San Diego, California Semi-Truck Accident Lawyer
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.
This article will help you navigate all of these issues and hopefully proved you with answers to your burning questions.
California Truck Accident Statistics
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). ((https://http://www.dot.ca.gov/hq/traffops/engineering/trucks/trucksize/weight.htm)) 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 ear. ((http://www.chp.ca.gov/switrs/pdf/2012-sec6.pdf)) 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.).
What factors cause California truck crashes?
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. ((http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/10/25/us-drug-truckdrivers-idUSBRE99O0T520131025))
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.
Specific types 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. The most common cause of fatal semi-truck accidents in California. ((http://www.chp.ca.gov/switrs/pdf/2012-sec6.pdf))
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. ((http://www.dot.ca.gov/hq/traffops/engineering/trucks/truckmap/local-truck-routes.htm)) 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.
Hours of Service for truck drivers
Every truck driver must follow California’s rules of the road. ((https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/detail/pubs/vctop/vc/vc))
But the biggest regulation of truck drivers and their behavior is the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Hours of Service regulations. ((http://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/regulations/hours-of-service))
Federal maximum driving time
Section 395.3. ((http://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/regulations/title49/section/395.3)) Specifically:
- 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.
Record keeping and preserving evidence
Federal law requires truck drivers to record their hours and rest time. ((http://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/regulations/title49/section/395.8))
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.
Steps to take after a truck accident
The most important thing to do after a truck accident is, if necessary, seek immediate medical treatment for serious injuries. Your health is the most important, not a potential case in the future. IF you are in need of emergency medical treatment, you won’t be able to do anything else. But if you can ask someone, 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.
Do not admit liability or discuss the case with anyone.
That includes witnesses at the scene, family members, nobody.
Do not give a recorded statement.
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.
Do not sign any papers.
I’ve had insurance companies trick clients into signing papers granting them authority to request all of your paperwork.
Potential defendants who may owe you money for your injuries
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:
- The truck driver. This one is obvious. If the truck driver caused the accident you sue them.
- The trucking company. Laws in California make the employer responsible for negligent acts caused by their employees. If you or a family member suffered significant injuries I usually name the parent company because they usually have deeper pockets. If the driver was acting in the course and scope of their employment then the employer is liable.
- Truck repair facilities. If the truck repair facility negligently fixed the car, then they may be responsible if this defunct contributed to the accident.
- Government defendant. Did the state negligently maintain the roads, or caused a dangerous condition?
How much is your truck accident case worth
It is very important to understand the potential value of your claim, because insurance companies will almost always offer settlement amounts significantly lower. By accepting a low offer you forfeit the right to pursue fair, reasonable compensation for your injuries.
For example, you might accept an offer that covers your present medical bills and some pain and suffering. However there might be future medical treatments not calculated into that settlement. If you settle and sign a release, you forfeit the right to recover for the future medical treatment you will require.
Economic damages or special damages
There are a number of ways to value your case. You start by adding up all of your medical bills, hospital fees, ambulance bills, etc. Then you will have a medical professional provide you with an estimate of future treatment needed and costs. Then you look at how much time you had to take off work and your pay from it. If there is any future time off work expected, include that. If the injuries are so severe you’ve actually lost earning power that must also be calculated. These are damages that can be counted or estimated (even if both sides disagree) and are called economic or special damages.
Non-economic or general damages
Finally, you have the stuff that cannot be easily counted. Pain. Suffering. Inconvenience. Shame. Embarrassment. Loss of companionship and relationship with a spouse (loss of consortium). This is where professionals such as experienced personal injury and truck accident lawyers come in. Based on an analysis of your case, because every case is different, and compared to other recent claims and verdicts, a range can be created.
Now, as each case is different and each jury is different, a verdict or settlement may come outside of this range. But you always want to be sure you are well informed before making any decisions.
How to maximize the value of your case
- Seek immediate medical attention. The longer you wait, the more likely it is the insurance adjuster and lawyers will argue your injuries are not serious. Waiting a few days to see a doctor is okay, but if 2 months go by and you haven’t seen a doctor for your injuries, it is harder to convince a jury you were injured in the accident and not some subsequent incident. See a doctor as soon as possible after an accident and immediately if you feel any symptoms.
- Go to all of your scheduled visits. If there are gaps in your treatment the defendant will point this out. They will argue that anybody who is really injured would see the doctor as much as possible and not miss any treatments. After all, who likes pain? You need to do your best and give all of your efforts into recovering.
- Tell your doctors everything. The medical documents are key in any truck accident case. If you never tell your doctor it hurts when you raise your arms above your head, they can’t write it down in their notes, charts and reports. If this isn’t in your medical records, then a jury isn’t inclined to believe that it really hurts when you raise your arms above your head. Tell your doctor everything and this is not the time to be tough. Be a cry baby!
- Ignore the other side. The insurance company for the truck driver is going to call you. They’re going to want a record statement. They’re going to ask you questions. They’re going to want you to sign a few forms. You are not required to do so. So ignore them! You gain nothing by talking to them and risk hurting your case. Talk to them at your peril!
How much time do I have to sue the other side?
In most cases, you have two years to sue the wrongdoer after a truck accident.
Within two years: An action for assault, battery, or injury to, or for the death of, an individual caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another. ((California Code of Civil Procedure 335.1))
Lawyers use a fancy term called “statute of limitations.” It essentially means, after this time runs out, you can’t sue the wrongdoer any more. Even if there is indisputable evidence they caused your injuries. If you fail to file a lawsuit before the deadline, you’re case is over. There aren’t many exceptions to this rule.
Minors have 2 years from the time they turn 18, however.
If the government is at fault, you must file a government claim within 180 days. If your claim is against a government entity, speak to an attorney immediately or your rights might be compromised.
Do you need a California Truck Accident Attorney?
Not always. If your accident is minor and your injuries not severe, it’s possible the case can be handled on your own. But truck accidents are more likely to cause severe injuries so the larger the case get, usually the more likely a lawyer is needed.
Even if you do not need a lawyer for your case, you should always reach out to one immediately after an accident. Your rights can be explained to you, and you might pick up a few pointers. Consultations are free at my firm, so it won’t even cost you anything except your time but it’s time well-spent.
There is no harm in contacting an attorney right away. A 30 minute conversation and case review with a truck accident lawyer will lead you in the right direction, and eliminate much doubt and uncertainty about the whole process.