Articles Posted in Truck Accidents

Let’s take a look at which of the large commercial trucking companies cause the most auto accidents and which company has the highest accident rate. Our Baltimore auto accident attorneys see hundreds of traffic accident cases every year. We have first-hand experience with how destructive serious auto accidents can be. Major truck accidents can life-altering events with permanent consequences.

Of all the accident cases we handle, commercial truck accidents are by far the worst and most destructive. Big trucks (e.g., delivery truck, tractor-trailers, and other commercial trucking vehicles) can be 4 or 5 times the size and weight of an average passenger car. When these massive moving objects collide with smaller vehicles, the outcome is often tragic.

The Maryland truck accident lawyers at our firm represent dozens of big truck accident victims every year. There are certain big trucking companies that we run into as defendants in these cases on a fairly regular basis. This is because there are a handful of very large commercial trucking companies that cause a very high percentage of truck accidents. To be fair, this is partly due to the fact that these companies are bigger and have more trucks logging more mileage. But it is also true that certain truck companies place less emphasis on driver safety and training. This post will look at who these companies are and why they account for so many truck accidents.

Federal regulations regarding commercial trucking require states to notify other states when licensed truck drivers incur violations that warrant license suspension. The purpose of these rules is to keep dangerous truck drivers off the road.  Unfortunately, however, a recent report by the Boston Globe found that over half of all states routinely fail to comply with this warning requirement.

When a commercial driver receives a license suspension or conviction, the state is supposed to notify other jurisdictions within 10 days. But most state agencies take months (and sometimes years) to send out these warning notices to other states. In some cases, truckers were allowed to continue driving in other states for more than 20 years after a license suspension or revocation.

This is a situation that puts people in danger. A 70,000-pound big rig truck can cause serious injuries and death in an accident. Ensuring that the individuals driving these massive vehicles are qualified and responsible is extremely important. Tractor-trailer trucks cause 5,000 deaths on U.S. roadways each year and that number has been on the rise recently. The habitual failure of state motor vehicle agencies to communicate with each other on truck driver license violations is contributing to this growing problem. The Boston Globe study found that at least 1 out of every 20 commercial truck drivers on the road is illegally driving with an active, unresolved violation of their license.

Tire regrooving is a service that intends to improve vehicle mileage, fuel efficiency, and traction. Truck drivers, construction workers, and farmers often regroove tires to cut costs. It allows them to maximize tire use, eliminating the need for new tires. Regrooving tires involve carving a tire’s grooves to restore tread depth and improve friction. Car mechanics use either a handheld tool or a regrooving machine to do this. Tire regrooving is resurging because of increased fuel and tire manufacturing costs. But a regroove tire comes with real risks.  The result is sometimes a personal injury case that makes it to a courtroom.

What federal laws cover tire regrooving?

Tire regrooving is subject to federal regulations.  Specifically, 49 CFR Section 569.3(c) defines a “regroovable tire” as tires that are “designed, and constructed with sufficient material to permit renewal of the tread pattern.” This means tires can only be legally regrooved if they have enough rubber to maintain its original tread pattern. Non-commercial vehicle tires are not regroovable because they are too thin to preserve its tread pattern.

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Motor vehicle crashes involving flatbed, semi-trucks, or tractor-trailers can lead to serious injury or death. According to statistics compiled by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, in 2015 4,311 large trucks and buses were involved in fatal crashes, an eight percent increase from 2014.

The Federal Highway Administration reports there were over 260 million registered vehicles in the United States in 2014. Over eight million of these vehicles were single-unit or straight trucks, 2.5 million were tractor-trailers or semi-trucks and there were 800,000 buses on the road. That year registered vehicles traveled over three trillion miles. Trucks were responsible for 279 billion of those miles or 9.2 percent of the total, and buses traveled 16 billion miles accounting for 0.5 percent of the total.

Why are crashes involving trucks so dangerous?

Accident reconstructionists are often used by lawyers in auto accident and truck accident cases to answer questions about how the accident occurred. An accident reconstructionist might tell you who was driving, how fast the car or truck was going, whether the driver and/or occupants of the vehicle were wearing seat belts, where on the road the accident occurred, and so forth. Sometimes, they are useful in car accident cases on discreet issues. But, there is a growing sentiment in car accident cases that juries just don’t listen to accident reconstruction experts. Juries, this thinking goes, want to figure out how an accident happened on their own. They don’t need any help. (My view is not quite this strong on whether you should use accident reconstruction experts in liability dispute cases. Certainly, I don’t think they hurt in most cases.)

