Truck crashes in Florida are a bit harder to sort out than car accidents, which typically are settled among the two parties involved and their insurers. Since trucking is regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, and state laws, accidents in Florida can involve state law, federal regulations, and multiple insurance companies. With so many parties involved, fault, let alone liability, is seldom open and shut.
Often the trucker does not own the vehicle he or she is driving. So, fault can also lie with the company that employs the driver, owns the truck, or contracted the truck. The driver might also be an independent contractor rather than in the company’s direct employ. In cases where defective parts or maintenance might be a factor, parts manufacturers or even a repair company that worked on the vehicle could bear responsibility.
But like all accident cases, liability centers around identifying and proving negligence or recklessness of one or more of the parties.
What factors affect fault for a truck accident?
Trucks collide with other vehicles for a variety of reasons, each of which has different implications for which party is at fault in the accident. Attorneys, the insurance companies, and state or federal investigators will look at several factors when determining fault:
Negligence: This would involve human error — for instance, if a truck driver causes a collision by misjudging how much space is available for a lane change, the truck driver would be at fault. Negligence is different from recklessness, which involves willful misconduct.
Fatigue: Drivers who work long hours beyond those allowed by federal law – or companies that force drivers to work these long hours – increase the risk that a tired trucker will cause an accident. Federal law requires breaks for drivers and forbids work days longer than 14 hours, only 11 hours of which can be spent driving.
An attorney at Coffey Trial Law will know to ask immediately for the truck driver’s log book and the vehicle’s data recorder (similar to the “black box” you hear about in airplanes), which may help determine if a negligent or reckless decision contributed to the accident.
Impairment: Abuse of alcohol, narcotics or prescription medications is dangerous for any driver, no matter the vehicle. We should note that truck drivers involved in accidents have blood-alcohol concentrations (BAC) that surpass legal limits less often than other motorists. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data from 2014, for example, indicates only 2 percent of large-truck drivers involved in fatal crashes had BACs above the legal limit, compared to 22 percent in passenger cars.
Bad hiring practices: The trucking company may have hired drivers who lack valid commercial driver’s licenses (CDL), are inexperienced, or who have bad driving records. In addition to earning a CDL, drivers should periodically refresh their training. Often, it is the trucking company’s responsibility to keep drivers up-to-date.
Failing to maintain trucks: It is up to the company that owns the truck to make sure the vehicle has effective brakes, tires, and other parts.
Loading the truck improperly: Whether it’s a delivery truck, tractor-trailer, or 18-wheeler, if a truck is not loaded properly, the cargo could shift and create a dangerous situation for the trucker and other nearby motorists.
Defective components: If the accident was the result of a defective mechanical part, the plaintiff would need to demonstrate that the vehicle was “unreasonably dangerous” when operated as intended, as specified in state product liability laws. In such cases, the truck’s manufacturer, or the manufacturer of the part in question, could be liable.
A third party: If, for example, a drunk driver swerves in front of a truck, the truck driver could lose control and collide with another vehicle. The involvement of a third driver will add yet another layer of complexity to the case.
What should I do if I’m the victim of an accident involving a truck?
There were more than 38,000 crashes involving commercial vehicles in Florida in 2015, the most recent year for which information is available from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. This represents about 10 percent of all crashes in the state. Meanwhile, statistics from the NHTSA from 2015 show an increase in both in the number of truck-involved accidents over the previous year, and the number of fatalities that resulted.
Truck accidents are not uncommon, and the issues surrounding them are complex. The liability issues of a truck accident require legal expertise, particularly since the law requires trucking companies to keep some pertinent records for as little as three months. If your life or that of a family member has been altered by an accident involving a truck, the attorneys at Coffey Trial Law in Fort Lauderdale are available for a free consultation to review your legal options. Call today at 954-541-3194.