The trucking industry employs nationally a total of 9 million people who operate over 15 million trucks in the United States. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, over 450,000 commercial truck accidents occur in the United States annually, and since each of these trucks (again, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) can be classified as either a “large truck” that weighs at least 10,000 pounds, or an 18-wheeler tractor-trailer or semi-truck that can weigh more than 80,000 pounds, it should come as no surprise that many of these accidents are scenes of devastation, severe injuries and death. Unfortunately, the reality of the trucking industry is that it is a big business that generates over $250 billion per year, and the annual rate of 140,000 plus motorists who will incur serious injuries and the estimated 5,000 motorists who will die due to their involvement in truck accidents seems to be overlooked as part of the pursuit of profits rather than safety.
If you or a loved one has been involved in a truck accident and sustained injuries or someone close to you has died in a truck accident, call the experienced and accomplished Law Offices of Ira M. Perlman, P.C. & Robert D. Rosen, P.C. for a free consultation without any further obligation regarding your legal rights in order to obtain full and fair compensation and damages due to harms and losses suffered by you and/or your loved ones.
Truck Accident Causes
Since 18-wheelers, semi-trucks and other large trucks have the potential for great destructive force, extra vigilance is necessary on the part of truck drivers and their employers in order to keep our roads safe. Although extra safety precautions in the trucking industry are required by law, drivers unfortunately continue to log on too many consecutive hours which create inattentiveness or even delirium, and trucking companies are constantly cutting corners in maintaining their vehicles in order to save money and time. Some major causes of truck accidents include:
- Substance Abuse: It is the responsibility of trucking companies to both carefully review the qualifications of drivers before they are hired and continue to monitor them throughout their employment in order to minimize the risk of accidents caused by substance abuse.
- Driver Fatigue: Furthering what was stated above, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has set limits on the number of hours that drivers are permitted to work per day and week. Although adhering to these limitations is important, it is still ultimately the driver’s responsibility to know when he or she has become too tired to drive with caution and vigilance.
- Jackknife Accidents: These are accidents where a truck’s brakes lock and the trailer skids out of control and swings to the side of the cab, usually as a result of sudden braking or brake failure, sudden turning on slick or other hazardous surfaces or rapid downshifting. The range of the trailer as it swings around is unfortunately quite large and therefore multiple vehicles are likely to be involved resulting in many injuries to many victims.
- Overloading: It is not uncommon for the national weight standards set by the Federal Highway Administration’s Freight Management and Operations department to be violated by trucking companies that gain profits from such violations. The purpose of these regulations is to prevent trucks from causing devastating accidents that have origins related to the truck’s weight such as brake failure, tire blowouts, rollovers, bridge collapses and out of control downhill speeds.
- Runaway Trailers: When a trailer disconnects from its tractor or cab because of the driver’s failure to properly hitch the trailer to the cab and use back-up safety chains or because of the trucking company’s negligence in updating its vehicles’ equipment, anything in its path will most likely be destroyed. If a victim is lucky enough to survive an accident involving a runaway trailer, his or her injuries will most likely be severe.
- Speeding: Trucks traveling over the speed limit have gained enough momentum to destroy anything in their path, putting all drivers at potential risk for fatality in the event of an accident.
Some other common causes of truck accidents include:
- Negligent inspection/maintenance;
- Hazardous driving conditions;
- Poorly maintained streets;
- Cargo spills;
- Unsafe passing;
- Unlicensed driver;
- Backing up/moving in reverse;
- Improper tires resulting in blow-outs;
- Illegal and improper parking or stopping of a truck on a public roadway;
- Failure to properly tie down or secure truck cargo and/or containers;
- Trucking company negligence; and
- Defective highway design.
Federal Rules and Regulations Controlling Interstate Trucking
Since 1939, the federal government has attempted to regulate the trucking industry from state-to-state in an effort to guarantee the safe operation of large and massive trucks which routinely operate over and along various roadways and highways throughout the United States. The purpose of the federal government’s regulation of interstate trucking is to prevent the catastrophic and devastating injuries and death which can occur from collisions involving large trucks. Today, any company, business or individual operating a truck interstate must adhere to guidelines set forth by the federal government.
The federal agency overseeing the operation of all trucking companies is the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). The FMCSA has established numerous regulations and requirements in order to prevent accidents and injuries involving interstate trucking. Application of the federal regulations applies to trucks that are driven in the State of New York as well as in and around all of the five boroughs if these trucks are involved in interstate transportation. Whether transportation is interstate or intrastate is determined by the essential character of the commerce, manifested by a shipper’s fixed and persisting intent at the time of the shipment which is ascertainable from all of the facts and circumstances surrounding the transportation scheme. Obviously, the central focus in the inquiry is whether or not the ultimate destination of the shipment is identified as a location outside the state at the time the transportation is arranged.
