Trucking accidents occur far too often and they typically lead to very serious and often fatal injuries.
Albuquerque trucking accident attorneys will be the first to tell you that claims can be challenging. The insurance companies can be particularly difficult to deal with for a number of reasons not the least of which is the magnitude of the injuries and damages involved.
The trucking companies and their insurers will frequently try to shift blame for the accident to the other driver. In so doing, they can be very uncooperative in the investigation of the causes of the accident.
Dealing with these types of cases require special care and immediate attention. Because of the gravity of the injuries and damages, and the lack of cooperation with the trucking company, these cases require persistent and aggressive legal counsel.
The Albuquerque Attorneys of Collins & Collins, P.C. will be glad to guide you through this difficult and often frustrating process.
Injuries Typically Serious and Often Fatal
There are over 6 million auto accidents every year in the United States. The The Department of Transportation estimates that close to 115,000 of these accidents involved large trucks or buses. Over 40,000 of these involve injuries and about 3500 of these involve fatalities.
The sheer physics of these accidents generally make them significantly more serious than the typical auto accident. According to the statistics, close to 70,000 truck and bus related accidents required tow services due to the severity of the collisions.
Consequently, if you or a loved one have been in a truck or bus related accident, the chances are that you have been injured and many times these injuries are quite serious or even fatal.
Liability Insurance Coverage
It may provide some consolation to know that trucks and buses are generally well insured. Typically, a truck will carry $1 million in liability coverage.
Though this seems like a lot, in cases of very serious personal injuries or wrongful death, even this may not be sufficient. Some of these cases are so horrific that the medical bills alone will approach and sometimes exceed these limits.
However, these insurance policy limits will cover the damages for most trucking accident victims. This is in stark contrast to the insurance of private drivers particularly in New Mexico which leads the nation in uninsured drivers.
Though there is typically significant liability insurance coverage, this does not mean that the insurance company will cooperate. In fact, these cases can be even harder than the typical auto accident. So it is important to seek the guidance of an experienced personal injury attorney.
Common Causes of Truck Accidents Indicating Negligence
Like any other auto accident, there numerous possible causes of truck accidents. However, the most common causes for truck accidents are quite a bit different than the common causes of auto accidents.
It is important to be alert to these causes. A number of the most common causes for truck accidents suggests possible negligence on the part of the truck driver.
The Department of Transportation Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s 2005 Report to Congress on the Large Truck Crash Causation Study provides interesting findings on the 20 most common causes. The full list can be found in the report.
There are several that deserve special attention in case of possible personal injury claims relate to a truck accident.
Prescription Drug Use
Prescription drug use is the number one cause of truck accidents contributing to 26.3% of truck accidents according to the study. This is very important and should be investigated thoroughly.
Many prescription drugs come with warnings regarding driving, drowsiness and so on. Unfortunately, some of the worst culprits are those most commonly used by truck drives such as pain killers and muscle relaxants related to the back pain common to long distance truck drivers.
Truck companies are required to test for a wide range of prescription and illegal drugs. The failure to do so is negligent.
Drug use, both prescription and over the counter, are a factor in a high percentage of trucking accidents. The Transportation Research Board, a division of the National Research Council (which is jointly administered by the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine) conducted an in-depth look at the trucking industry including safety issues in the industry. Among those safety issues considered was the role of drug use in trucking accidents.
According to the Transportation Research Board’s (TRB) 2010 Report, “Trucking 101,” prescription drug use is a factor in over 26% of all truck accidents and over the counter drugs are involved in another 17+%.
Trucking Industry Regulations Regarding Drug Use
It goes almost without saying that alcohol and illegal drug use on the job is strictly prohibited. Alcohol and illegal drug use on the job would almost certainly result in revocation of the driver’s commercial driver’s license (CDL). Fortunately, according to the TRB, illegal drugs and alcohol contribute to only 2.3% and .8% of trucking accidents respectively.
Much more prominent as one may see from the numbers is the use of prescription and over the counter drugs among truck drivers. Many controlled substances may be used by truck drivers by the nature of the work they do and the stresses it causes to the body. For instance, many drivers have back and knee pain issues, which may suggest the use of prescription pain killers and muscle relaxants. Likewise, drugs to help them sleep and drugs to help them stay awake are not uncommon.
Any one of these or a combination thereof can contribute to accidents.
Investigation of Drug Use in a Trucking Accident
As a result, obtaining evidence of drug use can be somewhat more challenging than it should have to be. The discovery of drug use in non-fatal accidents may be discovered during an investigation if there are witnesses to the drug use or behavior suggesting drug use. In the absence of witnesses, the investigation of drug use will come largely through the litigation process.
The discovery process during litigation may be the best bet for obtaining any evidence of drug use, which would have contributed to the accident. This would include a request of all records and documentation regarding drug testing by the employer, prescription drug records from the truck driver, past incidences of drug use, past accident history, and so on.
As one might imagine, each such request will likely be met with resistance. It may be expected that obtaining this evidence will be a bit of a struggle and may require court hearings on motions to compel to obtain the evidence.
Traveling Too Fast for Conditions
Excessive speed is the second leading cause of truck accidents accounting for 22.9% of trucking accidents. This is one we are all familiar with as we see trucks speeding past us on the highways.
There is no excuse for this. Trucks are 20 to 30 times larger than passenger vehicles. They are hardly agile, maneuverable or easy to stop. Excessive speed is highly dangerous with catastrophic consequences associated with the inability avoid accidents.
