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Tractor Trailer & Truck Accidents

Tractor-trailer cases are complex. Retaining an experienced lawyer to handle your case is the first step to protecting your rights. Contacting an attorney early in the process is important. It is always best to have your attorney negotiate and communicate with the insurance company or trucking company on your behalf.

A typical commercial truck can weigh 80,000+ pounds. A passenger vehicle weighs around 3,000. The equation of those two numbers can easily result in serious to fatal injuries.As a law firm committed to helping people, we offer experienced representation for individuals and families who are dealing with the aftermath of injuries caused by the negligent or improper operation of a tractor-trailer. Collisions involving a semi-truck can cause significant injuries and death. In many cases, tractor-trailer wrecks result in injuries to multiple parties and can cause one or more fatalities.

We have successfully tried and settled many cases on behalf of individuals and family members of fatally injured victims seeking just compensation for the harm they have suffered. Our goal in each case is to restore a sense of justice to our clients by seeking fair compensation for their extraordinary losses.

Getting an attorney involved early in the process of a tractor-trailer wreck case is also important because evidence may fade or disappear over time. If you have been injured by what you believe may have been the negligent operation of a tractor-trailer accident or need to speak with a lawyer about a family member who has been injured in a tractor-trailer wreck, we encourage you to contact our firm.


Below information copyright 2010 Nolo

Learn about the common causes of trucking accidents and who might be liable.

If you are the victim of a trucking accident, the questions of who is responsible and what actually caused the accident are often much more complicated than in a simple traffic accident. There are many players involved, from the driver to the owner of the truck, and getting information about what went wrong often requires some industry know-how.

Understanding the common reasons for trucking accidents, and the relationships among the persons and entities connected to the truck, the trailer, and the load, will help you determine whether you have a valid claim and how you will present your case.

Truck Accident Statistics

Over the past two decades, the number of truck accidents has increased by 20%. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), in 2002, 4,897 individuals died and 130,000 people were injured in crashes that involved a large truck. And even though large trucks are only responsible for 3% of injury-causing motor vehicle accidents, trucking accidents typically cause much greater harm than ordinary traffic accidents due to the large size and heavy weight of most trucks.

Laws Governing Truck Accidents

Federal laws and regulations govern the trucking industry. These laws establish certain standards that trucking companies, owners, and drivers must meet, and often determine who is responsible for a trucking accident. The bulk of federal regulations dealing with the trucking industry can be found in Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations.

Agencies that regulate truck driving include the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). Every state also has a department of transportation with its own set of trucking regulations.

Who Is Responsible?

When it comes to truck accidents, there is a web of players who may be responsible for a victim’s injuries, including:

  • the truck’s driver
  • the owner of the truck or trailer
  • the person or company that leased the truck or trailer from the owner
  • the manufacturer of the vehicle, tires, or other parts that may have contributed to the cause or severity of the accident, and
  • the shipper or loader of the truck’s cargo (in cases involving improper loading).

The trucking, hauling, and leasing companies often argue among themselves over whose insurance will compensate the victim. For example, the truck company might claim that the accident was caused by defective brakes. In turn, the brake company might then point the finger at the leasing company, claiming that it failed to maintain the brakes in good working order.

Can Trucking Companies Avoid Liability?

In the past, trucking companies often tried to avoid liability for trucking accidents by creating distance between themselves and the driver, the vehicle, and the equipment. Here’s how they did this:

The trucking company obtains the necessary permits to operate the truck. However, the company often does not own the tractor, trailer, or equipment used to haul the goods. Instead it leases (rents) the equipment, tractors, and trailers from the “owner/operator.” The trucking company also does not directly employee the drivers. Instead, it hires them as independent contractors from the owner/operator.

The trucking company gives the owner/operator a “placard,” which includes the name of the trucking company and its permit numbers. The placard is then affixed to the door of the tractor -- which makes it seem like the truck is owned by the named trucking company and the driver is an employee of the named trucking company.

If the truck is in an accident, and the trucking company is sued, it would argue that:

  • the driver was not the trucking company’s employee, so the trucking company is not liable for driver error, or
  • the trucking company does not own the equipment, so it is not responsible for the operation, maintenance, repair, and inspections of the equipment.

Luckily, federal laws and regulations have put an end to these arguments. Under current federal law, any company owning a trucking permit is responsible for all accidents involving a truck that has its placard or name displayed on the vehicle. It doesn’t matter what the lease says with the owner/operator or whether the driver is an employee or independent contractor.

