Motor vehicle accidents cause the death of approximately 30, 000 people per year and cause injury to millions more, but few collisions are as dangerous as those involving an 80, 000 pound fully loaded tractor-trailer. Collisions involving semi-trucks are more likely to cause catastrophic injury and death because a small passenger car might weigh no more than 3,000 pounds. Based on this disparity in weight, it should come as no surprise that the occupants of the passenger car usually suffer the worst of such an impact.
While accident victims injured in crashes caused by a negligent truck driver or commercial carrier might have a right to financial compensation, trucking litigation involves special issues and challenges. A traumatic brain injury (TBI), spinal cord injury or other catastrophic injury can easily result in tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills, lost income and diminished earning capacity. This does not even include compensation for pain and suffering, impaired enjoyment of life, loss of comfort and companionship or punitive damages.
The physical, emotional and financial toll experienced in the wake of a trucking accident makes it critical to obtain a full recovery for your injuries and loss. However, the sophisticated nature of trucking litigation makes it imperative that you have a seasoned trucking accident lawyer to represent your interest. This blog post discusses some of the key aspects of trucking accidents and trucking litigation that make these cases especially complicated.
Investigatory and Litigation Resources of Trucking Companies
The trucking industry anticipates their drivers and big-rigs will be involved in collisions because of the high number of miles these vehicles travel. Commercial carriers and their insurance companies have deep pockets and substantial litigation resources to defend against trucking accident lawsuits. Many trucking companies have teams of investigators that can be dispatched to an accident scene within minutes. This rapid response means that the investigators have prompt access to witnesses, the crash scene and the truck driver, so the process of building a defense strategy occurs almost immediately.
Given the enormous litigation war chest available to trucking companies, injury victims need to retain legal representation promptly to protect their rights and best interest. Trucking accident lawyers recognize the importance of taking immediate steps to secure DOT reports, police accident reports and other evidence. Since the trucking industry is notorious for manipulating and destroying evidence, you need a trucking attorney who will take immediate steps to ensure that evidence does not conveniently disappear.
Preventing the Destruction or Manipulation of Evidence
While truck drivers and commercial carriers are subject to regulations that mandate record keeping and the preservation of certain types of evidence, the destruction of evidence is a common tactic in trucking litigation. Although truck drivers are required to maintain a logbook that contains evidence of hour behind the wheel, the information in these logs is so routinely distorted or falsified that they are referred to as “lie books” in the trucking industry. Successful trucking accident lawyers have experience exposing this practice of “cooking the books” by gathering onboard data recorder (“black box”) information; receipts for fuel, lodging and tires; GPS data; email communications; and other evidence.
Lawyers with experience in trucking litigation recognize that delays in taking action to preserve evidence can have a significant adverse impact on the outcome of a trucking lawsuit. A commercial carrier might repair a damaged tractor-trailer and place it back onto service as early as possible. When this happens, vehicle damages an accident reconstruction expert might use to analyze a crash will be lost. If a large truck is put back in service prior to preservation of the data in the truck’s “black box,” this may result in loss of information regarding driver fatigue, vehicle maintenance, speed immediately prior to the collision, sudden braking, vehicle location and other information relevant to proving negligent conduct, causation and even the extent of injury.
Our semi-truck accident attorneys forward a spoliation letter to the trucking company providing notice that the big-rig and its onboard data recorder must be maintained in its post-crash condition because they are the subject of litigation. If the trucking company disregards this notice, the judge can impose a range of sanctions against the trucking company. While an award of attorney fees is one form of sanction, the judge also can pre-determine a certain issue, advice the jury to presume the evidence would have been favorable to the injury victim or prohibit the trucking company from presenting evidence on the relevant issue.
Interstate and Intrastate Trucking Regulations
Trucking litigation also requires an extensive knowledge of the complex regulatory framework applicable to the trucking industry. The cause of many trucking accidents and basis for imposing liability in trucking litigation often involves a violation of trucking regulations. Trucks that engage in trucking across state lines (“interstate trucking”) are primarily regulated by the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration (FMCSA) whereas trucks that operate solely within the state (“intrastate trucking”) are primarily regulated by state law. Trucking regulations cover many vehicle safety issues which include:
- Hours of Service (HOS) rules designed to avoid driver fatigue
- Drug and alcohol testing and restrictions
- Distracted driving (texting and handheld use of a cell phone)
- Vehicle inspection and maintenance
- Pre-hiring screening and background checks
- Discipline of drivers who violate regulations
- Truck length and weight
- Improperly loaded or overloaded trucks
- Commercial Licensing Issues
If you injured in a trucking accident in Florida, you might have the right to pursue a legal claim for financial compensation. We invite you to schedule a free consultation with an experienced trucking accident attorney at Brill & Rinaldi in our Miami or Weston offices.