Navigating the regulations

Handling a case involving an 18-wheeler, heavy truck or other commercial vehicle requires a special investment of time and resources, and a complex knowledge of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. All aspects of handling a case involving an 18-wheeler – including investigation, discovery, technology and the laws involved – is significantly different than a standard motor vehicle case. A lawyer who is not equipped with the proper background knowledge, time or experience to handle a claim involving a commercial truck crash is doing a great disservice to the client he represents.

“Generally, by the time a client comes to see us about handling a commercial truck wreck case there have been two prior investigations into the facts surrounding the collision,” says Beasley Allen Shareholder Mike Crow, who also is a member of the American Association for Justice (AAJ) Interstate Trucking Litigation Group, and the Plaintiffs Interstate Trucking Lawyers of America.

“The first investigation was performed by law enforcement to determine if any criminal laws had been broken. The second investigation was performed shortly after the collision by the trucking company. So when a lawyer is contacted by a victim or his/her family, that lawyer is already behind and has to play ‘catch up.’ This is why it is vitally important to contact a lawyer or law firm with experience and knowledge of the highly regulated trucking industry,” he says.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) provides regulations for the safe operation of commercial vehicles. Federal rules and regulations include drivers, vehicles, Hazmat situations, companies, and regulatory guidance. Companies and drivers must comply with rules governing such areas as fatigued driving (Hours of Service), vehicle maintenance, cargo, driver fitness, substance abuse, and many other areas.

The FMCSA must regulate approximately 725,000 interstate and foreign-based truck companies. It is estimated that the FMCSA is able to audit less than 2 percent, or less than 12,000, of the total carrier population annually. This means thousands of unsafe vehicles and drivers may fall through the cracks.

Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the commercial motor carrier to ensure that the vehicles and drivers it employs meet all federal regulations to safeguard both its employees and the general driving public, and the responsibility of the commercial driver to make sure he or she is in compliance with the rules.

But it is up to the lawyer handling a case involving an 18-wheeler or other commercial vehicle to be familiar with those rules and regulations in order to recognize a claim and effectively handle the case. Additionally, it is essential that lawyers handling these types of cases be prepared with a broad base of knowledge about the specific technology, insurance issues, multistate discovery practices and other aspects of litigation that are unique to the commercial vehicle industry and this type of litigation.

The most common issues faced in commercial vehicle litigation include:

  • Truck driver fatigue and Hours of Service
  • Truck driver distraction due to electronic devices
  • Rapid Response Teams and the importance of prompt investigation
  • Importance of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations in Commercial Trucking cases
  • Statutory background of federal trucking safety laws
  • Federal Motor Carrier Regulations often cited in commercial trucking cases

What are the dangers associated with 18-wheelers?

The American Association for Justice recently released the findings of a study of safety performance data that reveals more than 28,000 motor carrier companies have violated federal safety regulations, putting U.S. motorists on the roads with trucks that have such violations as defective brakes, bald tires, loads that dangerously exceed weight limits and drivers with little or no training, or drug and alcohol dependencies.

The safety data comes from the Motor Carrier Management Information System (MCMIS), maintained by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). The study indicates that while truck accidents occur for a variety of reasons, many are preventable, and often a direct result of trucking companies violating safety standards to cut corners and maximize profits.

Among the startling findings revealed in FMCSA data:

  • More than 4,000 people die every year in collisions with trucks, and 80,000 more are seriously injured.
  • Though trucks make up less than four percent of all passenger vehicles on U.S. Roads, they are involved in 12 percent of all motor vehicle fatalities.
  • The vast majority of people killed in accidents with trucks are the drivers and passengers of the cars that get hit.

Making matters even worse, the AAJ report says not only do the trucking companies disregard safety laws, but the minimum insurance requirements for commercial trucks are completely inadequate to compensate those who have been seriously injured in a collision.

When negligence turns deadly

In July 2009, Beasley Allen represented the family of a man killed in Elmore County, Alabama, when the van he was driving was crushed between two log trucks. The evidence showed that the truck that struck the Plaintiff’s vehicle was being operated at a high rate of speed, with inoperable and defective brakes, in violation of Alabama law. A Chilton County, Alabama, jury awarded the man’s family a verdict of $3.5 million as a result of evidence presented at trial.

“I am grateful to see that folks in Chilton County value human life and will not accept unsafe trucks traveling on Alabama highways harming its citizens,” said Beasley Allen attorney J. Cole Portis. “I know that this jury’s verdict will make a difference in the log truck industry.”

What can I do if I have been injured as the result of an 18-wheeler accident?

If you or a loved one has suffered a serious injury as the result of an 18-wheeler accident, you may be entitled to compensation. For a free legal consultation, contact us today!

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