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Our truck accident lawyers recognize that commercial carriers utilize many strategies to limit their exposure to liability for personal injuries and wrongful deaths caused by the drivers they engage in transporting cargo.  A common tactic involves using an “independent contractor” (IC) rather than employees to operate semi-trucks.  While a trucking company cannot necessarily avoid liability by taking this approach, this strategy can reduce the risk that the commercial carrier will be subject to vicarious liability.  Vicarious liability translates literally into the phrase “let the employer answer.”  This concept is important because it permits an employer to be held strictly liable for the negligence of the employee (driver) even without specific evidence of negligent acts or practices committed by the trucking company.  While other theories of liability might be available against a trucking company, vicarious liability often provides the easiest way to obtain a judgment against a commercial carrier, which typically will possess more extensive insurance coverage and assets to satisfy a judgment or settlement than the truck driver.

Trial Court Notes Florida Law Permits Designation of ICs as Employees

Our Florida semi-truck accident lawyers often see cases like the Florida Fifth District Court of Appeal decision, Peninsula Logistics, Inc. v. Erb, which demonstrates the importance and complexity involving a court’s determination of whether a truck driver is an employee or IC.  This case involved a crash between the plaintiff’s vehicle and a semi-truck owned by a company (O & L Transport) other than the one that retained the driver as an IC.  Although the truck driver was not directly employed by the trucking company, the trial judge ruled that the trucking company could be vicariously liable for the driver’s negligence because it fell within the definition of an “employer” under applicable trucking regulations.  At trial, the jury returned a favorable verdict for the plaintiffs. Continue reading →

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Although most motor vehicle collisions involving distracted drivers can cause catastrophic injuries, fatalities, and vehicle destruction, people would be hard pressed to imagine a more horrific scenario than a collision between a large truck and an Amtrak passenger train.  Unfortunately, this nightmare scenario was the subject of a lawsuit heard by a U.S. District Court jury in 2014.  Although a jury returned a verdict against the trucking company ordering it to pay in excess of $4.5 million in compensation to Amtrak after the big-rig crashed into the passenger train and caused the death of six people, including both the train conductor and the driver of the large truck.  The trucking company recently had its request for a new trial denied.  Our semi-truck accident attorneys highlight this tragedy as a vivid reminder of the risk to the public posed by commercial drivers who multitask behind the wheel of a large truck and engage in other unsafe driving practices.

Miami Tractor-Trailer Accident Lawyers Review Facts and NTSB Findings

During the original trial in federal court, the jury concluded that the trucking company’s driver was primarily responsible for the collision between the tractor-trailer and the westbound California Zephyr.  Evidence from a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation figured prominently in the jury trial.  The NTSB report indicated that the truck driver was inattentive because he was distracted by his cell phone and fatigued.  The horrific crash occurred when the tractor-trailer slammed into the left side of the Amtrak train passing through a grade crossing.  The carnage included the destruction of the truck-trailer, multiple passenger railcars, and a fire that engulfed two railcars and parts of a third. Continue reading →

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Most people probably assume that a party cannot be liable for causing a trucking accident unless they are an “actual cause” of the crash, but our Miami-Dade truck accident attorneys recognize that the legal concept of causation is more complicated.  The issue of “proximate cause” constitutes an important issue in a fair number of trucking accident lawsuits because multiple defendants often attempt to shift fault for the crash to another party.  One way to understand proximate cause is to understand that a variety of factors or a chain of events might cause an accident, such that any of the factors or events could be viewed as contributing to the collision.  In simple terms, the principle of proximate cause often amounts to a legal conclusion about the foreseeability of the collision.

Although proximate cause constitutes an issue that is too complicated to explain fully, our Florida trucking accident lawyers would like to call attention to a recent decision that illustrates how important this issue can be in trucking litigation.  In Sunbelt Environmental v. Gulf Coast Truck and Equipment, the plaintiff had his arm amputated while riding his bike after being struck by a garbage truck.  After the plaintiff had entered into a settlement with Sunbelt, the company filed a third party lawsuit naming the manufacturer of the truck and the company that installed a tarping device designed to prevent debris from spilling from the garbage truck.  Continue reading →

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Because large tractor-trailers transporting a maximum load under federal law can reach forty tons, any crash caused by a careless, distracted, or speeding tractor-trailer operator will typically have a devastating impact on occupants of the other vehicle.  When trucking accidents involve pedestrians, the outcome typically will be fatal.  Although pedestrians have the right-of-way in many situations, a commercial driver and trucking company will not automatically be liable when a pedestrian is struck down by a big-rig.  Our trucking accident attorneys recognize the importance of careful investigation, analysis, and presentation of evidence, which typically includes expert witnesses.