Reconstructing truck accidents is more complicated than car accidents, and there is a larger role for accident reconstruction experts who understand the nuances of truck accident cases and can communicate effectively with a jury. Unlike car accident cases, juries understand that they don’t understand trucks the way they understand cars.

One of the big issues our lawyers typically face in auto accident and truck accident cases is the debate as to the speed of the vehicles. The biggest difference in investigating truck accidents as opposed to car accidents is the number of different variables at play regarding stopping or slowing. Car accidents are relatively easy, the investigator looks primarily at the skid marks and the type of surface on which the vehicle skid. Truck accidents are far more complex. Trucks generally take 30% to 75% longer to stop than a car. Because large commercial trucks are more difficult to stop, a truck accident reconstructionist must include other variables beyond the usual friction values to calculate vehicle speed, such as brake balance and brake lag time. If speed calculations do not include these adjustments, then the calculated speed of the truck will be off base, and Plaintiff’s theory as to the speed of the truck can look ridiculous and inconsistent with the witnesses to the accident. In cases like this, the truck accident lawyer needs to find a neutral accident reconstructionist to recreate the speed of the truck and to take into account all the relevant considerations.

A Jury Verdict Research study found that the median award in rear-end truck accident cases throughout the country is $93,909. Remarkably, plaintiffs recover damages in only 63 percent of truck accident cases that go to verdict. That study is based on verdicts rendered throughout the United States from 1997 to 2007. I wish I had newer data, but this is all we have.

There is a lot of confusion about median and average verdict data in accident cases. Lawyers who are not exactly math wizards, except when computing 40%, use median and average interchangeably. This study provides the median, not the average truck accident verdict. Clearly, the average truck accident verdict would be substantially higher because a full twelve percent of the verdicts in rear-end truck accident cases are over $1 million. There is a lot of debate about which figure is better but, certainly, the median figure is more useful in computing case values.

Generally speaking, rear-end accident cases are less serious than most other types of truck accidents. But, when you are dealing with big rig trucks, that conventional wisdom goes down the tubes. There is a great deal of wrongful death rear-end accident truck claims, just because rear-end accidents are common and large trucks kill.

In just about every truck accident case, the truck driver or the trucking company destroys the evidence. You would think – particularly the big companies – would understand the importance of keeping these records. But they more often than not get destroyed either innocently or to destroy evidence.

The most common defense is the “I did not realize I had to keep this” defense, which is why it is important for truck accident attorneys to get out a spoliation letter sooner rather than later. But there are some things that have to be maintained under federal law:

  • All documents related to the maintenance of the truck. This is a huge catch-all that covers just about anything related to the use of that truck. This arguably swallows everything you might want to gather up in evidence on the history of that truck, leading up to the accident. See Department of Transportation Interpretations of Part 395, Federal Register, Vol. 62, No. 65, page 16370, et seq.

An Illinois jury awarded $1.275 million to the family of a 25-year-old woman who had almost completed her nursing degree and was killed while driving to her job at a hospital. Tired driving appeared to be the cause of the car accident: the Defendant just fell asleep and hit the Plaintiffs’ decedent.

The damages only trial lasted four days. The jury heard four grueling days of testimony from the family. Not that a tragedy like this can get worse, but this young girl had already been through a lot: surviving two kidney transplants only to be senselessly killed by someone driving down the road.

You hate to say only $1.275 million. That is a lot of money. That said, it seems like an extremely low verdict for the death of a 25-year-old girl. In Maryland, jury awards are cut in cases like this – it is unlikely there were significant economic damages for the family of this young woman. Still, juries in Maryland and in most states are not told about a cap and I think, just symbolically if nothing else, the award should be higher for a 25-year-old girl who overcomes much adversity to survive and thrive.

There is a good article in the Lawyers Logbook this month on the shell games trucking companies play to buy the minimum insurance – $750,000 for most big rigs under federal regulations – and play shell games by taking advantage of corporate structuring to minimize liability when they kill someone.

 

The U.S. Department of Transportation has issued as many imminent hazard orders in the last two years, getting rid of more unsafe bus and truck companies, than the prior 10 years combined.

Buses are incredibly safe. If you are in the bus. This shocks parents but it is probably true: your child is better off with an unsafe bus driver taking her to school than you. But if you are in a bus’ path, it is a different story obviously, particularly for pedestrians.

You can read the DOT release here.