Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that motor vehicle accidents cause injuries to millions of people each year. Truck drivers who spend their working lives driving our nation’s roadways probably know the risks better than anyone with a third of them experiencing a serious collision at least once during their careers.
The damages caused by truck accidents can be devastating in terms of the lives lost and life-altering injuries that all too frequently occur. A look at two serious truck accidents that made headlines may offer a better understanding of the causes of crashes involving trucks and the legal implications they create for owners, drivers and innocent victims.
Driver fatigue and other causes of truck accidents
A truck driver’s guilty plea to multiple counts of a criminal indictment, including vehicular homicide and aggravated assault, played out in a New Jersey courtroom two years after a truck accident that sent some passengers riding in a limousine to a hospital with injuries and left another passenger, comedian James McNair dead. The driver of the Walmart truck that slammed into the limousine spent 12 hours driving to work before beginning his 14-hour shift.
One of the injured passengers, Tracy Morgan, suffered a traumatic brain injury and multiple fractures and was in a coma for more than a week. Morgan eventually resumed his career as a standup comedian and actor after a long period of convalescence.
An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board identified driver fatigue as a contributing factor in causing the collision, but it also concluded that other factors also played a role. Investigators cited the 12 hours driven by the truck driver from his home to the Walmart facility followed by almost 14 hours driving the truck as causing him to fail to react in time to traffic slowing as it approached a work zone.
The speed of the truck, reported by the NTSB as 65 mph in a 45 mph work zone, also played a role in causing the truck to slam into the slowing traffic ahead of it. Speed is a common factor, along with driver fatigue, in truck accidents. A horrific crash involving 28 vehicles on a Colorado highway took the lives of four people and began when a speeding truck driver failed to stop in time to avoid crashing stopped and slowing vehicles.
The initial collision set off a chain reaction involving other trucks and passenger vehicles. The crash and fires it caused was described by local police as the worst accident they’d ever seen in their city.
Speeding and driver fatigue are only two of the common causes of serious truck accidents. These and other causes raise liability implications for owners and drivers of trucks and even for the occupants of other vehicles injured in truck accidents.
Federal government studies the common causes of truck accidents
An exhaustive study by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation concluded that driver fatigue, alcohol consumption and speeding were some of the most common factors causing collisions involving trucks, but other causes unrelated to the driver may also play a role. How trucking companies select and train their drivers along with how they maintain their vehicles also play important roles in causing crashes.
Common causes of accidents involving trucks include the following:
- Distracted driving: Reaching to adjust the radio, checking a phone for text messages or focusing on navigation systems are only a few of the activities that may divert a truck driver’s attention away from maintaining control over the vehicle or watching for changing road or traffic conditions.
- Speeding: Tight schedules made even tighter by unexpected delays may cause a driver to exceed safe driving speeds in order to make up for lost time. The risk of an accident caused by a speeding vehicle is augmented when other factors, such as distractions or fatigue, are also present.
- Fatigue: As a result of the New Jersey crash that killed James McNair and injured Tracy Morgan and others, Walmart instituted measures designed to enhance government regulations limiting drivers to 14 hours driving their trucks. The company imposed a requirement that drivers must either work within 250 miles of where they pick up their trucks or report to the location at least nine hours before the start of their shift.
- Driving impaired: A third of the truck drivers interviewed for a study admitted to using amphetamines while driving.
Truck drivers are not the only ones who may be responsible when their vehicles cause accidents resulting in injuries and fatalities. The owner of a vehicle may be responsible for the negligent conduct of its driver under the legal doctrine of respondeat superior, which makes a principal or employer responsible for the actions of an agent or employee.
Owners may also be liable when an accident is caused by a maintenance issue. Brake failure or other cause attributable to a lack of proper maintenance and repairs could make the owner of the truck liable in the event of a crash.
Owners that put inexperienced or poorly trained drivers in their vehicles could be responsible when the driver’s lack of experience or inadequate training causes an accident. A personal injury attorney representing someone injured in a truck accident routinely investigates to identify all parties bearing responsibility for causing the collision.
New technology targeting driver safety has been put into service by some fleet operators that lets them identify unsafe drivers working for them. One system monitors the road and a driver’s activities, such as following too closely or speeding. Drivers receive an alert to enable them to take immediate action to correct the unsafe behavior. The system also alerts the trucking company, so it may use the information to evaluate and rate the safety performance of its drivers.
When victims of accidents are at fault
The terms of the financial settlement reached by Walmart to compensate the injured passengers and the family of the passenger who died have not been made public. It may be safe to assume that the findings of the NTSB investigation regarding the failure of most of the occupants of the limo to use their seat belts reduced the damages recovered by the victims.
Just as truck drivers and truck owners can be held liable for their negligent acts that cause accidents, victims may be held responsible for their negligence. Fault on the part of an injured party that contributes to causing an accident or increases the likelihood or severity of an injury may be used to reduce the damages the victim or, in the case of a deceased victim, the victim’s family recovers.
Identifying the causes and parties responsible for trucking accidents requires knowledge, training and experience. A personal injury attorney with access to accident reconstruction experts and investigators can make a difference in the outcome for the victims of truck accidents and their families.
We hope you found this blog post on Truck Accidents in the News: A Legal Perspective useful. Be sure to check out our post on Buying Guide: Different Types of Semi Trucks Explained for more great tips!
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