Additionally, according to the provisions of FMCSA, every commercial motor vehicle must be operated in accordance with the laws, ordinances and regulations of the state or jurisdiction in which it is being operated unless there is some higher standard of care in which case the federal regulation must be complied with.
Under the federal regulations, there are regulations pertaining to pre-trip inspections and end-of-the-day reports which must be prepared by the driver and/or the operator of the truck. Additionally, there are rules and regulations pertaining to annual inspections, loading procedures, warning devices, lights, reflectors and retroreflective sheeting, brakes, rear guards, windows, mirrors, fuel systems, frames, axles, steering systems, towing devices, tires, miscellaneous equipment and accessories, adverse weather conditions, unauthorized passengers, hazardous materials transportation and various other requirements.
Additionally, it is unfortunate that many tractor trailer and/or truck accidents do result from driver fatigue notwithstanding that there are regulations under federal law limiting the number of hours a truck driver can operate his or her truck. In this regard, a driver may not drive beyond the fourteenth consecutive hour after coming on duty, following 10 consecutive hours off duty, and off-duty time does not extend the 14-hour period. Further, a driver may drive a maximum of 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours off duty, and may not drive after 60/70 hours on duty in seven/eight consecutive days. A driver may restart a seven/eight day consecutive day period after taking 34 or more consecutive hours off duty. Drivers using the sleeper berth provision must take at least eight consecutive hours in the sleeper berth, plus a separate two consecutive hours either in a sleeper berth, off duty, or any combination of the two.
The following is a small sample of some of the federal regulations controlling interstate trucking companies and drivers:
49 C.F.R.’ 382 B Controlled Substances and Alcohol Use and Testing
The purpose of this section is to establish programs to prevent accidents and injuries resulting from the misuse of alcohol or use of controlled substances by drivers of commercial motor vehicles, including truck drivers. This provision applies to all drivers of commercial vehicles in the US and their employers, with some limited exceptions. Drivers who are required to have a commercial drivers license (CDL) under Section 383, which includes truck drivers, must be tested if they drive a vehicle that weighs more than 26,000 pounds, has a gross vehicle weight of over 26,000 pounds, is designed to carry 16 or more passengers (including the driver) or is used to carry hazardous materials.
49 C.F.R. ‘ 383 B Commercial Driver’s License Standards; Requirements and Penalties
By requiring drivers of certain vehicles to obtain a commercial drivers license (CDL), this provision aims to reduce or prevent truck accidents. Generally, drivers must have a CDL if they drive a vehicle of more than 26,000 pounds, transport themselves and 15 or more passengers or carry hazardous materials. Therefore, most truck drivers must carry a valid CDL and receive appropriate training regarding the safe operation of their vehicles.
49 C.F.R. ‘ 391 B Qualification of Drivers
Tractor-trailer drivers or drivers or other commercial vehicles weighing over 10,000 pounds, carrying 16 or more passengers or transporting hazardous materials must comply with additional regulations. Such drivers must be at least 21 years old, speak English, be physically able to safely operate a truck, have a valid CDL and must not have been disqualified for driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, committing a felony, leaving the scene of an accident, refusing to take an alcohol test or any other reason.
49 C.F.R. ‘ 392 B Driving of Commercial Motor Vehicles
Truck drivers, as well as the trucking company responsible for the management, maintenance, operation or driving of any commercial motor vehicles or the hiring, supervision, training or dispatching of drivers must comply with federal regulations. Drivers may not drive while sick or tired and may not use illegal drugs, must obey traffic laws, load cargo safely, perform periodic inspections and drive cautiously in hazardous conditions.
49 C.F.R. ‘ 393 B Parts and Accessories Necessary for Safe Operation
The purpose of this section is to ensure that trucks driven on interstate roads are safe. Specific regulations pertain to lighting devices and reflectors, brakes and brake performance, tires, emergency equipment, shifting or falling cargo, securement systems, frames, doors, hood, seats, bumpers, wheels and steering wheel systems.
49 C.F.R. ‘ 395 B Hours of Service of Drivers
The Hours-of-Service regulations put limits in place for when and how long commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers may drive. A driver may not drive beyond the 14th consecutive hour after coming on duty, following 10 consecutive hours off duty, and off-duty time does not extend the 14-hour period. Further, a driver may drive a maximum of 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours off duty, and may not drive after 60/70 hours on duty in 7/8 consecutive days. A driver may restart a 7/8 consecutive day period after taking 34 or more consecutive hours off duty. Drivers using the sleeper berth provision must take at least 8 consecutive hours in the sleeper berth, plus a separate 2 consecutive hours either in the sleeper berth, off duty, or any combination of the two.
