Truck Accident Attorneys in Auburn
Accidents involving 18-wheelers and other large commercial trucks are among the deadliest that occur on the roadways. When a big rig truck collides with a passenger vehicle, motorcycle, bicycle, or pedestrian, those involved often sustain severe and catastrophic injuries. These vehicles typically carry more than 80,000 pounds when they are fully loaded, and their sheer weight and size can cause severe damage (to both persons and property) upon impact.
If you or a loved one has been injured in a trucking accident and it was the fault of another party, you deserve to be compensated. These types of cases are far more complicated than standard auto accidents, however. For this reason, it is important to have strong legal counsel in your corner advocating forcefully for your rights and interests.
At Haygood, Cleveland, Pierce, Thompson & Short, LLP, we have successfully represented individuals injured in truck accidents in Alabama for over six decades. Our lawyers have in-depth knowledge of the complexities of these types of cases, and we routinely go up against well-funded adversaries, such as large trucking companies and their insurers. We are skilled litigators and strong negotiators. Whenever possible, we look to negotiate a settlement that fully and fairly compensates our clients for their injuries. If the other side is not willing to negotiate in good faith, however, we are ready and able to pursue full damages through litigation.
COMMON REASONS TRUCK ACCIDENTS OCCUR
Trucking is one of the largest industries in America, with annual revenues exceeding $1 trillion per year. In fact, the industry so large, it accounts for almost 8% of the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP). Trucking is certainly a major part of our economy, and with thousands a big rig trucks rolling through Alabama every day, there are bound to be accidents. Unfortunately, a large percentage of these accidents are preventable and caused by negligence on the part of drivers and others involved in the industry.
Some of the most common causes of truck accidents include:
- Fatigued or drowsy driving: In the trucking industry, drivers are under enormous pressure to deliver their cargo on schedule. Oftentimes, they are given unrealistic deadlines that force them to drive longer than they should. Even though federal regulations call for them to take a break after a certain number of hours on the road, many drivers violate these regulations to make their deliveries on time. Under these conditions, drivers tend to get fatigued, drowsy, or even fall asleep at the wheel, resulting in numerous accidents.
- Speeding or reckless driving: Another way that drivers sometimes deal with the pressure of tight deadlines is to drive aggressively. Speeding excessively, tailgating, going through stoplights and stop signs, and similar behaviors put everyone on the road in danger. In many cases in the United States, the speed limits for trucks could be lower than that of a passenger vehicle. However, even with lower limits, large commercial trucks still speed. Why do they do this? The answer is money. Most commercial truck drivers are paid by the mile and not the hours they work. So, if they drive at a safe speed or are caught in a traffic jam, they will make less money each day. This prompts some to drive at unsafe speeds and still others to take to the roads when Federal rules say that they should be off duty or resting. When speeding trucks get into accidents, the results can be catastrophic. Because of the size and weight of these trucks, the property damage, injuries, and loss of life resulting from truck crashes are often significant.
- Driving while intoxicated: Some truckers get behind the wheel after consuming alcohol, illegal drugs, or an excessive amount of prescription drugs. Sometimes, their consumption of these substances is meant to help relieve the stress of the job. Other times, they use these substances to try to stay awake so they can remain on the road longer.
- Distracted driving: Texting while driving and other types of electronic activity while behind the wheel is a major problem among drivers in all age groups and demographics, including truckers. Engaging with an electronic device while driving is especially dangerous, because it distracts the driver in three ways; visually, manually, and cognitively.
- Overloaded or unevenly loaded trucks: In a rush to get their trucks loaded on time, and to deliver more cargo per load, cargo companies sometimes load trucks beyond their acceptable weight limits, or they load them unevenly. In either case, this throws the truck off balance, increasing the chances of rollovers and other types of accidents, especially when drivers encounter adverse conditions on the road.
- Negligent truck maintenance: Big rig trucks log thousands of miles per month. With this much activity, it is critical that these vehicles be maintained properly. However, those in charge of maintenance are also frequently under pressure to get the trucks back out on the road. One way they might deal with this pressure is to cut corners, which could result in a mechanical failure.
- Vehicle part defects: Another issue that is closely related to poor maintenance is the potential for a defective vehicle or vehicle part to be placed in service. Examples may include faulty brake lines, defective tires, and defective fuel tanks. Under the wrong conditions, these defects can lead to breakdowns on the road with catastrophic results.
