Truck accident cases are inherently more complex and naturally different than the average car accident case. The legal issues that accompany trucking accidents tend to be more complicated, not only because of the severity of the injuries that result from them, but also because of the layers of liability involved in the trucking industry itself.
The sheer size and weight of the trucks involved in these types of accidents make them more dangerous. The average passenger vehicle weighs 4,000 pounds. Semi-trucks are approximately 20 times larger than the average vehicle and can weigh up to 80,000 lbs. when they are fully loaded, putting the average car at a distinct disadvantage if involved in an accident with one. The height of these trucks, the length of time it takes for them to stop, and the driver’s field of vision make trucking accidents more catastrophic. Many times, trucking accidents can result in permanent physical injuries or death.
The Main Causes of Trucking Accidents
Trucking accidents occur for several reasons. The massive size of the vehicle makes it difficult for the truck driver to react quickly, including stopping or swerving to avoid an accident. Florida law requires a truck driver leave at least 300 feet between the front of the vehicle and the vehicle ahead – except when passing or within city or town limits. Since many of these trucks are on the interstate, they are traveling at high speeds and carrying a significant amount of cargo. Therefore, they need more time and more distance to safely stop. Accidents occur when the truck driver fails to stop safely either due to external circumstances, the weather or the actions of other drivers on the road.
Truck drivers are held under a different standard than other drivers on the road. Government regulations determine how long they can drive, how much rest they are required to get, how much cargo their trucks can carry, and how often their vehicles are maintained. Additionally, truck drivers are required to carry a higher level of insurance than the average driver. If the driver fails to stop and rest or uses drugs or other substances to stay awake, that can also lead to impaired focus when driving- thereby increasing the risk of a crash. If the truck driver operates his or her vehicle aggressively, merges too quickly, does not appreciate the size of the truck and the trailer, carries an unsafe load of cargo or travels at an unsafe speed, an accident can result. Accidents happen due to the sheer size of these rigs. They take more time and more advanced action by the driver to stop, they take more time and space to turn, and they are less able to accelerate quickly or take evasive action to avoid a crash. This means extra care is required by the drivers, the loaders and those who maintain these massive rigs. Additionally, accidents can be caused by the truck driver not ensuring that his or her truck is properly inspected or repaired. If the cargo is not properly loaded, this can lead to a serious accident.
Multiple Defendants Involved
One of the more complicated legal issues involved in trucking accident law has to do with naming the proper defendants. Many injured parties assume that the person responsible in a trucking accident case is the driver, especially if it was the driver’s actions that caused the accident. However, liability is not so black and white in Florida trucking law. If the truck driver is an employee of a larger trucking company, you also need to name that company in addition to the driver to your legal claim, especially if the trucking company is determined to be responsible for the driver’s behavior. Sometimes the driver is an independent contractor, but even then, liability can be extended to the company hiring the independent contractor. If the accident resulted from cargo not being properly loaded, the freight company can be added as an additional defendant. If the accident was caused due to the negligence of the company or mechanics maintaining the truck, that company can be named, too. In addition, if the accident resulted from a design flaw or manufacturing defect in the truck itself or a part of the truck, another party may need to be the truck or part manufacturer. And, in some circumstances a trucking broker may have liability.
Liability and Damages
Naming the proper parties is only half the battle. The injured party must also prove a theory of legal liability to win his or her case. Normally, liability is based on the theory of negligence, meaning that the defendant or defendants had a duty of care to the injured plaintiff, they failed to meet that duty or standard of care, and the plaintiff’s damages resulted from that failure. If the theory of negligence is against the driver himself or herself, negligence can be fairly straightforward. The injured party simply needs to show that a reasonably prudent truck driver would have acted with more care and would not have injured the plaintiff.
If other defendants are involved, the theory of negligence involves whether that party acted in the same manner as a reasonably prudent trucking company, manufacturer or freight company. When it comes to the trucking company hiring the employee, the rule of vicarious liability applies. Vicarious liability means the employer is responsible for the employee’s actions while he or she is performing job duties. If the driver is intoxicated or doing something that is outside of his or her job duties, vicarious liability can be disputed, although this is a rare occurrence.
Damages must be proven by the injured party, which can be complicated if the injuries sustained are long-standing and permanent. Expert witnesses will need to be called in, particularly if you will be no longer able to work or function in the same manner you previously had. If you are going to be losing a significant amount of income and earning capacity, an expert will need to testify as to what your damages are and how they were determined. All of this requires a large amount of proof in the form of exhibits, medical evidence and expert testimony. Since Florida operates under the rule of comparative negligence, if your actions played any part in the cause of the accident, your damages can be reduced based on that percentage.
Hiring Experienced Legal Counsel
Trucking accidents involve a lot of work and can be complicated in proving both liability and damages. If you are going up against a large trucking company, you should be prepared to deal with legal counsel representing the trucking company and using any affirmative defenses they can possibly use to mitigate damages. To best protect your legal rights and secure fair and adequate compensation for your injuries, we always advise you hire an attorney who specializes in this area of law to help you file a claim.
A civil trial attorney with the firm Wooten, Kimbrough, Damaso & Dennis, P.A., Mr. Damaso concentrates on cases involving personal injury and wrongful deaths and solely represents individual victims and consumers. He takes his clients' cases personally and is committed to their best possible outcome. His strong sense of community has led to his support of numerous charities in the Orlando area.