An accident involving a truck is often more catastrophic than an accident involving two personal-use vehicles. A truck, especially a fully loaded truck can weigh almost twenty-five times a small vehicle. Due to the significant disparity in weight, if a truck gets involved in an accident with other vehicles, the damages are usually severe and even fatal. If you or a loved one is involved in a truck accident, you can seek compensation for the damages sustained. The Orange County Personal Injury Attorney assists people who have suffered injuries and other losses in a truck accident. 

Overview of Truck Accidents

Statistics reveal that truck drivers are usually more careful on the road compared to other vehicle drivers. However, truck accidents are still prevalent, as outlined by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Truck accidents may be the fault of the truck driver, and at times, accidents may have other causes. Other causes of truck accidents include negligence of other drivers and road hazards.

The severity of a truck accident may depend on the load that a truck is carrying. For instance, if a truck is loaded with flammable or hazardous materials, it may have severe impacts in case of an accident.  Other than the injuries resulting from the impact of the truck and the vehicle, secondary injuries may result from the load carried by truck. 

In a truck accident, the main theory of liability is negligence. If you are involved in a truck accident, you have to prove several elements in order to get compensation. You have to prove that the defendant owed you a duty of care. In California, all drivers on the roads owe a duty of care to other road users, including other drivers, passengers, and pedestrians. You also have to prove that the defendant did not exercise the reasonable duty of care, and this led to the accident. Finally, it must be evident that the defendant's failure to use his/her duty of care led to the accident, which caused your injuries. 

Defendants in a Truck Accident Case

In a truck accident, there may be several defendants other than the truck driver. Other potential defendants include insurance companies, trucking companies, and employers. It is essential to identify as many potential defendants as you can because this will increase your chances of getting compensation. 

For a trucking or shipping company to be liable, an employment relationship between the company and the driver must exist. As long as an employment relationship exists, the trucking company may be responsible for the negligence of the truck driver. Your personal injury attorney can help you to prove that the trucking company exercised some degree of control over the truck driver. For the trucking company to be liable, the accident should have occurred while the truck driver was acting in the course of an employment relationship.  At times, the truck driver may be an independent contractor of a larger company. In this case, the focus will be on the amount of supervising done by the company.

At times, the shipper or the manufacturer of hazardous products carried by truck may be liable in case of an accident. Liability may arise if the injuries suffered by the victims are made worse by the cargo carried by truck.  To evade liability, the manufacturer or the shipper should inform the trucker or the trucking company of the potential dangers of the load.

Unique Considerations in Truck Accidents

Truck drivers, especially the ones who operate big rigs, face some challenges that are not common for regular vehicle drivers. Big trucks like eighteen-wheelers are prone to jackknifing under certain circumstances.  Jackknifing is common when turning or during sudden braking. The truck driver might not face negligence charges if there was unforeseeable slipperiness of the road leading to jackknifing. The driver is also not liable if he/she had to make a sudden turn mainly to avoid hitting another motorist or a stationary/stalled truck. 

In the case of turning accidents, a truck driver may not be liable under certain circumstances.  Commercial trucks are often difficult to turn, as they require two lanes to make a proper turn.  The truck driver may have to occupy two lanes while turning, and this may lead to an accident. However, some courts still hold drivers responsible for turning accidents. 

Common Causes of Truck Accidents

Big commercial trucks pose significant dangers to passenger vehicles. It is crucial to both the truck drivers and the small-vehicle drivers to understand these dangers. This awareness will prompt truck drivers to be more careful on the roads as they will be aware of the danger their vehicle poses. The awareness will also make smaller vehicle drivers be more cautious around trucks due to the inherent risk.  Very small mistakes like failing to signal may lead to detrimental consequences, especially if a truck is involved.  A truck accident may occur due to the fault of other vehicle driver or the fault of the truck driver:

Negligence/Mistakes of Other Vehicle Driver

In most truck accidents, drivers of smaller vehicles/passenger vehicles are often to blame.  The accidents mainly result from unsafe acts committed by passenger vehicle drivers. Many passenger vehicle drivers are ignorant of the performance capabilities of trucks. For instance, a truck may not be able to brake instantly. Trucks also tend to have visibility problems. 

Some of the mistakes that passenger vehicle drivers often make include driving in the No-Zone. A No-Zone is an area beside or behind a commercial truck. Usually, truck drivers have limited or no visibility of the no-zone areas.  Passenger vehicle drivers also have the tendency of switching lanes abruptly in front of a truck.

It is common for a driver to maneuver to the right side of a commercial truck, which is preparing to make a right turn. Other drivers also misjudge the speed of approaching trucks at a road crossing and end up making left turns in front of the commercial truck.  A passenger vehicle driver may merge improperly into traffic and making a truck to brake or maneuver abruptly.  