- Weather Conditions: When the weather is hazardous or road conditions are even a little off from normal, accidents with large trucks are much more likely due to their size, weight, required stopping distances, and their shape. As an example, due to their size large trucks require 20 to 40 percent more stopping distance than a smaller vehicle would need. In slippery conditions this is even more of a problem.
5 THINGS TO DO IF YOU’RE IN A COMMERCIAL VEHICLE ACCIDENT
1. Identify Witnesses
One of the most important things that you should do is identify witnesses. Ideally, you will be able to do this while at the scene of the truck accident; however, your injuries may preclude this from happening. If you are unable to identify witnesses at the time that your crash occurs, review the police report from your crash and see whether or not any witnesses were named. If so, you should follow up with them as soon as possible in order to get each witness’s statement about what they saw.
2. Promptly Notify the Insurer
As soon as possible after your crash, you should contact your car insurance company and provide them with notice of the accident. Even though you’ll be speaking to your own insurer, you should be careful about what you say – do not admit fault, nor make claims that can’t be verified (like exactly how fast you were traveling at the time of the crash). Once you notify your insurer, your insurer will open an investigation into your accident. This should include connecting with the commercial vehicle driver’s insurer on your behalf. Ask your insurer if they will be doing this – otherwise, you need to provide the other party’s insurer with notice of the crash, too.
3. Send Spoliation of Evidence Letters
Evidence that is relevant to your crash won’t exist forever. But it’s important that you ensure that it exists for as long as possible, and certainly through the duration of your claim. Types of evidence that may be critical, but which could be destroyed, include vehicle maintenance logs, (truck) driver hours of service logs, vehicle “black box” data, and more. In order to guarantee that this evidence is not destroyed, you need to send spoliation of evidence letters to the appropriate companies (likely the commercial vehicle/trucking company).
4. Hire a Truck Accident Reconstruction Expert
Sometimes, fault in a commercial vehicle accident is very clear and straightforward. For example, if a police report indicates that the truck driver was intoxicated beyond the legal limit, and a witness testifies that the truck driver veered off of the road, causing the tractor to tip and cause a crash, it will be very difficult for the trucking company to escape liability or try to place blame for the accident on your shoulders. In many accidents, however, fault is much less clear, and may even by hotly disputed. If this is the case in your commercial vehicle accident claim, you’ll need to connect with a skilled accident reconstruction expert who can work on reconstructing how your accident occurred. This, like an eyewitness’s testimony, can be a valuable way to add clout to your claim and prove your side.
5. Contact an Alabama Personal Injury Attorney
If you haven’t already done so, if you are involved in a commercial vehicle accident, contacting an attorney should be a top priority. Working with an attorney is even more pressing if you have suffered serious injuries in the accident and your damages are significant. An attorney can manage all of the above critical elements of the claims process (identifying witnesses, notifying your insurer, spending spoliation of evidence letters, and hiring accident reconstruction experts) on your behalf, as well as assist you by calculating your damages, issuing a demand letter, and negotiating your settlement. An experienced attorney will also have trial experience, a necessity in the off chance that your claim goes to litigation.
DAMAGES AVAILABLE FOR ALABAMA TRUCK ACCIDENT VICTIMS
When someone is involved in a trucking accident, there are numerous potential parties that may be liable. These may include:
- The truck driver;
- The trucking company that employs the driver;
- The owner or lessor of the truck;
- The cargo company responsible for loading the truck;
- The party responsible for maintaining the truck;
- The vehicle or vehicle part designer, manufacturer, supplier, or distributor.
An extensive investigation is required to determine all the facts and evidence of the case. This may involve obtaining information from parties that are not willing to be cooperative. This is one of the reasons it is important for a seasoned attorney to get involved as early as possible in the process, so all of the critical evidence can be secured, and your legal rights can be preserved.
As mentioned earlier, injuries in truck accident cases are often more severe than with other types of accidents. Compensatory damages that may be available for these types of cases can be divided into two main categories:
- Economic damages: These are losses that are directly quantifiable. Examples include medical expenses (e.g., hospitalization costs, surgeries and other treatments, rehabilitation, costs for ongoing medical care), lost wages, loss of earning capacity, and property damage.
- Non-economic damages: These are losses that are more intangible and difficult to quantify. Examples include physical pain and suffering, emotional distress, diminished quality of life, and loss of consortium.
In rare cases in which the actions of the responsible party were especially egregious, punitive damages may be awarded to “punish” those responsible, and to deter them (and others) from similar behaviors in the future.
