Truck accidents happen for many reasons, but no matter how they occur, they frequently lead to catastrophic results for the victims. The statistics are terrifying: between 2009 and 2015, the nationwide number of injuries from truck accidents increased by 62%. And data from the U.S. Department of Labor shows that truck driving is the most dangerous job in the United States, largely due to the frequency of wrecks.
So why do these deadly crashes happen, and why are more and more people getting injured? Below, we’ll discuss some common causes of truck crashes and explain what you can do to build your case after a serious accident.
1. Driver Error and Performance
According to statistics from the federal government, driver errors cause almost half of all truck accidents. When a truck driver makes even a minor error, the truck’s enormous weight, poor handling, and long stopping distances can make the mistake very hard to correct.
Truck driver errors frequently involve:
- Speeding or driving too quickly for the weather or road conditions
- Failing to yield
- Failing to follow traffic control devices such as stop signs or traffic lights
- Improper passing maneuvers
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However, proving a truck driver’s negligence isn’t always easy. After a wreck, trucking companies frequently rush in emergency response teams that consist of insurance adjusters, lawyers, and investigators. These people’s job is to protect the driver and trucking company from liability. Sometimes, evidence “disappears” in their wake. Indeed, federal regulations require trucking companies to maintain certain evidence, like driver’s logs, for only six months.
To level the playing field, you need a lawyer experienced in handling complex truck accident cases. The lawyers at Phelan Petty pride themselves on aggressive advocacy and detailed investigative skills. We can move quickly after a truck crash to preserve evidence, demand accountability, and give your case the best chance of success.
2. Driver Fatigue and Distraction
Under federal trucking regulations, drivers can only drive up to 11 hours straight before they have to take a break. They also cannot drive if they have an illness or medical condition that impacts their ability to drive safely.
Unfortunately, unethical trucking companies sometimes pressure their drivers to violate these rules. This can lead to driver fatigue and distraction, which in turn cause deadly truck wrecks.
After a truck wreck, you and your attorney should immediately demand copies of the driver’s logs, black box data, and onboard video footage as well as any other available data. Modern tractor-trailers are high-tech machines that frequently contain sensors, cameras, and other electronic devices that track the truck’s movements and the driver’s behavior. This information may help identify the cause of the accident, including whether the driver broke hours-of-service regulations.
3. Mechanical Failures and Poor Maintenance
According to a 2007 study from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), brake and tire problems cause 35% of all truck accidents. However, it’s not just brakes and tires that can cause wrecks — any mechanical system on a truck can fail and contribute to a collision.
When a truck part or system causes a crash, your lawyer will need to determine the root cause of the failure, and they’ll also want to request copies of the truck’s maintenance and safety inspection records. Your case might involve a product liability claim against the manufacturer or distributor of a dangerous or defective part. Or, you might have a claim for negligent maintenance if the truck’s owner failed to monitor and maintain its safety systems.
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When a truck part fails, it’s very important to call a lawyer quickly so they can investigate and preserve the faulty parts. Trucking companies frequently try to fix their trucks quickly after a crash. This gets the truck back on the road, and it also conveniently gets rid of evidence that might prove the trucking company’s liability.
4. Dangerous Road Conditions
Highway conditions can be unpredictable, especially here in Virginia. Rain, fog, snow, and ice can make the roads perilous. And high traffic volumes, poor highway design, and our state’s rolling hills can also complicate things.
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When weather, road conditions, and traffic contribute to a truck accident, your personal injury lawyer will need to carefully evaluate the facts and circumstances surrounding your crash. Multiple parties might be liable for your injuries, including other drivers or even a government agency that failed to properly design or maintain the road.
Your lawyer will also need to assess the truck driver’s behavior. Drivers have a duty to drive appropriately in severe weather. This might mean slowing down, allowing for more space between vehicles, driving with hazard lights on, or accounting for longer stopping distances. If a truck driver fails to take the weather into account while driving, they can be held liable for any injuries they cause.
5. Inadequate Driver Training
The trucking industry is dealing with an ongoing shortage of drivers, and this problem has led many trucking companies to hire drivers with little to no experience. While some companies still take driver training seriously, too many others have relaxed their standards to a dangerous degree so they can keep as many trucks on the road as possible.
Unfortunately, a poorly trained driver can easily make mistakes that cause catastrophic injuries. Drivers who are unfamiliar with proper driving techniques or who don’t know their routes are more likely to make impulsive, dangerous driving maneuvers like veering, tailgating, or following too closely.
Fortunately, modern technology gives truck companies (and attorneys who handle truck accident cases) more insight into driver behavior. Electronic systems can warn a trucking company that their drivers are breaking traffic laws or violating federal trucking regulations. If a trucking company’s data shows that a driver was consistently breaking the rules and suggests the trucking company ignored this pattern, then the company might be liable if that driver’s behavior leads to a wreck.
At Phelan Petty, we carefully assess the hiring and training practices of the trucking company after a crash. If there’s a concern that the driver lacked sufficient training or the qualifications to drive a tractor-trailer, we’ll carefully investigate the issue by reviewing driving records, human resources documents, training files, and other important information.
6. Abuse of Drugs, Alcohol, and Prescription Medications
While alcohol and illegal drugs only cause a modest number of truck accidents each year, the abuse of prescription and over-the-counter drug use has a larger impact. According to federal government data, about 26% of truck crashes involve prescription drug use while 17% involve abuse of over-the-counter medications.
If you suspect that a driver was intoxicated or impaired at the time of a crash, you should report it to law enforcement while at the crash scene and then get in touch with a personal injury lawyer who can investigate. Blood alcohol tests and other diagnostic methods can help document the driver’s intoxication. And you might be eligible for punitive damages (damages awarded to punish serious, intentional behavior like drunk driving) in addition to compensation for your medical bills, lost wages, and other losses.
Phelan Petty: Fighting for Truck Accident Victims
At Phelan Petty, we specialize in handling the most serious and complex personal injury cases. Because we only take on a small number of challenging cases, we can spend more of our time and resources on our clients, giving them the best possible chance of getting fair compensation for the injuries and losses they’ve suffered.
To get more information about our approach to personal injury claims and schedule your free consultation with one of our attorneys, call us at 804-980-7100 or fill out our convenient online contact form.
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Michael Phelan is a Virginia trial attorney who practices with a special focus on traumatic brain injury (TBI) cases, pharmaceutical and medical device claims, product liability cases, and truck accidents. Michael’s peers have consistently recognized him for his excellence as a trial lawyer, and his clients have praised him for his commitment to deep research, his outstanding communication skills, and his sincerity and dedication.