Determining What Caused the Accident

Traditionally, accident victims had to rely on police reports and witness statements to understand how and why an accident occurred. Today, there are other key ways to get information about an accident: information from government agencies and data from high tech devices.

Contact Government Agencies

Federal and state regulations require that a certified truck inspector (usually a member of the reconstruction division of the state police) inspect any commercial truck and trailer involved in an accident before it is removed from the scene. This report reveals the condition of all of the important mechanical parts of the truck and trailer. These reports are not part of local police report. Instead, they must be obtained from the appropriate government agency. 

Preserve Data From High Tech Devices

When a plane crashes, the first thing officials recover is the “black box” -- a device that records data that assists with the investigation. The trucking industry is now using devices similar to black boxes that record all sorts of information, including how fast the truck was going, patterns of speed, when the driver used his or her breaks -- and even how long the driver had been on the road.

Many of these devices are also used in the automotive industry, such as on-board computers and global positioning systems (GPS). Others are specific to the trucking industry such as inclinometers, which are devices that provide information about the angles of a slope and how to round corners safely.

If you are in a trucking accident, it is critical that you make sure data from high tech equipment is preserved. Otherwise, it might be erased as part of the regular routine of the company.

Common Causes of Truck Accidents

The most common causes of truck accidents are driver error prior to and during the trip, mechanical failures, weather conditions, road design, and traffic signal failures.

Driver Error

The most common cause of trucking accidents is driver error. In fact, drivers of large trucks are ten times more likely to be the cause of the crash than other factors, such as weather, road conditions, and vehicle performance, according to a recent study released by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). The FMCSA found that the action or inaction by drivers was the critical reason for 88 percent of crashes.

Factors such as the use of prescription and over-the-counter drugs, speeding, fatigue, inattention, distractions, work environment, and unfamiliarity with the road all can contribute to driver error. But by far the most common causes of trucking accidents are driver fatigue and sleep deprivation.

Equipment Problems

The next most common cause of truck accidents is equipment failure. This can include manufacturing mistakes (defective tires) or design errors (failure to provide backing warning or object detection systems). However, most mechanical causes of truck accidents are caused by a failure to properly maintain the equipment. Some examples include:

  • removing or depowering the front brakes, which can cause a truck to jackknife
  • brake failure due to inadequate adjustments
  • tire blowouts due to wear
  • improper securing or load distribution, contributing to truck rollover
  • defective steering
  • improper trailer attachment
  • defective side or rear lighting, and
  • transmission failure.

Getting Help

Because the web of players in the trucking industry can be complicated and getting information from the right sources may require some industry know-how, you may want to get advice or representation from a personal injury lawyer.

For help on choosing a good truck accident lawyer, read Nolo’s article

© 2010 Nolo

Trucking Accidents Caused by Brake and Tire Failure

by Attorney Thomas D. Fazioli

Learn the common causes of brake failure or defective tires that lead to accidents.

Trucking accidents are often caused by mechanical failures -- the two biggest culprits being brake failures and defective tires. In fact, a recent study sponsored by Department of Transportation (DOT) found that 29.4% of all large truck crashes involved brake failure, brakes out of adjustment, or other brake-related issues.

If you’ve been injured in a truck accident, learning about the common causes of brake and tire failure and who might be responsible will help you determine whether you have a valid claim and who to sue.

Defective Brakes: Who is to Blame?

When brakes malfunction, blame may be placed on a variety of parties (individually or in combination), including:

  • the driver
  • the company that loaded the truck
  • the party responsible for maintaining the brakes (often the owner-operator), and
  • the manufacturer of the brakes.

The trucking, hauling, and leasing companies often argue among themselves over whose insurance is going to compensate the victim. For example, the trucking company might claim that the accident was caused by defective brakes. The brake company might then point the finger at the leasing company, claiming that it failed to maintain the brakes in good working order.

Here’s a rundown of why each party might be responsible.

The Brake Manufacturer

The federal government has imposed strict regulations on the safety of truck braking systems. A truck must be able to:

  • develop a certain braking force (based on a percentage of the truck’s weight)
  • decelerate to a stop from 20 miles per hour at a rate specific to its size, and
  • meet the automatic brake adjustment system requirements.

If truck brakes do not meet these federal standards, you may have a claim against the manufacturer. Usually these claims come in two forms: (1) the manufacturer did not design the brakes properly or (2) the brakes were correctly designed, but some defect occurred in the manufacturing process. These types of cases are called product liability cases.

