Semi-truck accidents typically are more complicated than “typical collisions,” with only passenger cars. The special factual and legal issues that affect trucking litigation make it important that injury victims seek legal advice and representation from an experienced Miami trucking accident lawyer. While the most obvious factual difference between trucking collisions and “typical car crashes” is that they involve a forty ton vehicle, trucking collisions are not just “car crashes with a very large vehicle.” Trucking accident injury claims often involve special state and federal regulations, preservation of evidence issues, and multiple defendants.
The Trucking Industry Is Subject to Extensive State and Federal Regulation
Commercial carriers and their truck drivers are subject to extensive regulations designed to mitigate the risk of accidents that cause catastrophic injuries and deaths. When large trucks operate across state lines, which is referred to as “interstate trucking,” the vehicle, driver, and commercial carrier are governed by federal law. While the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is the federal agency with primary responsibility for regulating interstate trucking, other applicable federal laws and regulations also establish rules and standards to make our roadways safer. Vehicles engaged exclusively in operations within the state, which is referred to as “intrastate trucking,” generally are governed by state law.
Tractor-trailer operators, semi-truck owners and big-rig manufacturers must comply with a vast array of regulations. Many of these regulations are designed to safeguard the public from the inherent risks posed by an 80,000 pound tractor-trailer sharing the road with much smaller vehicles. Examples of commercial driver, semi-truck manufacturer, and trucking company conduct that is regulated include:
- Mandatory drug and alcohol testing (random testing for intoxicating substances)
- Anti-fatigue measures [referred to as “hours or service” (HOS) rules]
- Maximum weight and length of a large truck
- Quality control in manufacturing (such as standards for brake system performance)
- Requiring routine maintenance and inspection (includes pre-trip and post-trip inspections)
- Certification of medical fitness of truck drivers
- Record keeping including driver logbooks, maintenance records, etc.
- Mandatory pre-hiring background investigations
- Commercial licensing requirements
- Proper loading and securing of loads on semi-trucks
- Special Insurance Requirements
While these are only a handful of the regulations that trucking companies, vehicle manufacturers and commercial carriers must satisfy, failure to comply with any of these rules contributes to a fair number of trucking collisions. When a trucking accident occurs, the trucking company, commercial driver, and/or the semi-truck manufacturer will typically have violated one or more trucking regulations. These violations typically constitute a critical factor in proving liability in a personal injury lawsuit arising out of trucking accident injuries or fatalities.
Another important area of insurance industry regulation involves minimum insurance requirements. The minimum insurance coverage that must be carried by owners and operators of tractor-trailers is substantially higher than for drivers of passenger vehicles. This means that there usually will be more available funds to pay a jury verdict in a trucking case. Since settlement discussions in a motor vehicle litigation usually are circumscribed by available insurance limits, trucking lawsuits will tend to settle for more than a “typical car accident.”
Avoiding the Loss of Critical Evidence in Trucking Litigation
The trucking industry is notorious for “spoliation of evidence” issues. This term refers to a party destroying or altering evidence that is the subject of pending litigation. A common example includes repairing physical damage to a semi-truck, which often results in loss of pre-accident data stored on the truck’s “black box,” which might be critical to proving how an accident occurred. When this happens, an accident reconstruction expert loses the ability to evaluate body damage on the big-rig and information about sudden braking, speed, and other factors relevant to a collision.
Our experienced Miami trucking accident lawyers understand the importance of acting promptly to ensure that vital evidence is not distorted or destroyed. This may include sending a “spoliation letter” to the trucking company that indicates the truck is the subject of pending litigation, so it must be maintained in its post-crash condition. If the trucking company ignores our notice regarding spoliation, the judge can impose monetary sanctions or sanctions that impair the trucking company’s position in a lawsuit. In certain cases, our lawyers might even file for an injunction that prohibits repair of the truck, destruction of data in the “black box” data recorder, or other evidence.
Because evidence relevant to a trucking accident might be fabricated or manipulated, our trucking litigation attorneys seek evidence to expose such gamesmanship by trucking companies. The use of the discovery process to obtain lodging receipts, fuel charges, tire maintenance records, email correspondence, dining checks, “black box” data, and other documents, for example, can be used to expose false or misleading driver logbook records regarding hours of service.
Multiple Defendants in Trucking Litigation – A Good News, Bad News Proposition
Trucking accident personal injury lawsuits often involve multiple defendants, which might include the trucking company, truck driver, company that loaded the truck, vehicle manufacturer, independent maintenance company, and others. If a truck driver is taking prescription pain pills and a trucking company allows him to drive with knowledge he is taking the pills in a truck fitted with defective tires, this scenario may mean multiple parties have some financial liability. The involvement of multiple defendants, who might all attempt to shift blame to another party, increases the complexity of litigation in a trucking accident case. However, the presence of multiple parties also means that there might be more available sources to satisfy a judgment.
When multiple defendants are involved in a trucking lawsuit, this can make the process of reaching a settlement more difficult. The defendants might elect to proceed to trial, so the court can determine the proportion of fault that should be allocated to each defendant. However, an injury victim can settle with one of the defendants prior to trial, and then proceed to trial against the other defendants who can be found responsible for the balance of the damages awarded at trial.
Greenberg Stone and Urbano: Seeking Maximum Recovery for Damages Sustained Due to Negligence
If you or a close family member suffers a serious injury or you lose someone you love in a tractor-trailer collision, our Miami Semi-Truck Accident Attorneys at Greenberg Stone and Urbano will tenaciously pursue the full compensation you deserve. For over 130 collective years, our firm has assisted accident victims in personal injury and wrongful death actions across South Florida. We seek to obtain compensation for your tangible and intangible damages, including medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more. Our skill and dedication has earned us an AV rating from Martindale Hubbell and recognition as one of South Florida’s top firms by the Miami Herald. Call us at (888) 499-9700 or (305) 595-2400 or visit our website to schedule your initial consultation.