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Big Rig Accident Lawyer

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the number of serious and fatal big rig accidents in the US went down during 2020, due largely to lockdowns during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, as economic activity has gradually returned to pre-pandemic levels, road accidents involving tractor-trailers have once more been on the rise.  The problem has been compounded by labor shortages, tighter delivery schedules, and fatigued or inexperienced truck drivers on the road.

If you have been injured in a big rig accident and the truck driver is liable, you have certain rights, including the right to compensation for your injuries and losses. In some ways, truck accident cases are similar to other personal injury cases involving motor vehicles. However, there are many differences as well. Navigating a big rig accident case requires the expertise of experienced litigators who can help you to get the compensation you deserve.

Grim Statistics

According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, there were over 2.9 million tractor-trailer combinations registered to operate in the United States as of 2019.  The following year saw 2.57 million inspections, which revealed well over 200,000 moving violations. In order of frequency, these include:

  • Speeding
  • Lane restriction violations
  • Failure to obey traffic signs and signals
  • Use of a hand-held device (i.e., mobile phone) while driving

In 2019, NHTSA reported that on average, 20 percent of truckers who had been involved in a fatal accident had at least one moving violation conviction and/or had been involved in an accident the previous year. In addition to moving violations, inspectors found a disturbing number of vehicle problems:

  • defective or inoperable lamps (headlights, safety lamps, etc.)
  • inoperable, defective, and poorly adjusted brakes
  • worn or defective tires (a factor in 30 percent of big rig accidents)
  • non-functioning windshield wipers and/or cracked or discolored windshield

All of the above are major contributing factors to serious accidents.

Why Truck Accidents Occur

One major factor in serious big rig accidents is sleep deprivation. According to the NHTSA, sleep-deprived operators are responsible for approximately 40,000 traffic-related injuries every year, 1,500 of which are fatal. Federal law is clear on this issue: interstate truck drivers must take rest breaks at specified intervals and are allowed to drive no more than 14 hours per day. Unfortunately, trucking companies are known to skirt these rules, and private owner-operators may ignore them completely.

Another factor is road rage. A major car insurance website reports that 80 percent of all drivers have engaged in some type of aggressive driving behavior, most commonly tailgating. A little under half of these incidents are due to distracted driving.

Despite these statistics, people are often surprised to learn that in traffic accidents involving a tractor-trailer combination and a passenger car, the driver of the latter is responsible in 80 percent of cases. The reasons include:

  • improper merging
  • sudden left-hand turns in front of the truck
  • pulling in front of a truck at an intersection
  • underestimating speed, weight, and stopping distance

This last factor is important. People driving passenger vehicles often fail to appreciate the extended stopping distance and reduced reaction time afforded to a truck driver piloting a vehicle 80 feet long and often weighing in at 15 tons or more. Truck drivers must also rely on side mirrors; often, the back of a trailer warns motorists: “If you can’t see my mirrors, I can’t see you.” Unfortunately, too many motorists fail to heed that warning.

Where and When Big Rig Accidents Happen 

In 2019, the NHTSA reported that 57 percent of all trucking accidents occurred in rural regions of the country, primarily on two-lane highways. One reason for this is that motorists on uncrowded highways are often lulled into a false sense of security because of the lack of traffic. Urban areas on the other hand require drivers to pay closer attention.

On average, 18-wheelers were involved in nearly 10 percent of all fatal road accidents across the US. However, this is only an average; for example, big rigs accounted for only 2 percent of such fatalities in Hawaii, while the figure for largely rural Wyoming was 25 percent. On average, a fatal trucking accident happens about every 15 minutes.

If You are Injured in a Big Rig Accident

If a truck driver is responsible for the crash, you are entitled to compensation for injuries, the death of family members, and property loss. As noted earlier, truck accident cases are extremely complex, which is why it is important to retain an experienced big rig accident lawyer.

Aside from the fact that commercial trucking is subject to stringent Federal regulations, a trucking accident case typically has multiple defendants. In addition to the actual driver, these may include:

  • the trucking company
  • the shipper
  • the loading crew
  • the truck manufacturer
  • anyone responsible for the truck’s maintenance and upkeep
  • the leasing company

Another complicating factor in such road accident cases is that most of the time, it isn’t the truck driver who is at fault. Many different factors come into a big rig accident. These may include:

  • actions of a third driver
  • road surface conditions
  • unexpected mechanical problems

A trucking company may also be held liable if an investigation determines that they knowingly hired an unqualified, inexperienced or incompetent driver.

Determining Liability

As you now understand, pinpointing assigning liability is the first and most important step in litigating a big rig accident case.  This requires a high level of legal experience and expertise.

First, attorneys gather all evidence and study it closely. The investigation may also include taking depositions from witnesses and obtaining copies of police reports. Note that insurance companies do similar investigations, but their objective is to minimize exposure and reduce payouts. On the other hand, your legal counsel is absolutely committed to getting you the maximum amount of compensation possible.

What to Do if You are Involved in a Big Rig Accident

If you are uninjured enough to move without difficulty, your first responsibility is to help secure the accident site by placing flares and if available, orange cones. Immediately afterward, render what assistance you can to injury victims and call 911. When law enforcement arrives, give only legally required information, such as your name, address, and any other direct questions the officer may ask.

If you are able, take photos or video of the accident scene as well as contact information for all involved parties, including the name of the company that owns the truck, if applicable.  Do not admit or suggest that you may be at fault, and do not speak to any insurance company representatives or sign any documents before consulting with your attorney.

Contact an Attorney Today

The experienced truck accident attorneys at Fielding law understand the burden a serious accident can create in your life. We take that burden off of your shoulders so that you can focus on healing and getting your life back on track.  An initial consultation is free. Furthermore, our fees are contingency-based. We get paid only if we win a judgment for you. Otherwise, you pay nothing – do not delay; statutes of limitations allow accident victims a limited amount of time in which to file their claims (four years in Utah and two years in Texas). Contact us.