The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation, has a set of regulations that govern truck operators. Employers, unfortunately, often ignore these regulations.
These rules address criminal background checks, medical checks, hours of operation, and other regulations and when they are ignored, every driver on the road is at risk. Employers who help facilitate the employment of an unqualified truck driver can be held liable should the driver be responsible for an accident in which someone is injured or loses their lives.
Rules Governing All Truck Drivers
Driving an 18-wheeler takes skill, and in California, residents who wish to obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL) must have the following:
- A valid Class D license
- Proof of insurance
- Driving record check for 10 years
- Screening by Transportation Security Administration (TSA)
- Social Security Card
While there are some limited exceptions to these rules, these are generally the requirements for obtaining a CDL. Keep in mind, these requirements are in addition to any coursework, road tests, physical exams that a driver must undergo to become qualified. With a shortage of truck drivers, which is only anticipated to get worse, many employers ignore problems and hire drivers who would otherwise be unqualified to operate on California roadways. This poses a serious risk for every person using the roadways.
Truck Accident Statistics
According to reports issued by FMCSA, 121,000 accidents involved a truck or bus in one recent year. Approximately one-half, 56,422, were accidents involving trucks. More than 4,600 of these accidents involved a fatality.
A review of the various reports shows some additional statistics that should concern every California motorist.
- 4,000 injuries and 147 fatalities were a result of a truck driver losing control of the vehicle
- 30,000 injuries and 936 fatalities were caused by a truck’s movements, defined as crossing an intersection, turning left or right, crossing lane lines, and deceleration
- 388 Pedestrians and cyclists lost their lives, and as many as 2,000 were injured as a result of a truck crash
- More than 4,500 fatal truck accidents were the result of a defect in the vehicle
- Reports that are currently available show 4,136 people died in large truck crashes in one year
While these statistics reflect totals from across the United States, it is worth noting there are slightly more than 500,000 large trucks registered in California, but there are an additional 1.8 million that are registered to use California roadways.
Who Is Unqualified to Drive a Truck?
Unqualified truck drivers receive insufficient training, have a spotty driving record, or were found guilty of a crime that would prevent them from obtaining a CDL. Naturally, a driver with an invalid CDL, or a driver who lacks one altogether, would be unqualified.
Other situations that could result in being disqualified include:
- Truck drivers who fail to meet vision requirements
- Failure to pass required written tests
- Being unfamiliar with how air brakes work
- Understand the process to inspect a truck
Drivers who have poor driving records are often hired by employers who cannot find qualified drivers. This puts others on the roadway at risk.
Other Types of Employer Negligence
While hiring an unqualified driver is considered negligent, there are other forms of negligence that an employer may be responsible for, including:
- Failure to properly train – Should an employer fail to inform drivers about safe driving techniques, ensure they have the proper defensive driving skills, and make sure they are aware of acceptable procedures, the employer could be negligent.
- Failure to thoroughly screen – When an employer fails to conduct proper background checks they could miss or ignore convictions for reckless driving, and could fail to be aware of drug or alcohol-related offenses.
- Encouraging non-compliance – The NTSB has stringent rules pertaining to rest breaks and sleep times. Employers may offer a driver bonuses for delivering faster, which may result in aggressive driving, drowsy driving, or careless driving.
- Improperly equipped trucks – In some cases, employers fail their drivers, and others who share the road with them by failing to install proper safety equipment, or failing to maintain such equipment including required lighting.
Such negligence can result in serious roadway accidents.
Common Types of Truck Accidents
Unqualified drivers of any size vehicles are problematic. Given the size of a truck, which leaves other drivers vulnerable, serious accidents can take place when an unqualified truck driver operates a truck.
Some of the accident types involving unqualified truck drivers may include:
- Rear end accidents causing pileups – Trucks do not stop as easily as cars. When road conditions are bad, such as after a rainstorm, trucks need more distance to come to a full stop. When an unqualified driver lacks familiarity with stopping distances, pileups can occur and result in multiple injuries or fatalities.
- Rollover accidents -Off-ramps, sharp curves in roadways, or sharp turns required to navigate to a new roadway can be deadly when the driver is unfamiliar with proper driving techniques required to handle a long, top heavy truck. When an unqualified driver fails to slow to the appropriate speed to handle any of these deadly turns, they can cause a catastrophic rollover accident.
- Jackknife accidents – There are few things more terrifying to see on a roadway than a jackknifed truck. This is often a result of the trucker’s failure to exercise the proper caution when applying brakes to make sure the trailer and tractor do not misalign. These accidents often result in the driver losing control of the truck and colliding with other vehicles.
- Head-on collisions – Driving drowsy, drunk, or drugged are common reasons for a head-on collision. Drivers who fail to pay attention to the road for any of these reasons can cause deadly accidents regardless of the size of the vehicle they are operating.