HOW TO AVOID ACCIDENTS WITH BIG RIGS
Here are five ways to avoid an accident with a big rig:
- Give Large Trucks Plenty of Space
18-wheelers and other large trucks need room to maneuver on the roadways. If you drive too close to them, you are at risk of several things that could go wrong. These include sudden braking, tire blowouts, truck rollovers due to high winds, and your vehicle being struck by cargo flying out of the back of a truck. Never tailgate a big rig truck (or any other vehicle for that matter), and always give a large truck plenty of distance. This goes double when there are adverse driving conditions such as heavy rain, wind, ice, etc. Also, trucks make much wider turns than regular passenger vehicles, and a fully-loaded tractor-trailer requires about 20% to 40% more breaking distance under normal road conditions.
- Stay Out of Blind Spots
Every vehicle has a blind spot, and nearly a million motor vehicle accidents a year result from drivers failing to see another vehicle that enters their blind spot. The dangers are greater for big rig trucks, because they have multiple blind spots. In total, there are four large areas, one along each side of the truck, one directly behind the truck, and one directly in front of the truck, where the truck driver cannot see you. These areas are commonly referred to as “no zones”. Stay out of these “no zones” as much as possible to help avoid an accident with a semi-truck.
For this reason, it is very important for drivers to spend as little time as possible in an 18-wheeler’s blind spot. Going back to the previous point, give the truck plenty of space. Secondly, only drive alongside a truck long enough to pass them. If there is no opportunity to pass, slow down and give them the room they need.
- Be Careful Merging into Traffic with a Large Truck
Merging into traffic can be very tricky, especially when traffic is heavy and slow. If you are trying to merge into traffic with a truck in the lane next to you, make sure you have plenty of distance between the truck and the next vehicle. If you try to pull in front of a truck then have to slow down quickly, it can be difficult for the truck to brake quickly and adjust. Also, if the truck is passing you while merging, make sure to slow down and get out of his blind spot as quickly as possible.
- Lower your High Beems when Driving Near a Truck after Dark
Most people understand that, when you are driving after dark, you need to turn your brights off when approaching oncoming traffic. You should also have your brights turned off when you are driving behind a vehicle going in the same direction. This is especially true if you are behind a large truck at night. Because they have larger rearview and side mirrors, truck drivers can be blinded by another vehicle’s high beams. Bright headlights may reflect off the truck driver’s large sideview mirrors, blinding them and putting them in danger of a catastrophic accident.
- Avoid Distractions
Distracted driving is causing more motor vehicle accidents these days than ever before. Motorists have always had distractions (e.g., the radio, eating and drinking while driving, vehicle passengers, talking on their phone, etc.), but texting, checking emails, and doing other things on electronic devices while driving adds a whole new level of danger. If at all possible, stay off your phone entirely while driving. If you must talk on the phone, have it in “hands free” mode. And whether you are driving near an 18-wheeler truck or any other vehicle, there is never a good time to send texts while driving. Wait until your vehicle is fully parked before you respond to text messages or emails.
ALABAMA PERSONAL INJURY LAWS
If your trucking accident occurred in Alabama, the case may be further complicated by the state’s “contributory negligence” legal doctrine. Under contributory negligence, if an injured party is found to be even 1% at fault for the underlying accident that caused the injury, they can be barred from recovering compensation. This is another reason it is very important to work with an attorney who understands these types of cases and has a successful track record pursuing compensation on behalf of their clients. Alabama also has a two-year statute of limitations for most personal injury cases, so it is best to get in touch with an attorney sooner rather than later.
SPEAK WITH A SKILLED ALABAMA TRUCK ACCIDENT LAWYER
Trucking accidents can turn your whole world upside down. Those involved often suffer severe and debilitating injuries, and it can take months or even years to recover or to reach maximum medical improvement. At Haygood, Cleveland, Pierce, Thompson & Short, we know that truck accidents can take a major physical, emotional, and financial toll on victims and their families, and we do everything possible to help ensure that the legal process is smooth and seamless. From the outside, we thoroughly investigate the case to determine which parties were at fault and to put together a strong legal strategy to recover full compensation. Throughout the process, we communicate regularly and provide ongoing updates for our clients, so they are always kept informed. If you were someone close to you was injured in a big rig accident in Alabama, call our office today at 334-821-3892 to schedule a free consultation with one of our attorneys. You may also send us a message through our online contact form or stop by our Auburn office at your convenience.