Federal brake recalls. In some cases, the federal government has already determined that certain types of brakes or brake parts are defective. When this happens, the government requires brake manufacturers to recall the defective brakes or parts. A brake recall is powerful evidence that those particular brakes are dangerous. You may have a claim against the manufacturer (for making the defective brakes) and the truck owner (if the manufacturer notified the owner of the defect and the owner never corrected it). To determine if a particular braking system was recalled, contact a trucking accident attorney or search the DOT recall website at www-odi.nhtsa.dot.gov/recalls.

Drivers and Trucking Companies

Sometimes actions taken by the driver or trucking company, or negligent inaction, causes brakes to fail.

Depowering the front brakes. Some owner-operator truck drivers deliberately unhook or depower the front brakes on the truck and rely only upon the brakes of the trailer and downshifting to stop or slow the vehicle. They do this in order to minimize the expense of tire and brake wear and replacement costs.

Improper brake setting and failure to maintain brakes. Federal regulations require that commercial trucking companies keep maintenance records demonstrating that truck maintenance has been performed according to schedule. In addition, every driver is required to perform and complete a daily pre-trip inspection report of the condition of the tractor and trailer equipment. These required inspections include:

  • checking the brake shoes to ensure they function properly and do not have missing or broken mechanical components
  • checking for loose brake components, and
  • listening for air leaks in the brake chamber, which would indicate problems with the brake system.

Improper loading. If the truck load is not evenly distributed, the brakes may overheat and malfunction.

Truck Accidents Caused by Tire Problems

We have all seen the debris: long, heavy strips of tire littering the roadway after a semi truck has a blowout. The most common causes of tire failure follow.

Defective tires. This may happen because the tire manufacturer sold a defective truck tire. As with brakes, in some cases defective tires are recalled. To find out if the truck tires were recalled, check with the Department of Transportation -- it maintains the records of all recalled tires. You can find this information at the DOT’s website at www-odi.nhtsa.dot.gov/recalls.

Failure to maintain tires. Sometimes a trucking company does not maintain the tires. For example, air brakes -- the most common type of brakes used in large trucks -- can only take so much heat. A full stop at 60 mph raises the brake drum temperature to about 600 degrees. That is the limit for safe operation. If the brakes aren’t properly set or maintained, the brakes overheat and may malfunction.

Other common maintenance mistakes made by trucking companies include:

  • allowing drivers to use tires that fail to meet the minimum DOT tread depth requirement
  • mounting mismatched tire sizes or pairing tires with significantly different wear, and
  • mixing bias and radial tires on the same axle.

Failure to perform pre-trip tire inspections. Sometimes a trucking accident is caused by a failed tire that the driver should have noticed in the required pre-trip inspection of the truck. Improper tire pressure -- either too little or too much -- can lead to deterioration and eventual catastrophic failure. A tire that is worn or damaged may fail as a blowout and result in loss of control of the vehicle. The principal indicators of deterioration are tread wear, tread and sidewall damage, and air leakage.

Often companies that fail to inspect or maintain the braking systems on their vehicles also fail to inspect the tires. This can lead to multiple mechanical problems that cause a trucking accident. Be sure to explore all possible causes of the accident.

Getting Help

Because the web of players in the trucking industry can be complicated and getting information from the right sources may require some industry know-how, you may want to get advice or representation from a lawyer.

© 2010 Nolo

Trucking Accidents Caused by Driver Error

by Attorney Thomas D. Fazioli

Truck driver errors contribute to the majority of trucking accidents. Here are the most common ones.

Errors made by truck drivers cause most trucking accidents. Impaired truck drivers (whether by alcohol, sleep deprivation, or use of prescription medication) make poor judgments, take unnecessary risks, and are unable to react to the dangers on our roadways. Truck drivers also contribute to accidents by driving too fast, depowering the front brakes, and improperly loading the cargo, among other things.

If you are the victim of a trucking accident, you should investigate the conduct of the driver and also the role of the trucking company in the accident. The trucking company may have allowed an incompetent or impaired driver on the public roads or failed to follow federal rules on the maximum hours that drivers can work per shift.

Why Driver Errors Occur

Drivers of large trucks are ten times more likely to be the cause of trucking accidents than other factors, such as weather, road conditions, and vehicle performance, according to a recent study released by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

The FMCSA study also examined factors that cause truck drivers to make errors, such as use of prescription and over-the-counter drugs, speeding, fatigue, inattention, distractions, work environment, and unfamiliarity with the road. The study found that of all truck accidents caused by driver error:

  • 44% involved truckers who were taking prescription and over-the-counter-drugs
  • 23% involved drivers traveling too fast for conditions, and
  • 18% were caused by driver fatigue.