The Aftermath of Truck Accidents
Any motor vehicle accident can result in serious injury. When a truck is involved, however, the injuries suffered by victims are nearly always more severe than injuries suffered in an accident involving two cars, or even a pickup truck. Unloaded 18-wheelers can weigh as much as 10 times more than a car.
Injuries victims of a truck accident may suffer include:
- Traumatic brain injury – Forceful impacts can result in skull fractures, brain injuries, and other injuries to the head that can have a lifelong impact on victims. Studies show motor vehicle accidents are the second most common cause of traumatic brain injuries (TBI).
- Spinal cord injury – An accident involving a truck could result in your body being thrown around or twisted resulting in spinal cord damage. This type of injury will have an impact on the victim for their entire life.
- Broken bones – We seldom give much thought to the automatic response our bodies have to an accident, including bracing ourselves. This type of bracing can result in broken arms or legs. Victims of an accident may also suffer pelvic breaks or broken ribs. Depending on the severity of the breaks, victims may be faced with multiple surgical procedures.
- Soft tissue injuries – You may not think a few bumps and bruises are a bad outcome after an accident involving a truck, but what you may be unaware of is the underlying damage. Pulled muscles, torn ligaments, and other soft tissue injuries not immediately diagnosed can cause weeks or months of pain.
- Neck injuries – Damage to spinal discs, whiplash and nerve damage could occur during an accident with a large truck. These injuries can be particularly difficult to diagnose and yet victims can suffer serious pain after these types of injuries.
Victims of a truck accident often must face long-term recovery that can result in their being out of work for several weeks or months. In very serious accidents, a victim of a truck accident may never return to their prior job.
Recovering Financial Damages After a Truck Accident
When you have suffered injuries in a truck accident, you have a right to make sure those injuries do not ultimately result in financial devastation for you and your family. Time lost from work can result in a serious financial issue, particularly when you cannot determine how long you will be recovering. California requires drivers on the roadway to maintain certain levels of insurance—however, these policies may not cover the financial losses you are facing with repeated doctor visits, rehabilitation costs, costs associated with pain treatment, and time lost from work.
Operators of commercial vehicles are required to maintain higher levels of liability insurance than those who are operating a standard motor vehicle. Determining where the fault for your injuries should be placed, an unqualified truck driver, a negligent truck driver, or a negligent employer, may require the assistance of a truck accident attorney.
As a victim of a truck accident, you may have the right to seek compensation for the financial losses you suffer including lost wages, your medical care, and other financial losses. Under California statutes of limitations, you have only two years after an accident to file a claim.
Protecting Your Rights Following a Truck Accident
Your primary concern after a truck accident is your physical recovery. However, you must also take proactive steps to ensure your rights are protected. Immediately following the accident, you must seek medical attention. You should make every attempt to document the scene of the accident including taking photographs of the vehicles, photos indicating roadway signs, and obtaining information from witnesses. This is in addition to obtaining the contact, license, and insurance information of the drivers involved in the accident. If you physically cannot do this, you should ask someone at the scene, if possible, to do so on your behalf.
When speaking to law enforcement officers, or the other drivers involved, avoid taking any responsibility for the accident, or commenting on your physical well-being. Doing so could put any claim in jeopardy. This also applies when speaking with an insurance adjuster—before answering any questions posed by an adjuster, contact an attorney who will advise you what questions you should answer. You should never sign any documents presented to you by an insurance adjuster without having them reviewed by a truck accident attorney since they could potentially contain language that can result in your forfeiting rights to sue the responsible parties.
Truck Accident Lawyers and Fees
Victims of truck accidents, or families who have lost a loved one due to a truck accident caused by an unqualified truck driver are concerned about paying for an attorney. Let’s face it, when you are facing financial challenges because you cannot work, or the loved one who died in a truck accident was the family’s primary breadwinner, money is tight and hiring a lawyer may feel like an impossibility. Truck accident attorneys will often work on a contingency basis, meaning they are not paid for their services unless they can secure a settlement on your behalf.
Being in any type of roadway accident is a traumatic event, one most of us never think about. However, you do have rights under California law, and the best way to make sure those rights are not violated is to contact an attorney. Victims of a truck accident often do not know where to turn and they often feel their best option is to trust the insurance company. However, it is important to remember that insurance adjusters are there to protect the insurance company from paying out more than necessary on claims that are filed—they are not there to help victims.
Do not jeopardize your rights after a truck accident. Let your lawyer deal with insurance adjusters and help you get back on a sound financial footing after a truck accident. When you work with a lawyer, they can investigate the accident more thoroughly, and help you determine what compensation you may be entitled to for your injuries. You can then focus on recovering from your injuries, and let someone else worry about dealing with the legal challenges of a truck accident.