A truck accident may occur if a passenger vehicle driver fails to speed up or slow down when a truck begins to change lanes or merge.  Accidents also result from unsafe passing, especially with inadequate headway.  A vehicle driver may pass a truck only to encounter air turbulence or a crosswind, which blows his/her vehicle out of position leading to an accident.

It is common for passenger vehicles to join the highway traffic from the roadside in front of a truck without accelerating adequately, and this often leads to an accident. An accident may also occur if a passenger vehicle driver consistently drivers between two or more trucks.  If a vehicle driver abandons a vehicle in a travel lane or fails to disable a vehicle completely from the highway, a truck accident may occur. 

Negligence/Mistakes of Truck Driver

Although commercial truck drivers are often patient and careful on the road, they may still cause an accident.  An accident may result if the truck driver does not have the necessary qualifications. It is imperative for a truck driver to have an excellent driving technique and to understand necessary safety tactics.

Truck accidents may occur due to improper systems of compensation. For instance, the compensation policy of some trucking companies may encourage over-speeding and drive for long consecutive hours. If a truck driver feels that he/she will earn more by driving for long hours or by running errands fast, he/she may cause an accident. 

Some trucking companies set unreasonable schedules and targets for truck drivers. This may cause a truck driver to operate the truck very fast without considering the safety risks involved.   Under California Vehicle Code 21702 VC it is a misdemeanor offense for truck drivers to spend too many hours on the road in 24 hours. In order to earn more money by spending more hours on the road, some truck drivers may fail to disclose the number of hours worked. Being under pressure to make deliveries may force truck drivers to engage in negligent driving leading to accidents.

Most truck accidents result from non-performance issues on the side of the truck driver. Due to fatigue after driving for many hours, a driver may fall asleep behind the wheel. According to FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration), a truck driver should not drive for more than 11 hours after 10 hours off-duty. After 60/70 hours on duty in 7/8 consecutive days, a truck driver should not drive. If truck drivers fail to adhere to these rules, they often put themselves and other road users at risk when operating a vehicle. 

Truck accidents also occur due to the negligence of a truck driver. This may include distracted driving and driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. A truck driver may also be involved in reckless driving, including over-speeding and making improper lane changes. It is also common for the truck driver to fail to yield right of way or fail to obey traffic signals. Truck accidents also result from the driver operating a mobile phone while driving, especially texting while driving.

Fault/Negligence of the Trucking Company

A trucking accident may also result from the fault or negligence of the trucking company.  To increase their profit margins, trucking companies tend to violate safety requirements and transportation rules. If these violations contribute to a truck accident, the trucking company may be liable for the injuries and damages that result.

 A trucking company may be liable for overloading trucks/trailers beyond the recommended limit. The company may also be at fault for overweight vehicles to proceed on a journey against the California Vehicle Code 35551 VC.  It is the duty of the trucking company to maintain trucks and trailers properly and to ensure they are roadworthy. Failure to maintain the trucks on a regular basis may make the company liable.

The trucking company may be at fault for allowing trucks to take on unbalanced cargo. If the company allows the truck driver to operate the truck in violation of safety laws, the company may be liable. It is the duty of the trucking company to conduct proper hiring and training of employees. Negligence hiring and orientation of employees may lead to liability.  The trucking company may also face negligence charges for retaining problematic truck drivers. If the trucking company encourages the driver to violate hour and sleep restrictions, the company may be at fault. 

California laws and federal laws regulate the weight, size, and route designations for trucks. If the trucking company falsifies documents to exceed the set limits and regulations, the company may be liable.  All forms of intentional and reckless violations could expose a trucking company to liability in case of an accident. 

Other Causes of Truck Accidents

Other than the negligence of passenger vehicle drivers, truck drivers, and trucking companies, there are other causes of truck accidents.  The causes may include improper or misleading road signage. Truck defects may also lead to accidents. Unsafe highway/road conditions may also lead to truck accidents. 

Common Injuries in Trucking Accidents

According to NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), there is an increasing trend of truck accidents in the U.S.  When a truck accident occurs, the occupants of the passenger vehicle suffered the most. Although the truck driver may suffer injuries, the injuries are never as severe as those sustained by occupants of a passenger vehicle. 

Trucks weigh much more than passenger vehicles. In case of an impact, passenger vehicles are destroyed.  The injuries suffered in a truck accident will depend on a number of factors, including the weight of the truck. Injuries will also depend on the speed of the vehicles involved in the accident. The injuries suffered will also depend on where the accident takes place in either rural or urban areas. The vehicle type and the safety features of the other vehicle will determine the extent of injuries suffered. 