Our trucking accident lawyers note a case from Florida’s Second District Court of Appeals that provides a graphic reminder of the importance of effective legal representation of a pedestrian who suffers fatal injuries in a trucking accident.  In Ponzera v. O’Neal, the plaintiff was struck by a tractor-trailer on a roadway that was dimly lit at night.  The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, contending a lack of material facts in dispute that indicated that the truck driver’s conduct was negligent.  When considering a motion for summary judgment, the judge will view the evidence in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion.  If the judge finds that there is not a dispute of material facts, the court will determine that the party who filed the motion is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.  Summary judgment was granted by the trial judge against the pedestrian on the issue of whether the truck driver operated the vehicle negligently, and the plaintiff appealed. Continue reading →

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The trucking industry claims a high toll in loss of lives and injuries because of the massive size and weight of tractor-trailers.  Although many safety regulations and practices can reduce the toll claimed by unsafe big-rig operators, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) recently recognized the importance of adopting minimum standards for entry-level truck drivers.  The prospect of young drivers without a certain amount of experience operating a tractor-trailer is a frightening prospect.  Our trucking accident lawyers laud the efforts of the FMCSA to establish basic training standards for newly licensed commercial drivers.

Proposed New Commercial License Requirements

In March, the FMCSA proposed a set of mandatory training standards for entry level commercial operators of trucks and buses.  Our tractor-trailer accident lawyers view these changes as a step in the right direction toward making our roads safer.  Drivers seeking to obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL) would need to satisfy the prerequisite training standards for novice drivers of trucks and buses.  Under the proposal, applicants for a “Class A” CDL, which is required to operate a tractor-trailer combination weighing 26,001 pounds or more, must complete thirty hours of behind-the-wheel training program that complies with FMCSA standards.  The instruction programs must include at least ten hours of operating a vehicle in this class on a practice course. Continue reading →

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Our Miami tractor-trailer accident lawyers recognize the principles of simple physics dictate that a motor vehicle collision between a 3,000-pound economy car and an 80,000-pound tractor-trailer often results in tragic consequences for the occupants of the passenger car.  Despite the extensive state and federal regulations that govern the trucking industry, commercial carriers possess strong financial motivations to cut corners and disregard safety regulations.

In the pursuit of profits, trucking companies often compel their truck driver to ignore or skirt trucking regulations.  Compliance from commercial drivers typically can be obtained by company practices or unwritten policies directing drivers to engage in conduct that amounts to a violation.  Alternatively, commercial carriers often construct compensation plans that reward drivers for meeting unrealistic shipping schedules that virtually necessitate non-compliance with anti-fatigue hours of service (HOS) rules.  In this blog, our Florida trucking accident attorneys want to let the public know about a new proposed trucking regulation designed to ban trucking companies from coercing drivers into violating safety regulations. Continue reading →

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Many truck accident cases in Florida involve commercial truck drivers that are from out-of-state. Florida law recognizes the corporate shield doctrine, which prevents defendants who act exclusively in a corporate capacity from being dragged into Florida state courts. However, as the case below illustrates, this doctrine is not an absolute bar from being held liable in a Florida court, depending upon the circumstances of the case.

In Kitroser v. Hurt, a woman was killed when an employee of a Missouri company negligently drove a commercial semi-truck and crashed into the woman’s car in Florida. The woman’s estate sued the foreign company, the driver, and additional employees who supervised or trained the driver. The trial court found that Florida law provided a basis for a Florida court to exercise jurisdiction over the company’s employees. However, on appeal, the district court of appeals reversed the trial court’s decision. The case made its way to the Florida Supreme Court.

