Many people do not understand that California trucking accidents are not just “car accidents involving a large vehicle.” Tractor-trailer (big-rigs, 18-wheelers, commercial trucks) accidents are much more complicated to effectively litigate than collisions involving ordinary motor vehicles. The trucking industry spends millions of dollars defending legal claims brought by those injured in collisions with their enormous vehicles.
A typical trucking company may have an accident investigation team summoned to the scene of an accident within minutes so that they can begin constructing a strategy to avoid liability. Trucking companies have enormous financial resources, a team of experienced trucking accident investigators and a team of insurance adjusters and lawyers ready to defend them when their drivers are involved in California trucking accidents.
The physics of a California trucking accidents create a high risk of massive carnage and severe injury. A fully loaded tractor-trailer combination can weigh 40 tons while a typical passenger vehicle weighs less than two tons. It is hardly surprising that when these two vehicles collide and serious injuries or fatalities occur the injury victim is almost always someone in the passenger vehicle. This is even more alarming because 98 percent of tractor-trailers are involved in at least one collision. There are an estimated 500,000 trucking accidents annually in the U.S resulting in 5,000 fatalities and approximate 130,000 injuries. More than ninety percent of tractor-trailer accidents are caused partially or totally by some form of driver error.
Role of Trucking Regulations in California Trucking Accident Lawsuits
There are two major types of commercial trucking: intrastate trucking and interstate trucking. Intrastate trucking refers to commercial trucks that travel entirely within state boundaries (i.e. California) whereas interstate trucking involves vehicles that transport loads across state lines. The reason this distinction is important is because the trucking industry is subject to heavy regulation. These regulations apply to many aspects of trucking safety, and violations often constitute the basis for liability in California trucking accident lawsuits. This means that experienced California trucking accident attorneys must be well versed in both state and federal regulations as well as the differences in applicable regulations that govern interstate and intrastate trucking in California. These regulations may govern a broad spectrum of safety issues including:
- Driver fatigue and hours of service rules which govern maximum driving hours and mandatory rest periods
- Pre-employment screening of drivers
- Random drug and alcohol testing requirements and procedures
- Medical fitness requirements
- Tractor-trailer inspection and maintenance
- Maximum length and weight regulations
- Requirements regarding securing of a big-rig load
- Restrictions on texting and cell phone use when driving
These are some of the types of critical safety issues that are governed by regulations promulgated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and other federal and state regulations. Many times fatal California trucking accidents are caused by the failure of truck drivers to comply with these regulations. Sadly, these violations are often sanctioned by trucking companies to increase profits. These regulations exist because of the unique danger posed by tractor-trailers so when they are disregarded it can have tragic consequence.
Trucking Industry Practice of Destroying and Altering California Trucking Accident Evidence
An experienced California trucking accident attorney must also be familiar with trucking industry practices that can make it difficult to obtain critical evidence in trucking litigation. While commercial truck drivers are required to maintain detailed logbooks that track hours of service and rest periods to provide documentation of driver fatigue, these logbooks are falsified so frequently that they are referred to as “lie books” in the trucking industry. Truck drivers and trucking companies are also supposed to prepare inspection reports that document required inspection and maintenance of tractor-trailers. These records are often falsified or not maintained which makes it critical that California trucking accident attorneys know how to cross-reference fuel receipts, lodging records, email correspondence and other evidence to expose maintenance or fatigue issues that may be covered up by the driver and/or trucking company.
Sometimes evidence will be destroyed or altered in the wake of a trucking accident if your California trucking accident lawyer does not take immediate action to prevent this loss. For example, many tractor-trailers are equipped with on board electronic data recorders similar to the black box recorders on airplanes. These data records may store important information pertaining to such issues as hours of service, speed immediately prior to an accident, sudden braking and other factors that may be important to the issue of fault in a California trucking accident. Trucking companies often put tractor-trailers that have been involved in a collision back in service immediately after repairing body damage, which may impair the analysis of an accident reconstruction expert. If the big-rig is immediately put back into service, it may also result in deletion of the information on the black box data recorder. An experienced trucking accident lawyer may send a spoliation letter to the trucking company indicating that the truck is the subject of litigation so the truck and its black box data must be preserved and not altered.
Compensation for Serious Injuries Suffered in California Trucking Accidents
Because California trucking accidents typically involve severe injury that result in permanent loss of physical or mental functioning, financial compensation may be essential to preserving one’s quality of life. Some of the types of injuries that may be suffered in a California trucking accident include:
- Head injuries including concussions and traumatic brain injury
- Damage to the spinal cord causing loss of sensation or mobility
- Severe burns from fire including third-degree full thickness burns
- Broken bones and fractures
- Damage to vital organs like the heart, liver or kidneys
- Amputation of limbs
- Wrongful deaths
These types of life-altering injuries may mean mind-boggling medical expenses and prolonged periods of disability from employment. When faced with catastrophic injuries, your ability to obtain the best possible medical care and rehabilitation and to provide the highest standard of living for your family may depend on obtaining the maximum possible financial recovery. Some of the damages that you may be able to seek include the following:
- Income loss
- Expenses related to medical treatment and hospitalization
- Future diminished earnings because of disability
- Pain and suffer
- Emotional distress
- Adverse impact on marital relations
- Impaired enjoyment of life experience
- Wrongful death damages (i.e. burial/funeral expenses)
- Punitive damages
While not all of these types of compensation will necessarily be available in all California trucking accident cases, an experienced California trucking accident lawyer can evaluate your trucking accident claim and provide an indication of which types of damages may be available in your case.
California trucking accidents are among the most sophisticated motor vehicle accident cases so it is important to discuss your claim with a lawyer with a proven track record of successfully handling California trucking accidents. Because trucking companies have a reputation for unethical tactics that may mean essential evidence is destroyed or conveniently disappears, time is of the essence so you should contact a knowledgeable and experienced California trucking accident lawyer today!