Automobile accidents happen every day, but when a large commercial vehicle is involved, the injuries are much more likely to be devastating. Commercial vehicles can include tractor trailers, eighteen wheelers, delivery trucks, or other large vehicles. Our trucking accident lawyers in Charleston handle big-rig accidents throughout South Carolina.
Why are large trucks so dangerous?
Eighteen wheelers, logging trucks, and other large commercial vehicles weigh much more than passenger vehicles. A tractor-trailer traveling on the interstate can weigh up to 80,000 pounds! For this reason, it takes much more time for a tractor-trailer to slow down or come to a stop, and the force that comes from an impact is greater than a collision with a passenger vehicle. Also, these trucks have four significant blind spots all around the vehicle that many drivers are not aware of. Just because you can see the truck, it doesn’t mean the truck can see you.
Fortunately, semi trucks and certain other commercial vehicles must carry insurance policies of at least $750,000, limits greater than the minimum limits required of passenger automobiles. So, despite the injuries being much greater, the compensation may be adequate depending upon the victim’s injuries.
There are several aspects of trucking accident cases that set them apart from standard automobile accident claims. The Charleston trucking accident attorneys at Futeral & Nelson have handled cases involving trucks and commercial vehicles and have the experience and the resources to pursue these types of claims for our clients.
What types of claims can I make in a trucking accident?
Unlike a motor vehicle accident between two passenger vehicles, an accident with a truck requires additional investigation into the hiring and training of the truck driver. In most cases, a trucking company will be automatically liable for the driver’s negligence, but the claim may be bolstered by the company’s employment practices. For example, it’s not uncommon to find out that the company hired a driver who has a terrible driving record or has committed numerous safety violations in the past. In one case, the trucking accident lawyers at Futeral & Nelson took the deposition of a truck driver who caused an accident. That driver admitted under oath that he had failed drug tests in the past that resulted in the company firing him, but they re-hired him after a supervisor advised him to lie on his employment application. Scenarios like this increase the punitive damage exposure for the trucking company, which in turn can increase the value of your claim. So, if a lawsuit is filed, we would sue for the driver’s negligence and sue the trucking company for negligent hiring, negligent training, and negligent supervision. In addition, sometimes the truck has defective equipment. Brakes that are not maintained can be the cause of an accident, even if the driver did everything he could while behind the wheel. This failure to maintain a dangerous semi truck can lead to its own cause of action, which is why the we will investigate the maintenance records of the vehicle to ensure that it was properly maintained.
Are there any special laws for trucking companies to follow?
Due to their dangerous nature, commercial trucks follow different rules than cars. For example, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issues regulations that promote trucking safety. Sometimes, trucking companies violate these regulations in ways that lead to accidents.
One example involves the new federal regulations that took effect on July 1, 2013. New “hours-of-service” rules are being implemented, which restrict the amount of time that a driver can be on the road and which can reduce the number of accidents caused by drowsy, overworked drivers. These regulations reduce the maximum average work week for drivers from 82 hours to 70 hours. They set forth resting periods that drivers must follow before driving again after reaching the 70-hour mark. They require 30-minute breaks during 8-hour shifts. Also, they provide an 11-hour driving limit per day and 14-hour work limit per day. Drivers are usually paid by the mile and have incentive to push their themselves to the limits, which can create dangerous situations on the roads. Further, certain things may not be specifically regulated but may be industry standards for these companies to follow.
What can be done to investigate my trucking accident case in South Carolina?
Evidence in these cases can disappear quickly. Evidence can be found in the form of skid marks, location of debris, damage to vehicles, and testimony of witnesses. In some cases, we find it is wise to hire an investigator to document and photograph tangible pieces of evidence and locate witnesses to the crash, and this investigation is more likely to be successful if performed quickly.
Some evidence is held by the trucking company. This evidence includes driver logs, GPS and other data, and maintenance logs. Because the injuries in trucking cases are often devastating, these trucking companies would prefer for some of this evidence to never be found. Therefore, we use tactics to force the companies to preserve and produce this evidence, and these tactics are most useful if employed as soon as possible after the accident.
Evidence also comes through in the form of medical records. However, not all of our clients have health insurance and are unable to secure the treatment they need for their injuries. These clients often feel helpless because they are experiencing pain and may require surgery or other treatment, but they have no options. The trucking companies and their insurers often try to claim that because there was a gap in treatment that the client must not be as hurt as he or she claims. In some of these instances, we are able to locate doctors who will treat injured people with no money or insurance up front.
While trucking and insurance companies may try to claim that these doctors are trying to run up a medical bill that will be paid out of settlement, that is simply not the case. We won’t advise you to seek treatment you don’t need, and we don’t give referrals to doctors who aren’t the best in their field of medicine.
There are many other aspects of the investigation, both pre-suit and during litigation. The Charleston trucking accident attorneys at Futeral & Nelson will not leave a stone unturned. We’ll review the driver’s hours of service, the driver’s employment file, the alcohol and drug policies of the company, the maintenance logs of the vehicle, the applicable insurance policies, and various other aspects of the case.
What is an expert witness?
An expert witness is a person who, through experience or training, has better knowledge of a particular filed than a person not in that field. The rules on expert witnesses testifying are different from ordinary witnesses, and their testimony can be crucial to a case. After the court qualifies someone as an expert witness, that person can give opinions about a case that a non-expert would not be allowed to give.
Because trucking accidents oftentimes have more at stake, they are more likely to require the use of expert witnesses to prove your case. If the trucking company claims that the accident was your fault when it was not, we may hire an accident reconstructionist who will be able to recreate what actually happened by applying physics to the evidence to show things such as vehicle velocities at the time of impact. We may hire an expert from the trucking industry to discuss the industry standards and show precisely how the company and driver violated these standards, as well as how easily they could have prevented these violations. We may hire an auto mechanic to inspect the truck that caused the accident and give an opinion on if it was improperly maintained. If the defense claims that the injuries are exaggerated based upon the amount of damage to the vehicles, we may hire an expert regarding the “science” of biomechanics. For more information on biomechanical engineering, read our article on 10 Challenges to a Biomechanical Expert.
What if more than one driver caused the trucking accident?
In South Carolina, any driver that is at least 50% at fault is fully responsible to the injured person. If a driver is less than 50% at fault, say 30%, then that driver is responsible for 30% of the injured person’s damages.
If you are partially at fault, it can reduce your recovery under a legal theory called “comparative negligence.” For example, if a jury finds that you were greater than 50% at fault for the accident, then you can recover nothing. Otherwise if you’re less than 50% at fault, then your recovery will be reduced by that amount. For example, if you’re 25% at fault for an accident, the other driver is 75% at fault for the accident, and the jury awards you $100,000, you’ll be able to recover $75,000.
Trucking companies and their insurance companies often try to shift the blame in these types of cases and reduce your recovery. This is why it is important to not hesitate in hiring your lawyer so that we can uncover as many pieces to the puzzle as possible and get the recovery that you are entitled to. Through our investigation, we will try to locate any other parties who may be at fault and who may be able to contribute to your compensation.
Should I talk to the insurance company?
We never recommend talking to the insurance company without first hiring a lawyer. You aren’t required to speak to the at fault driver’s company at the early stage, and they’ll only try to use your statements against you.
Charleston Trucking Accident Lawyers
Call the attorneys at Futeral & Nelson. We offer a free consultation and will make accommodations in the event your injury does not currently allow you to travel to our office.