medical bills, pain and suffering, and other losses from the accident.
This formula is the same for other negligence cases. However, each type of negligence will involve different facts as the duty to act reasonably varies.
One of the first things that an attorney will do is review the evidence, including what has been collected by a client, witness statements, police reports, medical reports, and the logs drivers must keep as per HOS regulations. These documents will help to show liability and the extent of the damages.
Further, Florida is a modified comparative negligence jurisdiction. This means that an injured party’s judgment will be reduced by the amount of fault they bear up to 50 percent. However, there is a minimum of fault required, so a plaintiff who is 51 percent or more at fault for their injury will be unable to recover any compensation.
Because this area of law requires such specific legal and industry knowledge, we recommend speaking with an experienced truck accident attorney in Boca Raton.
Calculating Damages After a Truck Accident
Determining accident damages can be a highly complex question and vary widely from individual to individual. The calculation of damages is highly subjective, but will include:
- Lost wages from time missed at current employment.
- Pain and suffering for both physical pain and changes in lifestyle, such as no longer being able to coach or participate in sports.
- Property damage like vehicle repair or replacement of property in the car that was damaged.
- Loss of earning power for those who are injured and lose their earning capacity, such as a programmer who receives a TBI severe enough to interfere with their abilities to code.
- Punitive damages are awarded as a punishment to a defendant for egregiously bad behavior, such as intentional conduct or gross negligence that results in an accident.
In the tragic event of a fatality resulting from the negligence of a truck driver, the damages calculation can become significantly more complicated in a wrongful death lawsuit. This lawsuit will include the damages that are mentioned above, as well as additional potential damages such as:
- Loss of financial support which will consider what the decedent would have earned throughout their lifetime had they not been in the accident.
- Loss of services such as caretaker services for a disabled spouse or their minor children, transportation, home repair, and other services.
- Loss of parental companionship for minor children who will lose that guidance.
- Loss of spousal companionship for the spouse of the decedent.
- Loss of estate for those that will not be able to inherit what the decedent may have otherwise accumulated.
- Additional losses that may be unique to a particular case.
Many insurance companies want to settle quickly. The offer may look like a good deal to the accident victim. However, before settling a case, it makes sense to schedule a consultation to better understand what your claim may be worth.
An experienced Boca Raton personal injury lawyer can assist in evaluating potential compensation from an insurance company and when it would make sense to go to litigation. Calculating settlements involve complex questions, and the decision to go to court should only be made after the strength of the case and potential judgment amount is determined.
Consulting With a Lawyer
When a truck driver is at fault because of these or other negligent behaviors, that truck driver and the trucking company (their employer) can be held responsible and accountable for your injuries and losses. Call a Boca Raton truck accident attorney now to discuss your case.
Visit the Boca Raton office, or our attorneys can come to you in the hospital, your home, or your work. At Kogan & DiSalvo, we have been recovering for people injured in truck accidents for over 20 years and we are here to help you today.