Truck Accident Overview
A commercial truck accident can be much more catastrophic than an accident between two personal-use vehicles. A typical, fully loaded commercial truck (such as a big rig or dump truck) can weigh at least 25 times as much as a typical car. Due to this stark weight disparity and the basic laws of physics, most big rig truck accidents with other vehicles result in serious, even fatal, injuries.
If you or a loved one is involved in an accident with a commercial truck, you may be entitled to recover compensation for your injuries by bringing a legal claim against the responsible parties. This article will provide a general overview of such claims, but you should meet with a specialized truck accident lawyer for more information or legal representation.
The Unique Dangers of Commercial Truck Accidents
While statistics show that truck drivers generally are much more careful on the road than automobile drivers, large truck crashes still accounted for 4,995 fatalities and 106,000 injuries in 2006 (according to the U.S. Department of Transportation). These accidents often are not the fault of the truck driver and may be the result of unforeseen road hazards or the negligence of other drivers.
In addition, truck accidents can be made worse by the freight the truck is carrying. For example, if hazardous or flammable materials (such as gasoline or industrial waste) are on board a big rig involved in an accident, secondary injuries from that dangerous cargo can result.
Proving Your Case
As is true in most personal injury cases involving vehicle accidents, the main legal theory of liability in commercial truck accident cases is "negligence." Therefore, a person injured in a commercial truck accident must show that:
- Defendant (driver, trucking company, etc.) owed the plaintiff the duty to exercise a reasonable degree of care to avoid injury, under the circumstances (all drivers on the road owe a legal duty of reasonable care to fellow drivers, passengers, and pedestrians);
- Defendant failed to exercise such reasonable care, or in legal terms "breached" the duty of reasonable care; and
- Defendant's failure to exercise reasonable care was the cause of injury suffered by the plaintiff.
In order to collect for injuries suffered in a truck accident, it is important to identify as many potential defendants as possible, which may not be limited to the driver. In many cases, trucking companies, contractors, employers, and insurance companies may be obligated to compensate you for your injuries.
If an employment relationship is established between the truck driver and a trucking or shipping company, then that company may be held legally liable for the driver's negligence. Your attorney would need to show that the company exercised some degree of control over the driver, and that the accident occurred while the driver was acting in the course of the employment relationship.
This can become problematic when a truck driver is an independent contractor of a larger company. In this case, the key issue becomes the amount of supervising done by the company. The potential liability of trucking companies, employers, and contractors is a key factor in assessing recovery through insurance coverage, as all these entities likely will carry separate policies.
Occasionally, the manufacturer or shipper of hazardous materials carried by the truck also may be held liable for injuries caused or made worse by the truck's cargo. This typically relates to the manufacturer or shipper's duty to inform the trucker or trucking company of the materials' potential dangers.
If you are involved in a truck accident where the truck driver was at fault, you may be entitled to damages -- financial compensation for physical, emotional, and/or financial losses resulting from the accident.
Special Considerations In Truck Accident Cases
The operation of large commercial trucks (especially big rigs) on highways and roads presents certain unique dangers that are not a consideration where ordinary passenger vehicles are concerned:
- Jackknifing -- Large vehicles such as eighteen-wheelers are prone to jackknifing under certain conditions, especially during sudden braking and turning. The driver of a truck that has jackknifed (or other would-be defendants) may be not be held negligent where the jackknifing was due to unforeseeable slipperiness of the road, or an abrupt turn to avoid a motorist or stalled truck.
- Turning Accidents -- Commercial trucks can be difficult to turn, often requiring the use of two lanes to make a right turn. It is not always a clear case of negligence, but some courts have held that driving a big rig in this manner (turning from an inside lane or occupying two lanes) is sufficient to establish the truck driver's fault.
Getting Legal Help After a Truck Accident
Any commercial truck accident is likely to result in serious physical injury and property damage. In the event that you or a loved one are involved in such an accident (and after receiving proper medical care), you may want to consult an experienced truck accident lawyer to ensure that any potential legal claim is properly assessed and that your rights are protected.