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I Got Rear-Ended By A Commercial Vehicle In Salt Lake County, Utah, Do I Need An Attorney?

An automobile accident is a jarring experience under any circumstance. A rear-end collision, which often supplies zero warning, compounds that stress. If the vehicle that struck your car is a commercial vehicle, unique legal issues come into play. Exploring the consequences of a rear-end collision with a commercial vehicle can empower you to make wise decisions if you or a loved one must confront this situation.

Rear-End Collision Injuries

Surveys by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show that rear-end impacts account for nearly one-third of collisions nationwide. Annually, rear-end altercations account for about 7% of traffic fatalities. Rear impacts are notorious for causing one type of injury: whiplash.

When rear-end collisions exceed five miles per hour, whiplash for occupants of a struck vehicle becomes likely. The rapid backward and forward motion of an occupant’s head and neck mimics a cracked whip. The aftermath can provoke soreness, tingling and reduced range of motion. Most victims can fully recover within several weeks, while a minority may suffer long-term impairment.

In rear-end collisions, a struck car’s airbags will deploy to limit the forward head motion that punctuates the whiplash cycle. While this airbag inflation can head off catastrophic results, the deployment by itself may cause traumatic brain injury. Symptoms from collision injuries may appear immediately or develop days later. After a collision, prompt screening at an emergency department or urgent care clinic is imperative.

Utah’s No-Fault Insurance

If a rear-end collision causes injury, recovery from those injuries instantly becomes the focus of a person’s life. Medical care does not come cheap, and that harsh fact drives the need for compensation to pay those medical bills. For Utah residents, the state’s no-fault auto insurance system is the first step.

Utah requires each motorist to carry at least $3,000 in personal injury protection coverage. After a collision, injured motorists must begin the compensation process by filing a claim with their insurance carrier, regardless of who was at fault for the accident. Injured persons may not pursue compensation beyond the PIP coverage unless documented medical bills exceed $3,000.

No-Fault Pros and Cons

As long as injury treatment expenses stay under the PIP limit, the state’s no-fault system usually works well. Proponents of no-fault systems argue that this approach speeds up compensation for injured persons and prevents backlogs in Utah’s court system. Upon approving a claim, insurers often issue payments within 48 hours.

That admirable simplicity vanishes when a collision causes high medical bills. When treatment expenses exceed $3,000, an injured person gains the right to file a claim against negligent parties’ insurers or pursue compensation in Utah’s court system. The complexity of these procedures builds a persuasive case for consulting with a personal injury attorney if treatment expenses break the PIP barrier. Most attorneys who specialize in these cases will evaluate your case without charge.

How Utah Allocates Fault

At a consultation appointment, an attorney will seek to learn the degree of fault for the parties involved in the collision. When persons suffer injury, some of the fault may fall on the injured persons themselves. To account for this reality, Utah courts allocate fault under a comparative negligence rule.

With comparative negligence, plaintiffs must establish that 51% or more of the fault for a collision lies with other parties to collect any compensation. If the court rules that an injured person bears 49% or less fault for a collision, the court reduces damage awards by the plaintiff’s percentage of fault. An injured person’s actions leading up to the collision loom large in that percentage calculation.

A Motorist’s Responsibilities

Commercial vehicles are often large, with long braking distances and wide turning ratios. Motorists have an obligation to exercise common sense when they drive in close proximity to these vehicles. Beyond obeying traffic laws and driving sensibly, motorists have obligations that extend inside the passenger compartment.

First, Utah state law requires seat belt use. In comparative fault calculations, occupants who fail to buckle up should expect several percentage points of fault to fall on their shoulders. A more subtle issue involves headrest height.

User manuals for automobiles recommend aligning the center of the headrest with each adult occupant’s ears. Many motorists leave their headrests in the lowest position, exacerbating the whiplash effect when a rear-end collision occurs. As with unbuckled seatbelts, improperly set headrests can shift some of the fault burden onto a collision victim.

If your attorney determines that most of the fault for your injuries lies with other parties, you can move forward with a third-party insurance claim or lawsuit. Nevertheless, when a collision includes a commercial vehicle, assigning that fault is sometimes challenging.

Assigning Fault

Laypersons often assume that the company that deployed the commercial vehicle would bear the brunt of the fault. In the legal system, responsible parties may also include:

  • The Commercial Vehicle Driver: Professional drivers have many obligations under federal and state laws. Violating any of these standards may open the driver to liability. Beyond statutes, drivers have an additional obligation to abide by their employer’s work rules.
  • A Truck Leasing Company: If the commercial vehicle operator leases its vehicles, the leasing company may bear some of the fault for the collision.
  • Maintenance Contractors: Most trucking companies outsource at least some maintenance tasks, and these outside contractors may deserve scrutiny.
  • Private Property Owners: If the collision occurred on private property, such as a parking lot, the property owner or manager may incur fault. Failure to deal with ice in a timely manner or not posting adequate signage are examples.
  • The Commercial Vehicle’s Manufacturers: If a component failure on the commercial vehicle played a role in the collision, the vehicle manufacturer or a subcontractor may bear liability.

Your attorney will seek to gather and preserve evidence to determine the at-fault parties. When commercial vehicles are parties to a collision, unique evidence may be available.

Evidence Sources With Commercial Vehicles

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration requires that many commercial vehicle operators use electronic logging devices to record their drivers’ hours behind the wheel. These tamper-resistant electronic logs provide a compelling record of a driver’s adherence to federal regulations. Federal law requires the preservation of ELD data for at least six months.

Beyond the federally mandated black boxes, many commercial operators elect to equip their vehicles with devices that record far more detailed telemetry. This data may include acceleration or deceleration rates, gear selection and pedal use. In addition, many operators also equip vehicles with one or more cameras. Your attorney can ensure the preservation of this data with a letter to the vehicle’s operator. The value of preserving this evidence is another compelling reason to consult with a personal injury attorney if you anticipate high medical bills.

Fielding Law’s Commitment

Whether you are confronting the aftermath of a vehicle collision or facing another injury due to another party’s negligence, the attorneys of Fielding Law stand ready to help. For our personal injury clients, Fielding Law melds the resources of a big law firm with the personal attention common to a small law practice. Initial consultations are free, and you will owe us no fee unless we recover money for you. If you or a family member must deal with a personal injury, we invite you to contact us today.