The term “On-Duty” is broadly defined to include the time a driver begins to work until the driver is relieved of all responsibility, including:
- Time at a plant, terminal or other facility of a motor carrier or shipper;
- Time inspecting or servicing the truck;
- Driving time;
- All non-driving time in the truck (except for time resting in the sleeper);
- Time repairing the vehicle or obtaining help to repair it;
- Time spent providing a drug test, including travel time;
- Time performing any work for a common or private motor carrier; and,
- Time spent performing any compensated work for a non-motor carrier business.
49 C.F.R. ‘ 396 B Inspection, Repair and Maintenance
Under this section, the motor carrier is responsible for ensuring that all parts are in proper working condition and must maintain repair and inspection records. Drivers must inspect their trucks at the start of each day and report any defects C and may not drive a vehicle that is defective or likely to break down.
49 C.F.R. ‘ 397 B Transportation of Hazardous Materials
These provisions apply to drivers of commercial motor vehicles that transport hazardous materials. They also apply to motor carriers who are involved with transporting hazardous materials and employees of these carriers who perform supervisory duties related to the transportation of hazardous materials. Generally, the driver of a commercial motor vehicle that is carrying explosives cannot leave the vehicle unattended. There are also restrictions about where a driver carrying explosive materials can park, and smoking is not allowed within 25 feet of a truck containing explosives or flammable materials.
Truck Accident Injuries
Accidents caused by 18-wheelers, semi-trucks or any other large trucks cause injuries that are often more serious and catastrophic than other types of motor vehicle accidents due to their superior size and strength. Common injuries as a result of truck accidents include but are not limited to:
- Traumatic Brain Injury;
- Head injuries;
- Spinal cord injuries;
- Bone fractures;
- Amputation injuries; and
- Internal organ bruising.
Truck Accident Insurance
Fortunately for victims, bodily injury insurance coverage for commercial vehicles is extensive and mandated by both Federal and New York law. If a number of parties through various causes are found to be liable in the event of an accident involving a commercial vehicle (i.e. driver, equipment, maintenance), then it may be the case that multiple insurance policies will provide compensation for that single accident.
As a victim involved in a truck accident, there have been laws enacted in the State of New York, commonly referred to as No-Fault, that provide benefits for truck accident victims which allow for coverage related to your medical, remedial and certain health care expenses including lost earnings as defined by the State of New York insurance law. This coverage is known as “Basic Economic Loss” and is available for up to $50,000.00 per person. The purpose of this coverage is to provide you with monies to cover medical costs, lost wages and other reasonable expenses shortly after the accident. However, these benefits have nothing to do with recovering compensation for your pain and suffering as a result of your injuries sustained in the truck accident. The compensation for pain and suffering is obtained as a result of a claim and/or lawsuit which is made against all the responsible parties. For a more detailed explanation concerning No-Fault benefits which arise due to an accident with a motor vehicle, please visit our separate website content entitled “HOW ARE MEDICAL/HEALTH EXPENSES, LOST EARNINGS AND OTHER EXPENSES COVERED AS A RESULT OF A MOTOR VEHICLE ACCIDENT?”
HOW WE CAN HELP YOU
Ira Perlman and Robert Rosen have over 30 years of experience in winning their clients full and complete monetary compensation for their harms and losses as well as the respect and dignity they so justly deserve. Mr. Perlman is a tenacious and seasoned trial attorney who has been successfully trying his clients’ cases as well as cases referred to the office from other attorneys for over 30 years. Mr. Rosen, with his adept litigation and writing skills has navigated clients’ lawsuits inside and outside the courthouse in order to achieve the excellent results that generate their ongoing success. The Law Offices of Ira M. Perlman, P.C. & Robert D. Rosen, P.C. are prepared to expend all of the necessary resources, financial or otherwise, in order to investigate and prosecute your case including retaining all necessary medical and/or technical experts in the relevant areas and fields and taking your case to verdict at trial if the insurance companies who represent the wrongdoers do not want to fully and fairly compensate you and your loved ones. If you, a family member or a loved one has become a victim due to an accident, malpractice or a serious injury and you would like to achieve optimum results relating to your claims, call the Law Offices of Ira M. Perlman, P.C. & Robert D. Rosen, P.C. at (212) 689-5000 for help now including a free initial consultation.