Most motorists do not enjoy having to share the road with large commercial trucks, or what are commonly referred to as "big rigs." Motorist concerns are valid as California is one of five states with the highest number of recorded trucking accidents over the last 10 years.
Moreover, trucking accidents often produce more devastating injuries because of the size and weight discrepancies between commercial trucks and ordinary passenger vehicles.
These are just some of the reasons why the trucking industry, and commercial transportation, is heavily regulated at both the state and federal level.
In turn, trucking accident cases are often much more complex than an accident involving ordinary passenger vehicles. Given the complexities associated with trucking accidents, it is imperative that you select an attorney that has extensive experience in handling them. If you or a loved one has been injured in a trucking accident, the lawyers at the O'Brien & Zehnder Law Firm can help.
Truck Accidents Are Complicated
Truck accidents are more complicated than ordinary car accidents. Although they involve the usual factors (speed, driver impairment, etc.) there are several issues that are specific to trucks, the most prominent being:
- The need for special training of drivers;
- The potential for cargo shifts to cause loss of control;
- Complicated relationships between drivers, owners, lessees, shippers, and others with an interest in the vehicle and its cargo;
- The extreme mismatch in both size and weight between the truck and ordinary passenger vehicles;
- The extensive regulation of commercial trucking by both the state and federal government;
- The potential for cargo to be toxic, increasing the likelihood and severity of injuries, and potentially subjecting the trip to even more government regulations.
Every aspect of a case needs to be completely and quickly investigated once an accident occurs. It requires experience with truck accident claims in California and the resources to conduct a thorough investigation. The Sacramento personal injury attorneys at the law firm of John M. O'Brien and Grant Zehnder have successfully handled many truck accident cases. We know where the evidence will be, how to secure it, how to interpret it, and what obstacles the defendants are likely to throw in our way.
Types of Truck Collisions
Often the determinant of who is injured, the nature of their injuries, and the people and businesses that may be responsible for the injuries are the particularities of accidents between a truck and another vehicle. Important categories of truck collisions are:
- Head-ons, that take place when the truck collides with another vehicle traveling in the opposite direction; these types of accidents produce tremendous forces, cause severe injuries or death at most speeds, and often occur when one or both drivers are sleepy (or actually asleep) or impaired.
- Rear-enders, involving the truck crashing into the back of another vehicle traveling in the same direction; the forces are less than in head-ons, but still cause serious damage to the front vehicle (especially when the truck is heavily loaded). Typically these types of accidents are caused by the truck driver's lack of attention or the other driver slowing suddenly or cutting in front of the truck with little warning.
- Side collisions, which occur when the truck crashes into another vehicle's side, or another vehicle crashes into the side of the truck. They typically result from one vehicle turning across the other's path or one of the vehicles running a red light or stop sign.
- Rollovers, which occur if forces upset the truck's balance. These types of accidents can be either single vehicle accidents, in which the balance of the truck is upset by other forces that place the center of balance beyond the truck's wheelbase, or the result of a collision between the truck or a stationary object that upsets the truck's balance.
Underrides occur when a smaller vehicle, typically a passenger automobile, crashes into the truck's rear, with the smaller vehicle's forward momentum carrying it under the truck or its trailer. The causes of underrides tend to be the same as for rear-enders, but with the roles of the vehicles reversed. Typically, the truck slows or stops and the following passenger vehicle continues traveling into the rear of the truck.
These accidents deserve a separate discussion simply because a significant portion of all truck accident deaths happen in these circumstances. They often produce horrendous facial and head injuries to the smaller vehicle's occupants; decapitation may occur.
Unlike most other types of accidents, seatbelts and airbags don't really help the occupants of the smaller vehicle. What can protect the smaller vehicle occupants is a device under the control of the big rig: crash bars that attach to the rear of the rig and extend down low enough to prevent the underride.
Big Rigs Present Special Dangers
Large trucks and truck-trailer combos are unlike any other vehicles on the road. There are several reasons that these trucks present a special danger:
- The larger trucks simply don't offer their drivers the same range of vision as other vehicles do; they inevitably have significant "blind spots";
- The weight of these trucks, especially when fully loaded with heavy cargo, make them very difficult to stop in a hurry. The average semi truck takes more than twice the distance to stop when traveling at 55 mph as a typical passenger vehicle traveling the same speed;
- The dimensions of the big trucks make them far less maneuverable. That's why big rigs tend to begin a turn in one direction by swinging in the opposite direction to get a better angle (which has tricked many a following driver to begin passing the big truck on the very side to which the truck finally directs).
Accidents with big trucks also, of course, tend to cause more and more severe injuries simply because of the mismatch in weight between a loaded big rig and a typical passenger vehicle.
These dangers are the reason that drivers of big rigs are held to a higher degree of skill and training and are subject to strict rules about how long they can drive before taking sleep breaks.
Delivery Truck Collisions
Delivery trucks tend to operate in an environment that makes them, too, more prone to accidents, although they may not present the same dangers as big rigs. Their drivers are often under severe time pressure (think UPS and pizza delivery within a guaranteed time). For some types of delivery trucks, the end of a work day means that the driver is not only tired and frazzled but trying to get back to the company garage before it is scheduled to close. These pressures encourage unsafe driving and may also impair the driver's ability to concentrate on road and traffic conditions.
Add in the need for delivery truck drivers to find parking space on busy streets, back up their vehicles to loading and unloading areas, make frequent stops and keep their cargo stable and secure, and it's no wonder that delivery trucks have more than their share of accidents.