Of course, truck drivers commit other errors that cause accidents as well. Read on to learn about how these errors contribute to truck crashes.

Driver Fatigue 

Fatigue leads truck drivers to fall asleep, be inattentive, misjudge gaps, ignore the signs of impending dangers, panic, freeze, and under- or overreact to a situation. Even though fatigue is a common cause of truck accidents, it is also the most preventable.

The Federal Hours of Service Rules

Federal regulations (called the "hours of service rules") set forth rules to ensure that truck drivers obtain the necessary rest and restorative sleep in order to drive safely. Under these rules, truck drivers can work a maximum of 14 hours per day, during which time they can only drive for a maximum of 11 hours. The driver must be off-duty for 10 consecutive hours prior to the start of a shift. The driver also cannot drive after being on duty for 60 hours in seven consecutive days or 70 hours in eight consecutive days.

If you are in an accident where you suspect that the driver fell asleep or failed to react properly, you should determine whether there was a violation of the hours of service rules.

Proving an Hours of Service Violation

In order to determine, and prove, that a trucking company violated an hours of service rule, get a copy of the truck driver’s logs. Federal law requires drivers to record their driving information in structured driver's logs.

If the driver’s logs are missing or are obviously inaccurate, there are other ways to discover how many hours the driver logged behind the wheel. Review the “trip tickets” or “bills of lading” for each delivery by the driver made in the few days leading up to the accident. Trip tickets and bills of lading include time stamps and entries by third parties that disclose the time that a load was picked up and when it was delivered. You can use these to calculate the amount of time that a truck driver was on the road.

Likewise, the trucking company can and should be monitoring the actual hours of service of its drivers and should not be able to hide behind the inaccurate logs of its drivers. Trucking companies who allow a driver to repeatedly “mislog” his or her hours of service expose themselves to liability for a lawsuit.

Drug Use

Drivers may not use any controlled substances, unless prescribed by a licensed physician who is familiar with the driver's medical history and assigned duties and has determined that the drug use will not adversely affect the driver's ability to safely operate a commercial motor vehicle.

Federal regulations require trucking companies to:

  • test their drivers for alcohol and drug use as a condition of employment, and
  • require periodic random tests of the drivers while they are on duty and after an accident involving a fatality.

A recent investigation revealed that drivers can defeat the accuracy of the current Department of Transportation (DOT) drug testing process with products, such as synthetic urine, that are widely available for sale. To combat this, the DOT now requires that trucking companies obtain drivers’ drug testing records from previous employers – the hope is that this will help prevent abuse of the testing system.

Failure to Watch the Blind Spots

Truck drivers are trained to watch for vehicles that might enter the “no-zone.” A “no-zone” is an area where a passenger car disappears from the truck driver’s view. There are front, side, rear, backing up, and right turn no-zones. Studies show that accidents between cars and large trucks are 60% more likely to occur when a car is in a no-zone. Driver error occurs when a truck driver is either unaware that another vehicle has entered the no-zone or does not take precautions when a vehicle does enter that zone.

Driver Error Causing Truck Rollovers

Rollovers are one of the major causes of fatalities and injuries in trucking accidents. They are often caused by driver errors such as:

  • taking a curve too fast
  • driving too fast
  • fatigue
  • inexperience, or
  • improperly distributing the truck’s load.

Depowering the Front Brakes and Improper Trailer Attachment

Drivers that own and operate a large truck will often depower the truck’s front brakes and rely upon the trailer brakes and downshifting to slow or stop the truck. By not using the front brakes, the driver/owner reduces operating costs by minimizing wear and tear on the brakes and tires.

Driving a truck without the front brakes greatly increases the risk of accidents, including the increased tendency for a truck to jackknife.

Sometimes drivers don’t properly attach the trailer to the front of the truck. This also increases the risk of jackknifing.

Gathering Evidence About Driver Errors

Some trucking companies use electronic event data recorders -- devices that record all sorts of information about the truck and its operation, including how fast the truck is going, patterns of speed, when the driver uses his or her brakes, and even how long the driver has been on the road. Other commonly used devices include on-board computers, global positioning systems (GPS), and inclinometers (which provide information about the angles of a slope and rounding corners safely).

If you are in a trucking accident, it is critical that you make sure data from high tech equipment is preserved. Otherwise, it might be erased as part of the regular routine of the company.

Getting Help

Because the web of players in the trucking industry can be complicated and getting information from the right sources may require some industry know-how, you may want to get advice or representation from a lawyer.

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