Truck accidents: who is at fault?

Truck AccidentAs the number of semi-trailers on America’s roadways continues to rise, so too do serious injuries and fatalities caused by truck accidents. According to the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), in 2013, there were nearly 60,000 truck accidents that occurred on the highways and streets of Illinois. Statistics also show that the number of crashes involving tractor-trailers (10971) increased 12.8 percent, from 2012 to 2013. These accidents resulted in 11,575 injuries.

While any type of motor vehicle accident can cause injury, those that involve a pedestrian, passenger car, or SUV struck by a large commercial truck or semi-trailer can be especially damaging to the victim.

IDOT reports that 19 percent of all injuries in trailer crashes are incapacitating injuries, such as severe lacerations, broken limbs, head or chest injuries, and abdominal injuries. These serious injuries and sometimes life-threatening injuries require long-term, expensive medical care to help the injured party to recover

Unfortunately, 304 fatalities resulted from truck accidents, leaving family members devastated and forced to cope emotionally, financially, and otherwise with the death of a loved one.

Factors that Lead to Truck Crashes

In 2007, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which regulates the trucking industry in the United States, conducted a Large Truck Causation Study of 120,000 large truck crashes that occurred between April 2001 and December 2003. The FMCSA defines a “large truck” as a truck with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of greater than 10,000 pounds.

The study gathered hundred of related factors for each crash. In descending order, the FMCSA determined that the top 10 factors recorded for large trucks and their drivers were:

  1. Poor brakes
  2. Traffic flow interruption such as congestion
  3. Use of prescription drugs
  4. Driving too fast for conditions
  5. Unfamiliarity with road
  6. Roadway issues
  7. Failure to obey traffic rules/signals
  8. Over-the-counter drug use
  9. Inadequate surveillance
  10. Driver fatigue

Data show that truck drivers tend to be more careful on the road than automobile drivers are. Nonetheless, the FMCSA study determined that drivers of large trucks were ten times more likely to be the cause of trucking accidents than other factors.

Establishing Responsibility for Truck Collision Injuries

A Chicago personal injury lawyer seeking to find culpable parties must undergo a rigorous investigation of the facts and circumstances surrounding the accident. This may include interviewing witnesses, reading through statements made by the parties at the scene of the accident, taking pictures and examining physical evidence. In many cases an expert can establish how the accident happened with great certainty by examining the scene, looking at skid marks, road signs and other physical evidence.

A review of the trucking companies own records often uncovers evidence of negligent safety checks. Many trucks are now outfitted with an electronic on-board recorder (EOBR). These devices, also known as “black boxes,” record large amounts of data. Accessing and deciphering this information may also expose negligence.

Chicago personal injury cases can be very complex because not every situation involves injuries caused by only one person. While the most obvious defendants are the trucking company, others may also be liable. Defendants may also include shippers, employers, independent contractors, and insurance companies.

Recently, the Illinois appeals court upheld the $8 million damages award against two trucking companies and the driver. This wrongful death action involved four defendants. The trucker deviated from his prescribed route. During his detour, the driver struck and killed the deceased who was standing next to her vehicle that had broken down.

Proving the Case

There are many potential defendants in a truck accident case. Only after a complete discovery of facts is complete is it possible to know which participants may be responsible for the accident. Some theories under which a Chicago personal injury lawyer may pursue responsible parties:

Employer Liability: Where the driver of the truck is employed by someone else, a corporation or sole proprietorship, that employee is known as a, “company driver.”To the extent that the driver was acting within the scope of his employment, the employer will bear responsibility.

Broker Liability: A broker is an intermediary between a shipper (the entity shipping the goods) and the motor carrier (trucker). This relatively new theory predicates liability on the broker based on a duty to screen the motor carrier to ensure that it has safe driving record, is compliant with state and federal regulations and is taking all necessary precautions.

Negligent Hiring: Where a trucking company hires an employee it knows or should have known was not a competent driver.

There are many other theories of liability a plaintiff can take advantage of in pursuing a truck accident claim. Knowing which theory and parties to pursue is best determined by a Chicago personal injury lawyer.

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