California Tractor Trailer Accident Lawyer
Accidents involving tractor trailers can be catastrophic. Due to the size and magnitude of the trucks, drivers of these trucks often leave the scenes unscathed, but others do not. These tragedies can result from various factors. When negligence is a factor, it often manifests in the form of poorly maintained equipment, such as faulty brakes, or the careless driving of truck drivers who are given impossibly tight deadlines to make their deliveries. Such issues tend to be overlooked by companies focused on maximizing business as much as possible – even at the expense of human safety. The California tractor trailer accident lawyers at Panish Shea & Boyle LLP are able to help you successfully recover the maximum amount of compensation for your injuries.
Owners and managers of tractor trailer transport companies are well informed of the federal and state regulations governing their industry. When either drivers or entire companies fail to abide by the guidelines of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Act, they are acting negligently. Therefore, they may be sued for the costs of medical bills, funeral expenses, lost earnings, and other damages if their disregard for safety causes an injurious or deadly accident.
For example, trailers – and the trucks that pull them – should be inspected regularly. This includes brake testing, checks of fuel levels, and assessment of tires. There are also guidelines that stipulate how much weight trailers are allowed to carry, as well as the maximum amount of hours drivers are allowed to work per day.
Are There Limits on the Amount of Time a Commercial Truck Driver Can Spend on the Road?
Commercial truck drivers must obey different rules than standard drivers. They must abide by federal regulations under the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). Federal laws aim to regulate the commercial trucking industry and keep it safe across state lines. One law limits the amount of time a truck driver can spend on the road. Hours of service regulations can help decrease the risk of drowsy truck drivers causing serious accidents.
- 14-hour limit. No driver may continue to drive after 14 consecutive hours after coming on duty (following 10 off-duty hours).
- 11-hour driving limit. The driving limit within the 14-hour period is 11 hours on the road, only after 10 consecutive hours off duty.
- Eight hours or less must have passed since the driver’s last rest period of at least half an hour at all times.
- It is against the law to drive more than 60 hours on duty in seven (7) consecutive days or 70 hours in eight (8) consecutive days.
Disobeying the hours of service regulations is a common infraction among drivers who are running behind or who wish to make it to their destinations early (often for bonuses an employer promised them). If a truck driver ignores the limit on the amount of time he or she can be on the road and this contributes to a truck accident, the trucking company could be vicariously liable for damages. Identifying fault for your truck accident is one of the first tasks a lawyer can accomplish for you when you contact Panish Shea & Boyle LLP.
What to Do After a Truck Accident
Ideally, accidents involving tractor trailers would rarely happen. This is because most of them are preventable. In the meantime, however, there are several factors to keep in mind in the event of such an incident. Immediate medical attention is critical. Sometimes even the most serious injuries do not appear right away, so a medical exam that can identify possible harm is pertinent. It is also necessary to report the incident to the police, who can not only document the details of the incident and collect evidence, but also file criminal charges if the driver was pulling the trailer while impaired by drugs or alcohol.
As soon as possible after the accident, contact our tractor trailer accident attorneys in California who specialize in trailer accidents. Considering the emotional and physical trauma many victims face after being injured by tractor trailers, they are often overwhelmed and unable to fully assess the situation. An experienced attorney, however, can assess any available forensic evidence. In addition to a police investigation, a California tractor trailer accident lawyer team can interview witnesses, investigate the scene, reconstruct the accident, and photograph skid marks, vehicle damage, and debris in the surrounding area.
It is particularly important to connect with a tractor trailer accident lawyer in California as soon as possible because the trucking company will begin a defensive investigation at the moment of collision. Modern tractor trailers are equipped with computers that record braking, speed, swerve, and other particulars of the vehicle’s movement. These recordings may be crucial to a case, but they must be accessed before they are destroyed. A personal injury lawyer with experience in these cases can establish contact with the trucking company and demand that this data be preserved until the outcome of the case has been reached.
What You Should Know About Commercial Truck Black Boxes
The computers that record a truck’s data are called black boxes. They are also used in aircraft to gather information about what may have caused the aviation accident. Commercial truck black boxes can provide invaluable information that could prove who or what caused the accident. The black box is technically an Event Data Recorder, or EDR. An EDR is very similar to an aircraft’s black box and houses a great deal of information about the truck and driver’s performance in the moments leading up to the crash.