The Florida Supreme Court found that the company’s employees committed negligent acts while they were present at the company’s facilities in Florida. The Court determined that the company’s employees were negligent in supervising, training, and retaining the driver by permitting him to continue to drive one of its trucks even after they had received information that he was not fit to drive. The employees were all either resident of Texas or Georgia during the accident, but they committed the negligent actions in Florida. Continue reading →

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The issue of causation is a critical part of any negligence case, including truck accident suits. As illustrated in the case below, courts must establish proximate cause of an injury before it can decide whether a truck driver or trucking company is liable for injuries from a truck accident. Proximate cause is a legal concept that refers to an action that causes injury as a direct, natural, and uninterrupted consequence. In other words, without such proximate cause, the injury would not have occurred.

In Sunbelt Environmental, Inc. v. Gulf Coast Truck & Equipment Company, Inc., a bicycle rider was hit by a garbage truck that was passing the rider on the street. The part of the garbage truck that crashed into the bicyclist was a tarp that made the garbage truck too wide in violation of Florida law. The bicycle rider suffered serious injuries and required an amputation as a result of the accident. The rider filed suit against the garbage collection company, and the parties entered a settlement agreement. The garbage collection company then sued the truck manufacturer that installed the tarp on the truck in question that made it too wide. The company claimed that the manufacturer was negligent and was strictly liable for its negligent design of the tarp that made the garbage truck overly broad. However, the manufacturer filed a motion for summary judgment, contending that they were not liable because the driver of the truck, who was an employee of the garbage collection company, was negligent in failing to pass the bike rider at a safe distance of at least three feet in violation of Florida statute. Additionally, they claimed that the driver negligently failed to decrease speed to avoid crashing into the rider. Continue reading →

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Our truck accident attorneys find that injury claims involving truck accidents often present complex issues in litigation. Not only are the issues of negligence and liability difficult to navigate, but as the case below illustrates, even the initial matter of who may or may not be held liable can present many hurdles. Truck accidents often involve multiple entities – the truck driver, the trucking company, the company that employed the trucking company for shipping, and, sometimes, the owner of the truck itself – and all have competing interests in the tractor-trailer, the cargo, and the employment of truck drivers. Prospective plaintiffs have to parse all of these issues carefully before initiating litigation, and those seeking to file these kinds of suits should consult extensively with an experienced truck accident attorney.

In Peninsula Logistics, Inc. v. Erb, a Florida appellate court considered the issue of vicarious liability – a defendant’s liability for the actions of an independent contractor. The plaintiff, in that case, was driving a vehicle that collided with a tractor-trailer that was owned by another company and operated by an independent contractor. During the collision, the independent contractor was transporting cargo items for the defendant, and the company that owned the tractor-trailer chose the independent contractor who will drive the tractor-trailer. The plaintiff filed an action in Florida circuit court against the defendant, and the defendant moved for a directed verdict in its favor. The trial court ruled in the plaintiff’s favor and granted summary judgment holding the defendant vicariously liable for the actions of its independent contractor, and the defendant appealed. Continue reading →

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Our Miami truck accident lawyers have found there are often a wide variety of issues that plaintiffs may face in personal injury or wrongful death litigation involving tractor-trailer accidents. Tractor-trailers belong to a unique class of vehicles that carry substantially more risks in operation. Accidents may not be limited to traditional vehicle collisions or pedestrian mishaps – as the case below illustrates, tractor-trailers may also be involved in unique situations that raise specific issues of liability.

In the case of L.E. Myers Co. v. Young, the Second District Court of Appeals in Florida considered the issue of whether a particular situation involving a tractor-trailer was inherently dangerous. The case resulted in a fatality, and the deceased driver’s estate sued for wrongful death. The defendant in the case was a company that was hired by the electric company to replace power poles in a specified area. The defendant hired a subcontractor to install four concrete poles measuring 85 feet long and weighing around 21,000 pounds along a particular street. On the day of the accident, the one of the subcontractor’s drivers drove a tractor-trailer to the worksite with one of the poles strapped onto the trailer. The pole was long enough to extend from the back of the trailer by several feet. The driver had to park the tractor-trailer on the should of the street and maneuvered the cab and most of the flatbed fully onto the street shoulder. However, the truck’s outermost left rear tire of the trailer rested on and slightly over the white line on the edge of the street. Continue reading →

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