Since most delivery truck drivers are operating under rules and requirements established by their employers, it is often possible to make a claim for the liability of the employer based on the employer having:
- Set an unreasonable delivery schedule that encouraged unsafe driving;
- Supplying the driver with a defective vehicle;
- Overloading or improperly loading the vehicle.
Evidence From "Event Data Recorders"
Event Data Recorders (EDRs) electronically record various data about a vehicle's performance, like speed and braking activity. Any new passenger vehicle has them, and, while not legally required, many truck engine manufacturers have set up the accessory with the engines.
By showing what was happening at and just before the crash, the recorded information can be crucial in your case for compensation after a heavy truck accident. The data available varies by the engine manufacturer, however, and requires a specialist to find, read, and interpret it. It's an important task, and one best left to an experienced Sacramento truck accident attorney.
Federal Regulations And Truck Accidents
For trucks subject to federal law - those operating in interstate commerce - the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations are often crucial in determining whether a truck driver or trucking firm is liable for an accident.
The regulations cover an extremely broad range of subjects, from driver licensing and training to truck safety equipment, to how many consecutive hours a driver may work. If you can show that there was a violation of any of these requirements and that the violation contributed to the accident, you have established negligence on the part of the driver and/or trucking firm.
If the case involves a truck subject to these regulations, a major job of your attorney is to make a detailed analysis of the accident and of the regulations. Experience with the trucking industry is essential to both parts of that analysis.
When the truck isn't subject to federal regulation, a similar analysis needs to be made of California's own extensive rules for various types of trucking. A truck accident attorney in Sacramento can assist with this process.
Who is Legally Responsible For The Accident?
Modern trucking can involve many complex relationships. A single long haul truck trip, for example, may involve the driver, a lessee of the truck, an owner from whom the truck was leased, the firm which contracted the truck's lessee to do a pickup or delivery, the company whose goods are being hauled, and the company to whom the goods must be delivered. Any of these parties may be legally liable for an accident, depending on the circumstances.
Figuring out who was responsible for what is often one of the most difficult parts of the case, requires analysis of the entire arrangement. For example:
- Who set the truck schedule?
- Who was responsible for loading?
- Who was responsible for keeping the vehicle maintained and equipped with the necessary safety devices?
- Who was responsible for ensuring that the driver was qualified to drive the vehicle and checking the driver's safety record?
- Did the truck manufacturer or seller provide a defective vehicle?
More on potential defendants in a truck accident:
1) Truck drivers are the first possible defendants in big rig cases. Potential causes are: truck driver error or fatigue or driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
2) Truck makers. You can sue either the manufacturer or the makers of the truck part when the collision was caused by a defective component of the truck.
3) Trucking companies. Federal laws require trucking companies to take certain safety measures regarding their trucks and drivers to prevent accidents. If the trucking company has violated the law, and this led to the truck accident, then the company can be sued for the damages caused.
4) Truck repair shop. If the truck involved in the crash had recently been repaired, and if it can be proven that such repairs were not performed properly and caused the accident, then the person or company that did the repairs can be sued for your injuries.
5) Government bodies. If a truck accident occurred because of inadequate roads lighting, bad roads, broken down signals, or other similar causes, then the government entity responsible for controlling the repair of those systems can be held accountable in a truck accident case involving injuries or death.
6) The shipper of goods. If the injuries or the death resulted from a truck accident involved a hazardous goods carrier, you have the legal right to sue the shipper of the goods involved in this case.
Legal Help in And Around Sacramento & Elk Grove, California
Securing restitution for a serious injury in a truck accident is no easy matter. In many truck accident cases, the commercial enterprise which owned or controlled the truck is large and affluent enough to fight liability tenaciously. It takes experience, commitment, and detailed preparation to overcome all the obstacles that these defendants will throw in your way. At the O'Brien & Zehnder Law Firm, you get the benefit of 25 years of experience by a top-rated Sacramento & Elk Grove-based personal injury firm, with access to all the experts and technology needed to:
- Carefully calculate your damages, including future expenses and impairment likely to accompany the specific injuries you have suffered;
- Fully investigate the accident, with the help of truck accident experts;
- Prepare detailed and specific discovery requests to obtain all the important evidence that may be in the possession of adverse parties like the trucking company;
- Present the tangible evidence, including accident reports, as well as witness testimony that allows a jury to understand the important technical details of trucking and the laws that determine who is responsible for truck accidents;
- Gather the full range of evidence and compare it to the many government regulations that specify how commercial trucks must be operated and what equipment they must have to ensure safety, to determine if the regulations have been violated.
If you need help with your truck accident case in Sacramento or surrounding counties, contact the O'Brien & Zehnder Law Firm today. The sooner you call, the easier it is for us to work together to identify and preserve the evidence in your favor. We prepare every case as if it's going to go to trial, which leads to both better and quicker settlements and better verdicts if a settlement isn't possible.
Our firm is large enough to stand up to the tactics of the defendants and small enough to treat you and your family with the respect and concern you deserve. Simply put: we get results.
RECENT TRUCK ACCIDENTS VERDICTS & SETTLEMENTS
$2.5 Mil Wrongful Death Claim
$2.5 Mil Wrongful Death After Truck Accident
$2 Mil Fatal Rear Ending by a Semi-Truck
$2 Mil Student Fatal Truck Accident
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