- Location of the truck
- The average speed of the truck
- If the driver was speeding and for how long
- Whether the driver used cruise control
- Sudden stops
- Hard braking
- Unusual swerving
- Seat belt usage
- Whether the airbags deployed
The FMCSA currently requires all commercial trucks (and buses) to have electronic logging devices. While these are not the same as black boxes, they can record important information about the driver and truck. Electronic logging devices track how many hours the driver has been behind the wheel – potentially showing evidence of broken hours of service laws, if applicable. A lawyer can gather information from a black box as well as an electronic logging device after a commercial truck accident to help prove fault.
Unfortunately, it is not always easy to obtain black box, EDR or electronic logging device information. A trucking company is under no legal obligation to share this data with you after an accident. In many cases, the company may refuse to give you the information to avoid liability for the accident. The company must, however, give the information to law enforcement. A truck accident lawyer from our firm can submit an order of evidence preservation to prevent the truck company from destroying the data. Then, we can contact investigators to ask them to share the black box data with us for your claim.
A black box could hold the key to proving fault for your truck accident. It may have important evidence such as a truck driver’s excessive speeding leading up to the collision, or a series of hard brakes that could point to drowsy driving. The information in the electronic logging device could corroborate what is in the black box, showing proof of broken hours of service regulations or neglect to inspect the tractor trailer. Obtaining electronic data from a truck after an accident could be critical for your claim.
Who Is Liable for a Tractor Trailer Accident?
The main goal of a truck accident investigation will be to determine who is liable, or legally responsible, for the wreck. Obtaining black box data, visiting the scene of the accident, interviewing eyewitnesses and investigating the truck company all serve to better understand how and why the accident occurred. Liability for a truck accident can be more complex than for a standard motor vehicle wreck. Many cases involve vicarious liability.
- The driver. If the truck driver’s negligence or recklessness caused your accident, the trucking company will most likely be vicariously liable as the driver’s employer. Even if the driver was an independent contractor, the company could be liable. The company is also in charge of overseeing truck maintenance, even if it leases the big rig instead of owning the truck.
- The trucking company. The company could bring liability upon itself through acts of negligence such as improperly training its drivers, pressuring drivers to meet deadlines, breaching cargo securement laws or improperly maintaining its fleet. If these acts ultimately cause a truck accident, the company could be liable.
- Truck manufacturer. If defective truck parts such as bad brakes or tires caused your accident, the manufacturer could be liable. Truck manufacturers have a duty to produce reasonably safe products. They may be strictly liable for accidents their defective or dangerous vehicle parts cause.
- Another driver. If a fellow passenger vehicle driver caused the truck accident, that driver may be responsible. If a driver cut off a truck, for example, and caused the truck to swerve out of the way and hit you, the passenger vehicle driver could be liable. Your claim would go to the at-fault driver’s insurance company in these situations.
Other potentially at-fault parties for tractor trailer accidents could include the city government for unsafe roadways, cargo loaders for lost loads and truck owners for lack of maintenance. Work with one of our attorneys to correctly identify the defendant(s) responsible for causing your truck accident. If your crash involves the shared fault of more than one party, we can fight to hold each jointly and severally liable for your damages. Naming multiple defendants in your truck accident claim could improve your odds of securing full compensation.
How to Deal With Insurance Adjusters After a Truck Accident
After a serious tractor trailer accident, the trucking company’s insurer may try to evade liability. The insurance claims adjuster may try to avoid a payout by placing the blame with you or another party, or else it may downplay your damages to limit your recovery. An insurance company’s goal after a disastrous truck accident will be to save money and protect its reputation by refuting responsibility, not to replace your damages. During conversations with claims adjusters, protect your rights by limiting what you say. When in doubt, hire an attorney to take over negotiations for you.
- Only answer the questions asked.
- Do not go into more detail than is necessary.
- Never admit fault for the truck accident.
- Do not speculate about who or what caused the accident.
- Stick to the known facts of the case.
- Do not give the adjuster a recorded statement.
- Do not accept a settlement until you have spoken to a lawyer about your accident.
- Do not believe an offer is the insurance company’s “best” or “final.”
- Contact a lawyer right away for assistance.
It is not easy to go up against a major trucking corporation in California. Truck companies often have the resources to spend on fighting liability for traffic accidents. Instead of dealing with an insurance company alone, hire an attorney from Panish Shea & Boyle LLP for help. Our lawyers can take over communications with the truck company’s insurance provider, making sure the claims adjuster does not convince you to do something that is not in your best interests. Our insurance settlement negotiators have years of experience that can benefit you.
Contact California Trailer Accident Attorneys Today
A member of the California trucking accident attorney team at Panish Shea & Boyle LLP is available now to discuss these matters. Call 877.800.1700 today, and the staff will assist not only with the meticulous preparation of a case, but also with its thorough presentation in court.