In serious truck accidents, the passengers of the other vehicle may be trapped inside the vehicle.  To save the victims, emergency crews would have to respond to the emergency immediately. The injuries may get worse if there are delays in rescuing trapped victims. If trapped victims do not receive immediate rescue and first aid, they may bleed to death or suffer serious burns. This shows the seriousness of the injuries that occur in a truck accident. 

Common injuries in a truck accident may include neck and back injuries, head trauma, brain injury, burns, and internal injuries. Victims may also suffer broken bones and head trauma. Other than injuries resulting from the impact between a truck and other vehicles, victims may suffer injuries from a secondary crash. Victims may also inhale smoke, and this may have adverse effects on the body. 

Truck Accidents Settlements and Lawsuits

If you have suffered injuries in a truck accident, you may get compensation for your injuries and other damages like vehicle damage. You may choose to seek legal judgment for your damages and injuries. You may also opt to resolve the dispute through an informal settlement. In either way, you will need the guidance of a personal injury attorney. 

You may reach a legal settlement is you reach an agreement with the defendant out of court. You can use alternative dispute resolution to come to an agreement. There are several methods of alternative dispute resolution, including mediation, negotiation, and arbitration.  Arbitration is a binding method of reaching an agreement while mediation and negotiation are non-binding methods of reaching an agreement. In most cases, it is possible to resolve damages resulting from a truck accident through Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). 

It may be advantageous to reach an agreement out of court. Alternative dispute resolution is not only cheaper but also a fast way of settling disputes.  ADR is also friendlier and less adversarial than litigation. With ADR, parties can confidently present their positions without having to admit fault. The parties are not defensive and can calmly come to an agreement on how to settle the disputes. 

When handling a truck accident through alternative dispute resolution, parties can freely speak to each other about the facts of the accident. They will assess who is liable and who is innocent. The parties will receive an unbiased opinion of a neutral third party.

As a plaintiff, ADR may have a downside. After the settlement, you give up your legal rights to pursue further legal claim in connection with the truck accident. A binding agreement may deny you a right to a trial on some claims. In a settlement, you may get much lower compensation than what you would get if you settled the case out of court.  If you settle the case out of court, you forego your chance to hold the defendant liable and to receive a fair verdict. 

There are two types of settlement if you choose to settle the case out of court. You may receive a lump sum or a structured settlement. For a lump sum settlement, you receive full payment at once. For structured payment, you get some regular payments over a defined period.

Filing a Lawsuit

After a truck accident, you have to file a lawsuit within the set statute of limitations. Under California law, the statute of limitations is two years.  However, the statute of limitations may be longer or shorter, depending on the situation. For instance, if you are filing a claim against the state of California, the applicable statute of limitations is six months. It is important to talk to a lawyer immediately after the truck accident to ensure that you have ample time to file a claim. 

You should contact a personal injury attorney immediately. An attorney understands the rules and the regulations of the trucking industry. The attorney is able to uncover the trucking company or truck driver violations. The attorney also understands the tricks commonly used by an insurance company to deny victims compensation.

While filing a lawsuit after a truck accident, you may not know who is liable. There are many potential defendants. Your personal injury attorney will consider all potential defendants, including the truck driver, truck manufacturer, Truck Company, and the insurance company. Liable parties may also include other drivers, city or county government, vehicle parts manufacturers, or any other party that may be liable.

Even in a situation where the truck driver acted negligently and is liable for the accident, the trucking company may be vicariously liable.  According to California's "Respondeat Superior" laws, an employer may be vicariously liable for the negligence of his/her employees.

Truck Accident Was Partially Your Fault

Even if you are partially responsible for the truck accident, you may still sue for compensation.  California State follows the theory of comparative negligence. The fault of the accident is allocated to each party in accordance with how much they contributed to the occurrence of the accident. For example, if the truck accident was 30% your fault, you get 70% compensation. 

Damages Available in a Truck Accident

If you are a victim of a truck accident, you are entitled to compensatory damages to compensate you for the losses incurred in an accident. Compensatory damages consist of both economic and non-economic damages. You can access the dollar value of economic damages. They consist of the financial cost you will incur to cater for damages sustained during the accident. Economic damages include medical costs, lost wages, lost earning capacity, vehicle repairs, and medical supplies, among others.

Non-economic damages are hard to quantify, and you cannot easily attach a dollar value to them.  They include pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment in life.

At times, you may receive exemplary or punitive damages as a victim of a truck accident. You may receive compensation if it is clear that the defendant acted in malice. You are entitled to punitive damages if the defendant acted in extreme recklessness or intentionally caused the damage.  Exemplary/punitive damages aimed at punishing the defendant for his/her reckless behavior. 

Contact an Orange County Personal Injury Attorney Near Me

If you or your loved one is involved in a truck accident, Orange County Personal Injury Attorney can help you know your options.  Contact us at 714-876-1959 and speak to one of our attorneys. We will help you weigh your options for seeking compensation.