Truck accidents are different than car accidents in many ways. Investigations must be swift and thorough. The parties involved may include out-of-state truckers and companies. Navigation of complex federal regulations is also necessary.
These are among the many reasons why it is crucial to get help from an experienced attorney if you or a loved one has been harmed in a crash involving a commercial motor vehicle (also called 18-wheelers or tractor-trailers).
James M. Poe, P.C., is available to help. If you have been seriously hurt or lost a loved one in a truck accident in Atlanta or elsewhere in Georgia, attorneys Jim and Matt Poe can provide a free consultation about your case. Contact us today to learn more.
We also present the following answers to frequently asked questions about truck accident cases. Please review these to get a better general understanding of the issues that could arise in your case.
Truck Accident FAQs
The sooner a truck accident investigation can begin, the better opportunity you will have to preserve crucial evidence in your case. This is why it is highly important to consult with an attorney as soon as possible after a crash involving a tractor-trailer.
Trucking companies are well aware of how costly an accident can be if their driver is at fault for causing it. You can expect that they will act swiftly and take any and all action available to protect themselves. This is why it is crucial that you do the same.
An attorney can assign an investigator to your case right away. The investigator can take crash scene photos to preserve any evidence that might be present, including skid marks, debris, and he or she can inspect the vehicles involved.
In addition to taking exterior shots of the vehicles, photos of the interior can be helpful in determining why a crash happened. For instance, photos may show alcohol containers or pills near the driver’s seat of the truck. The investigator may also track down information from those who witnessed the accident.
It will also be important to obtain electronic data recorder information, or “black box data,” as well as records of communications that were made using on-board computers or cell phones. Evidence pertaining to log books, dispatch records, inspection and maintenance records and bills of lading should also be obtained as swiftly as possible before that becomes more difficult.
As the case progresses, additional evidence can play a role. This evidence may include hiring records, driver alcohol and drug testing records, a driver’s history of traffic violations and criminal charges and a company’s record of compliance (or a lack thereof) with Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations.
All information obtained in a case should be analyzed by an accident reconstruction expert and other experts who can help to determine why the accident occurred and who should be held responsible.
If a truck driver caused your crash because he or she was driving carelessly or in complete disregard of the safety of others – and the driver was working at the time – the truck carrier may be held liable for any harm the driver causes.
There are two ways to approach the issue of a trucking company’s liability.
First, the company can be held responsible for the wrongful acts of its drivers. So, if a driver caused a truck crash because he or she was speeding to deliver a shipment, improperly cut you off while crossing into your lane or failed to brake on time and plowed into your vehicle, that driver’s negligence may be imputed to the trucking company.
Second, a trucking company may be negligent in its own right. For instance, the trucking company may have hired a driver who was not qualified due to a lack of training or proper certification or a history of traffic violations.
Another example is a trucking company that put a vehicle on the road that should have been kept in the garage. The company may have allowed the truck to be driven without inspecting its tires, brakes, couplings or hydraulic system.
Trucking companies often attempt to set up drivers as “independent contractors.” It is important to marshal the facts to keep this from limiting your rights against the company.
It should be noted that parties other than the trucker and trucking company could be responsible for a crash, including mechanics, truck manufacturers or even shipping companies who loaded the cargo onto a trailer.
An attorney can investigate your case thoroughly and determine all parties who should be held accountable for the losses you have suffered.
In many cases, it is found that driver had been on the road too long, and as a result, the driver’s fatigue may have played a role in causing a truck crash.
It is important to note that Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations place strict limits on the number of hours that a driver who is involved with interstate commerce can work. These are called hours-of-service regulations.
For example, under FMCSA rules, a driver cannot be “on duty” for more than 14 consecutive hours. If a driver reaches that limit, the driver must go off duty for 10 straight hours before he or she can drive again.
In order to show compliance with these rules, truckers and trucking companies must keep records, or log books. These log books can be obtained during the course of a truck accident investigation and may serve as evidence of driver fatigue.
Unfortunately, some truckers and carriers falsify log books or conceal or destroy them after a crash. If this occurs, there are still other ways to investigate whether fatigue contributed to a crash.
For instance, records may show that a driver made two deliveries more than 14 hours apart, or that a trucker drove a long distance from his home to a warehouse before beginning his or her shift. In some cases, it may be shown that a driver was taking prescription drugs that could cause drowsiness.
Evidence of fatigue may establish that a driver was negligent or reckless in his or her operation of a vehicle, which in turn caused the crash.
Pursuit of these key facts requires an experienced and aggressive law firm.
It is not only possible to sue an out-of-state trucking company, but it is actually quite common in cases that arise in Atlanta and surrounding areas.
Our region is a major distribution hub in the Southeast. This is due to the fact that several interstate routes run through Atlanta. We also feature an extensive rail network and one of the country’s busiest airports. We are close to the Gulf Coast as well.
As a result, many truckers who are engaged in interstate commerce pass through our region. Their trucking companies may be large corporations that are operated outside of our state.
Generally speaking, as long as the truck accident occurred within the state of Georgia, the lawsuit may be filed within our state in either a state or federal court.
A standard part of any truck accident investigation today is to look into whether the trucker was texting or talking on a phone at the time of the crash.
Even if the trucker denies engaging in such conduct, an attorney can seek records from the trucker’s mobile service provider. These records can establish circumstantially that either immediately before or right at the time of impact, the trucker was distracted.
This evidence can be important to your case. Federal regulations prohibit drivers who engage in interstate commerce and the transportation of hazardous materials from texting or using hand-held devices while driving. Additionally, Georgia law bans drivers from texting while driving.
A violation of these rules can be used to establish negligence. The trucker (and his or her company) may be held liable if it can be show that this negligence caused an accident that harmed you or a loved one.
As a general rule, you should never accept a settlement offer from an insurance company until after you have consulted with an attorney. There are several reasons why this is crucial when it comes to protecting your right to full and fair compensation.
The insurance company will require you to sign a release if you accept the settlement offer. This release would bar you from bringing any future legal action against the insured party, which could be the trucker and/or trucking company. Unfortunately, the initial settlement offer from the insurance company may not fully cover your losses.
The best practice is to have an attorney review your truck accident case. The attorney can review records and consult with experts to determine the full amount of past and future medical expenses, past and future lost wages, pain and suffering and other issues supporting a claim for the compensation you deserve and help you to decide if the insurance company’s settlement offer fairly and completely compensates you under the facts of the case.
An attorney can negotiate with the insurance company on your behalf and, if needed, represent you in court.