Truck Accident Law: What You Need to Know
Commercial trucks are significantly larger than your average personal vehicle, so when accidents occur, the injuries and long-term damage can be catastrophic. If you or a loved one has been injured by a commercial truck, there are many things you need to know about the laws regulating trucks and truck accidents.
State and Federal Laws Set the Standard for Truck Driver Conduct
The trucking industry is regulated by federal and state laws that establish standards that must be followed by all trucking companies and drivers. These laws can determine who's responsible for a commercial truck accident. The two primary federal agencies that regulate this area are the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). The federal trucking regulations are mostly in Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations. Each state has its own department of transportation to regulate intra-state commercial trucking.
If your accident was related to the semi-truck, big rig, or other commercial driver not following the regulations that apply to their work, the driver and their company could be responsible for your injuries. Trucks must follow many laws, including:
- Commercial Driver Licenses: Drivers of large trucks, such as 18-wheelers, and other commercial vehicles must follow the state statutes and case law on commercial drivers' licensing. If the driver involved in an accident with you didn't have the proper license, it can affect your legal case against them and the driver's employer.
- Rest for the Driver: How long the operator of the commercial truck is permitted to drive without taking a break and resting is regulated. This is called the "hours of service."
- Maximum Weight Permitted: The maximum weight a truck can haul is determined by the size of the truck. For example, single axle trucks can carry up to 20,000 pounds and tandem or two-axle trucks can carry up to 34,000 pounds. Overloading a truck is dangerous. Therefore, determining what was in the truck in your accident and when it was last weighed could be an important part of the investigation into your accident.
- Quality Control of Trucks: Commercial vehicles are regulated in both manufacturing and repairs to ensure quality control. For example, there are federal laws on air brake systems. If a defect in the truck or any component of the truck caused your accident, then you may have a claim against the manufacturer, supplier, or repairer of the truck. This is under a legal theory called "product liability."
- Hazardous Waste: The Office of Hazardous Materials Safety (OHMS) develops safety regulations for transporting hazardous materials. If a trucker didn't follow those guidelines and you're injured as a result, you should consult with an attorney to learn how to pursue a claim against the truck driver, his or her employer, and the company shipping the hazardous material.
Liability in Truck Accident Cases
To win your truck accident case you will need to prove that the truck driver and any other parties such as their employer are liable or responsible for your injuries. The trucking company can be liable for your damages through the legal theory of "vicarious liability." This means that employers are responsible for accidents their employees get into during the regular course of business.
One way to prove liability is to show that the driver or trucking company broke the law, as this can automatically prove their negligence. This is the legal concept of "negligence per se." An example is when the truck driver is drinking and driving, which is against the law.
Another way to show the truck company was negligent is to show it negligently hired a bad driver by, for example, hiring a driver who had five convictions for drunk driving without doing a background check. There are many other possible personal injury and negligence claims that may apply to your case. The best way to determine what legal theories may apply to your situation is to consult with a qualified truck accident attorney.
The next thing to consider is how many expenses you may be compensated for in your lawsuit, which are referred to as damages. Damages may include:
- Medical Expenses - ambulance fees, hospital visits, doctor visits, in-home care services
- Pain and Suffering - the mental and physical distress of the pain, anxiety, and stress
- Lost Wages - any lost work or pay due to the accident and follow-up health care appointments
- Lost Earning Capacity - Loss of future ability to earn more money in the future due to impairments from the injuries
- Loss of companionship (consortium) - this can be either the loss of affection or relations in a marriage or, in wrongful death cases, the loss of the loved one
- Special Damages - general category that covers all monetary losses after an accident
Learn More About Truck Accident Law: Speak to a Lawyer
Commercial truck accident law can be complicated since truck accident cases can involve personal injury, negligence, and product liability legal theories. Because of this, if you or a loved one has been injured by a commercial truck, it's in your best interests to consult with a skilled car accident attorney near you.
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