Over the Counter Drug Use
Another common cause that would indicate negligence is over the counter drug use which accounts for 17.3% of truck accidents. Just like prescription drugs, over the counter drugs can cause drowsiness with serious impairment of driving ability.
Fatigue and Work Related Pressure
Fatigue accounts for 13% of truck accidents while work related pressure accounts for another 9.2%. These will tend to be closely related.
Truck drivers work excessive hours by virtue of delivery pressures. Federal law allows 11 hour shifts, 77 hours in a 7 day week. This is clearly excessive and obviously the result of some pretty strong lobbying pressure from the industry. Even with these rather excessive allowable hours, many truck drivers and their companies exceed these allowable hours.
It is important to check the driver logs to determine whether or not the hours have been exceeded.
Illegal Maneuvers and Aggressive Driving
Illegal maneuvers account for 9.1% and aggressive driving accounts for 6.6% of truck accidents. A couple of examples of aggressive driving are ones we are all far too familiar with, tailgating and weaving.
Again, the size and lack of maneuverability of large trucks make these behaviors inexcusable.
The last driver error that we will address here is driver inattention. This is not much different than any other driver. Notably, this is less common in truck drivers than other drivers accounting for only 8.5% of truck accidents.
Driver inattention can be deadly in any auto accident. In the case of an inattentive driver of a large truck, the fatality rate is much higher by virtue of size of large trucks.
There are a number of equipment related causes for truck accidents. The most common is brake failure which accounts for 29.4% of accidents.
This is remarkable particularly when viewed in light of the other factors above which in combination with faulty breaks creates enormous risks for accidents.
For any truck accident, it will be important to check maintenance and repair logs. These may reveal a lack of proper maintenance and repair brakes and other essential equipment.
Brake issues are a contributing factor in 27% of truck accidents according to the Transportation Research Board’s (TRB) 2010 Report, “Trucking 101,” all told, brake problems lead to over 40,000 trucking accidents each year.
There are a number of manners in which brakes fail. Contrary to misconception, catastrophic brake failure is very rare due to the many backup systems in place in modern trucks to prevent this. Instead there are braking deficiencies, most often caused by poor maintenance that lead to reduced braking power. This in turn leads to accidents.
Common Braking Deficiencies
As noted, it is not absolute brake failure but deficiencies that lead to trucking accidents. Among the best discussion that I could find on the many possible contributing factors on brake failure can be found at Crash Forensics. Among those noted in the discussion include improperly adjusted breaks, improper alignment of brake linings, oil contamination, sticking brake calipers, improperly maintained brake fluids, incomplete friction surface, among a number of other factors.
With each deficiency, and some may be cumulative depending on the maintenance of the truck’s brakes, will come reduced braking power. In other words, it will take longer to stop. When speaking of large trucks that can weigh up to 80,000 pounds or 40+ times greater than a passenger vehicle, any reduction in the ability to safely stop can have catastrophic consequences.
Investigating Brake Failure in Trucking Accidents
Anytime a trucking accident occurs and results in serious personal injury or wrongful death, all of the usual suspects should be closely investigated. With involvement in 27% of all truck crashes, the brakes are a very good place to start.
In order to determine whether brakes were involved in the accident, which more than likely would suggest maintenance issues, it is necessary to get brake maintenance and inspection documentation on the truck. It may also be necessary to hire a truck crash expert for the investigation of the causes of the accident, which include not just brake failure but other possible causes.
The first indication of brake problems may come from witnesses. There may be other drivers or pedestrians that witnessed driving behavior that indicated brake problems. In fact, the first witness to step up may be the truck driver. This would be particularly likely in cases where the driver is a contract driver as many drivers are.
In this case, they would likely shift blame and liability for serious injuries or death from themselves. The primary target of redirected blame would be the trucking company and/or the trucking maintenance and repair service company.
Alcohol and Illegal Drugs
Is it is noteworthy that alcohol and illegal drugs play a trivial role in truck accidents. Together they account for only 3.1% of truck accidents.
The truck industry has done a pretty good job addressing these issues. Perhaps most importantly, state laws on drinking, drugs and truck driving typically call for automatic revocation of commercial driver’s licenses.. This consequence is a great deterrent while also getting the worst culprits off the roads completely.
Take Steps to Protect Your Rights
This leads us to our last point. The insurance companies are not generally keen on paying out large sums of money no matter how bad the injuries and damages and no matter how clear the fault and liability of their insured truck driver.
Due the difficulty of dealing with these companies generally and the fact that these accidents often result in serious or catastrophic injuries, it is important to contact a personal injury attorney experienced in insurance issues as soon after the accident as possible.
There are many steps you will need to take to fully protect your rights. Most of these initial steps concern the incident reports. Keep in mind that in cases of serious accidents, the insurance company will send out its own investigator to the scene. This means that there will be two sets of reports.
As one might imagine, the insurance company’s report is often biased toward the truck driver. So it is extremely important to make sure that the police report is accurate and complete.
To the degree possible, you will want to make sure the police report includes all the names, addresses, phone numbers, and insurance coverage information for each driver involved in the accident.
You will also want the names and contact information for all witnesses. These witnesses will often be critical to sorting out responsibility for the accident where the insurance company denies liability.
An Attorney Can Help
Taking these steps will go a long way toward protecting your claims. Unfortunately, if you or a loved one has been seriously injured, it may not be possible to take all of these necessary steps.
Instead, much of this information may be need to be collected after the fact. In cases of serious injuries, hospitalization or the wrongful death of a loved one, this will likely be the last thing on your mind.