Is a tractor trailer accident the same as any other traffic accident?
No. Tractor trailer accidents have legal issues that are much more complex than traffic accidents involving passenger cars. This is because trucking companies are subject to complex, comprehensive regulations on matters including financial responsibility, maintenance of their vehicles and equipment, qualification of drivers, allowed hours of service of drivers, hazardous materials and conduct in emergencies.
Every tractor trailer accident should be investigated with the federal motor carrier safety regulations in mind.
Also, tractor trailer accidents often involve severe injury or death because the weight of a loaded rig may be as much as 80,000 pounds while a passenger car averages 3000 pounds.
Where can I find out if the trucking company whose driver injured me was complying with federal regulations at the time of the accident?
Usually State Transport Police [STP] is called to the scene of an accident involving a tractor trailer or other commercial vehicle. The STP will then prepare a report that lists any violations such as log book violations, hours of service violations, equipment violations, etc. A copy of the report and any citations issued can be requested through a Freedom of Information Act request to the FOIA officer at State Transport Police. In South Carolina write to P.O. Box 1993, Blythewood, SC 29016.
How can I get more information about the trucking company whose driver injured me?
State Transport Police maintains records of inspections and violations on each trucking company. These records can also be requested through the Freedom of Information Act.
Another source of information about a trucking company is through the website “safersys.org.” This website can be searched by name of company or DOT number. The website has a “Carrier Snapshot” on each company listing details about the carrier, such as home terminal address, number of power units and, the safety rating. There also is information about accidents and citations.
What is the safety rating?
A safety rating is assigned to every interstate trucking company by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Office of Motor Carriers. The rating is either Satisfactory, Conditional, or Unsatisfactory.
What are common causes of tractor trailer crashes?
Driver fatigue is a common cause of tractor trailer crashes. While federal regulations limit the hours a truck driver may drive without a break, drivers sometimes exceed these limits. When a truck driver is fatigued he may leave his lane of travel, ignore traffic control devices, fail to brake, or otherwise fail to maintain control of the rig.
Tractor trailer crashes are often caused because of excessive speed. Pressure to deliver as many loads as quickly as possible may result in drivers ignoring posted speeds.
Defective equipment or inadequate equipment maintenance are other common causes of tractor trailer crashes. Roadside inspections by State Transport Police may reveal inadequate tire tread, defective or worn out brakes, inoperative signals or other defects that can leads to accidents.
Sometimes a crash results when a trailer is improperly loaded or loads shift unexpectedly.
There are many other ways in which a truck driver can be negligent, such as cell phone use while driving, overly aggressive driving, tailgating, improper lane change, or blocking the roadway with wide right turns.
What are the ways I can find out if a driver or a trucking company has abided by motor carrier safety regulations?
After an accident your lawyer can write a letter asking that the motor carrier preserve the driver’s log books and the maintenance records on the tractor and trailer. The driver log book is supposed to document all driving, rest periods and off-duty periods. If the record is accurately maintained it can show whether the driver was abiding by mandatory hours of service regulations. Your lawyer can also make sure the trucking company keeps records concerning the driver’s trip, such as toll records, weight station records, delivery receipts, and dispatch records that can be used to cross-check whether the driver log book is accurate or falsified.
When do I need to hire an attorney after a trucking accident?
You need to hire an attorney as soon as possible if you or your loved one is injured in an accident involving a tractor trailer. This is because your lawyer needs to make sure that document such as driver log book and maintenance records are preserved. The trucking company may destroy relevant documents, such as electronic messages, within days of the accident if a letter is not sent to them demanding that they preserve and not alter evidence. These are matters that an attorney experienced in tractor trailer cases can assist you with.
Also, physical evidence at the scene of an accident, such as skid marks, yaw marks and scuffs begin to fade quickly. An experienced trucking lawyer can make sure that a well qualified accident reconstruction expert is sent to the scene to inspect, measure, photograph, and document all markings as soon as possible.
How do I select an attorney for my trucking lawsuit?
You should look at whether an attorney has experience in handling trucking cases and understands the importance of the state and federal regulations governing trucking companies. Some law firms may agree to handle trucking cases even though they do not have prior experience in these cases. If these firms treat the case like a regular automobile accident collision, potential evidence and theories of liability may be overlooked.
For a free evaluation of your case with the experienced attorneys at Whetstone, Perkins & Fulda, please call our experienced truck accident attorneys at 803-799-9400.