Truck Accidents – How Are They Different From Car Accidents?

Trucking accidents are collisions involving semi-trucks, tractor-trailers, 18-Wheelers or other commercial vehicles that cause property damage and/or personal injuries. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), accidents involving large trucks were responsible for 4,321 deaths, 77,000 injuries and 287,000 property damage claims in 2006. Commercial vehicles are larger and heavier than passenger vehicles and therefore, trucking accidents typically cause much greater harm. Although large trucks are only responsible for a small percentage of motor vehicle accidents, the sheer size of a truck increases the likelihood of significant and very serious damage to human life and property.

Addressing the problems caused by trucking accidents can be more expensive, complicated and difficult than a typical passenger car collision due to the unique aspects of truck accidents, such as:

Jackknifing: When a truck jackknifes, the driver usually does not have time to react before it is too late. However, the tendency for a truck to jackknife is increased when the front brakes are removed or de-powered. Whichever party is responsible for disabling the front brakes could be partially responsible for damages in an accident caused by jackknifing.

Fuel Fires: When a truck catches fire, it is usually because the truck’s diesel fuel came in contact with battery spark. The way to avoid this is by protecting the battery from being crushed in an accident. If the battery is located in a position where it is vulnerable, the party responsible for locating it there may be responsible for a share of the damages in an explosion accident.

Rollovers: Rollovers are one of the major causes of fatalities and injuries in trucking accidents. The many factors that can cause a truck rollover including: driver error (taking a curve too fast, driving too fast, fatigue, inexperience or DUI - driving under the influence), truck malfunction (improper load distribution, low tires, brake failure) and highway conditions.

Braking: Trucking accidents are frequently caused by brake malfunction. The cause of the malfunction may be pinned on a variety of parties (individually, or in combination): the driver, the company that loaded the truck, the party responsible for maintaining the brakes and the manufacturer of the brakes. Air brakes – the only type of brakes used in large trucks – can only take so much heat. A full stop at 60 mph raises the brake drum temperature to about 600 degrees. That is the limit for safe operation. If the brakes aren’t properly set or maintained or the load is not evenly distributed, the brakes overheat and may malfunction. If the accident is caused by brake failure after a decline in the road, an inexperienced driver may be the cause. If brakes fail, the chances are higher for a greater impact between the truck and the car.

Damages Awarded in a Truck Accident Claim

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The law permits you to seek recovery after an auto accident;  the central concept is that you should be compensated in a manner that places you back in the same position as you were before the accident.

A person who has been injured in a truck accident with an at fault driver can seek a truck accident settlement by suing for all injuries and any consequences that arise from the accident. Like car accident claims, a truck accident claim can include compensation for costs such as medical care, rehabilitation, nursing home care and domestic services may be recovered as well as loss of earnings and loss of earning capacity.

An injured person is additionally entitled to damages for physical pain and suffering, mental and emotional suffering, inconvenience, disfigurement, loss of enjoyment of life, and loss of consortium or "diminishment of relations with your spouse." In many states, there are limits on the amount of non-economic damages available to negligently injured individuals.

In addition to damages awarded to the injured party, the injured victims family may recover compensation for loss of care, companionship, and love and affection by way of a loss of consortium claim. In extreme cases, punitive damages are available if someone acted in bad faith or with the intent to cause harm, while some laws allow for special doubling or tripling of damages under certain circumstances (e.g., drunk driving).

While there is no limit to punitive damages, excessive amounts are often reduced, at the judge’s discretion, shortly after they have been awarded. It should also be kept in mind that many insurance companies exclude coverage for punitive damages. If this is the case and the driver has a punitive damages exclusion in his insurance policy, it is likely that the defendant will apply pressure on its carrier to pay more in settlement so that the defendant is not exposed to punitive risk.

Truck Accident Injuries

Perhaps the most unique aspect of a trucking accident, particularly semi-truck accidents is, the injuries in this type of accident tend to be extensive. A loaded semi can weigh 80,000 pounds or more. Most cars weigh approximately 3,000 pounds. Consequently, injuries to occupants in a car, SUV, or smaller truck tend to be serious. Because of the greater likelihood of significant injury, truckers are required to carry insurance with higher liability limits. As a result, when compared to an automobile accident, there tends to be more money available to settle a truck accident lawsuit.

Special Truckers Licenses & Negligence

Another difference between truck and car accidents is that commercial motor vehicles are almost always operated by an individual possessing specialized training, education and formalized instruction. Truckers should possess a special license for operation of the vehicle and generally will have attended an independent trucking school or form of apprentice training within a trucking company. A driver is required to have certain knowledge, experience and training not required of a standard operator. If a truck driver that caused an accident does not possess the requisite amount of training and experience, a claim might be brought against the trucking company for negligent hiring and/or training. In a typical car accident case, there is no one else to sue if you get hit by an inexperienced driver.

Hiring an Experienced Truck Accident Attorney

If you want to increase your chances of obtaining a fair truck accident settlement, you should contact an attorney that specializes in trucking accidents. An experienced attorney knows how to navigate the rough waters of truck accident litigation and he can also advise you of any other individuals or entities that may be held liable.