Tractor trailer drivers operate extremely large vehicles that have the capability to cause a great deal of harm. Drivers, as well as the companies that employ them, must follow regulations that other drivers don’t. Drivers receive training that the rest of the motoring public does not. Consequently, drivers have a greater obligation to safety than others on the road.
Determining fault in a trucking accident when the truck driver runs a red light or rear-ends a vehicle legally stopped isn’t all that difficult. There are certainly difficult issues in those cases, like why the driver wasn’t operating the vehicle responsibly as well as why the trucking company was overseeing a tractor trailer on the road that operated dangerously. Despite the expertise it takes to dig into the causes of those problems, it can be at times fairly obvious who was at fault in crashes. In those cases, obtaining maximum value for my clients requires digging into the deeper issues and not stopping with the obvious.
There are cases, however, when the underlying cause of the accident is a challenge to prove. Those cases require a great deal of work to prove not only the events leading up to the wreck in the weeks and months prior, but on the day of the wreck itself. A great number of my cases come to me after other lawyers have declined to represent the client.
In a recent case, the wife of a truck driver came to me after a lawsuit was filed against her husband’s estate. He was a truck driver whose vehicle broke down in the roadway. Federal law requires a truck driver to put out three warning triangles. My client had only put out two of the required three triangles. Another tractor trailer hit him from behind while his tractor trailer was blocking the roadway. It looked bad for my client’s case. We filed a counterclaim and ultimately reached a favorable settlement of the case. That case required litigation testing to prove that the driver who hit my client’s vehicle should have seen the stopped vehicle long before the wreck occurred and taken steps to avoid the collision.
One of my first trucking trials involved a tractor trailer driver faced with an emergency situation. A vehicle had stopped in his lane. The truck driver wasn’t following too close or speeding. The truck driver locked down his brakes and directed his vehicle to the oncoming lane of traffic. This avoided the vehicle stopped in his own lane, but caused him to collide with the vehicle in the opposing lane of traffic. We successfully argued at trial that the emergency should have prompted the driver to steer his vehicle to the right onto the shoulder of the road in order to avoid both collisions. This case required our team to focus on the driver’s failure to follow the training he had previously received in avoiding this exact emergency situation.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation, oversees the trucking industry. The primary mission of the FMCSA is to reduce crashes, injuries, and fatalities involving large trucks and buses on our Nation’s highways. FMCSA has produced “A Motor Carrier’s Guide to Improving Highway Safety.” The guide discusses various countermeasures as examples of defensive driving strategies to reduce preventable accidents.
A primary focus of determining whether a truck driver could have prevented a crash is not on the potentially dangerous situation another has caused, but instead on the driver’s improper actions or failure to act in avoiding the danger presented. This approach should be evaluated in every trucking case. Many truck accidents could be avoided and consequently many lives saved if truck drivers will correctly respond to dangerous situations regardless of whether the driver created the danger.
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Chris Glover is an attorney in Beasley Allen’s Personal Injury and Products Liability section. He has dedicated his practice to protecting the rights of survivors of catastrophic personal injury and victims of wrongful death.