The value of your trucking crash case is dependent upon your lawyer’s ability to prove that the truck driver and the company he or she worked for were negligent, and that it was their negligence that caused the crash. This requires a lawyer with a special skill set and knowledge of issues specific to truck crash cases. Specifically, the lawyer should know the law and the regulations related to the trucking industry, and should utilize that knowledge at every level of the litigation process to maximize the value of the cases. Professional truck drivers and trucking companies are regulated by the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Regulations. In Florida, they are also regulated by statutory laws that govern the operation of all motor vehicles.
Maximizing Your Truck Accident Claim
To maximize the value of a trucking case, it’s important to prove that both the trucking company and the driver were actively negligent, and that their negligence caused or substantially contributed to the crash. A trucking case with a serious injury needs to be litigated. In other words, if your lawyer suggests settling the case before filing a lawsuit, you should get a second opinion. There are instances when settling a pre-suit is a good idea, but in most cases the insurance company of a trucking company will not take your case seriously until you show them they have a serious problem. The best way to do that, and to get maximum leverage for your case, is to file the lawsuit and initiate the discovery process, where you gather evidence.
The discovery process is specifically designed to gather evidence proving that not only was the truck driver negligent, but the company was also negligent for failing to properly train the driver. This is extremely important, because juries are much more likely to return large verdicts against companies they feel were careless, and whose carelessness caused or contributed to the injury or death of an innocent victim. Negligence is defined as the failure to use reasonable care under the circumstances. Failure of a trucking company or a professional truck driver to follow the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations is evidence of negligence. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations specifically state that trucking companies have a duty to teach/train, and truck drivers have a duty to learn, the regulations. The regulations include 20 different subject areas, which must be learned by the drivers. Among the subject areas most neglected are space management, speed management, defensive driving, nighttime driving, and hazard perception and avoidance.
Common Causes Of Truck Accidents
Many trucking crashes are caused by the professional truck driver’s failure to utilize effective space management practices. Space management involves making sure the truck has enough space to avoid or evade a potential crash. Professional truckers should always be aware that they are driving massive machines that will destroy anything in their path. Truckers should constantly monitor their surroundings, maintaining awareness of potential dangers. If there is a car with flashing hazard lights on the right side of the road, for example, a reasonable and prudent truck driver will move to the left lane when possible, to make sure there is enough space between the truck and any potential hazards. Professional truck drivers should also maintain awareness of the distance between them and the vehicle in front of them. A 52,000 truck requires 560 feet to come to a complete stop at 70 miles per hour. A professional truck driver should know this information, choose lanes and speed accordingly. Likewise, the trucking company has a duty to train its drivers regarding space management. Failure to do so often results in serious injuries or deaths that could have been avoided with proper training.
Another frequent cause of trucking crashes is inadequate speed management. Like space management, speed management requires the knowledge of how much time and space it takes for a truck to either come to a complete stop or change lanes to avoid a crash. Rear end collisions are the most frequent type of trucking crash cases, and most of them involve the failure of the truck driver to practice adequate speed management principles. More importantly, the truck driver’s failure is most often directly related to the trucking company’s failure to properly train its drivers and to have a system in place for reinforcing that training.
Defensive Driving For Truckers
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety regulations also require trucking companies to adequately train their drivers regarding defensive driving. The industry standard for defensive driving is called Smith System training. The Smith System for defensive driving involves the following elements:
- Aim high in steering. Always look 12 to 15 seconds ahead;
- Get the big picture. Frequently check your rear view mirrors and scan your surroundings;
- Keep your eyes moving. Don’t fix your eyes on any single object for more than 2 seconds;
- Leave yourself an out. Give yourself enough space to respond to potential hazards in the roadway;
- Make sure they see you. Attempt to get eye contact with other drivers, keep headlights on in dark or dim areas, use your horn when appropriate.
The reality is that most trucking accidents could be avoided if professional truck drivers followed these five principles. Effective trucking accident lawyers hone in on these principles and how they could have prevented the crash in question if the driver had followed them. A key to maximizing the case value is showing what should have happened if the trucking company had properly trained the driver. These Smith System keys should be explored in every deposition taken in the case to drill down to the bottom of whether they were adhered to or not, and if not, why not. Most often, it comes down to a lack of proper training and direction by the company. When the company is found to be actively negligent in causing the crash, jury verdicts tend to be higher. The trucking companies’ insurance carriers know this, so they offer better settlements to the clients whose lawyers established this type of evidence.
Trucking Hazard Perception And Avoidance
With regards to hazard perception and avoidance, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations state that professional truck drivers should be properly trained in the following skills:
(13) Hazard perceptions. The basic information on hazard perception and clues for recognition of hazards, including:
(i) Road characteristics; and
(ii) Road user activities.
(14) Emergency maneuvers. The basic information concerning when and how to make emergency maneuvers, including:
(i) Evasive steering;
(ii) Emergency stop;
(iii) Off road recovery;
(iv) Brake failure; and
With regards to nighttime driving, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations require training in the following skills:
(11) Night operation. Preparations and procedures for night driving, including:
(i) Night driving factors, e.g., driver factors (vision, glare, fatigue, inexperience);
(ii) Roadway factors (low illumination, variation in illumination, unfamiliarity with roads, other road users, especially drivers exhibiting erratic or improper driving); and
(20) Fatigue and awareness. Practices that are important to staying alert and safe while driving, including;
(i) Being prepared to drive;
(ii) What to do when driving to avoid fatigue;
(iii) What to do when sleepy while driving; and
(iv) What to do when becoming ill while driving.
(iii) Vehicle factors (headlights, auxiliary lights, turn signals, windshields and mirrors).
The lack of proper training in any of these areas can result in death or serious injury. For that reason, trucking companies should take these requirements very seriously. The safe operation of the trucks should be the number one goal of the company and should be instilled in the company culture through a systematic training program.
Experienced Trucking Accident Lawyers
Through litigating many trucking cases, we have found that most trucking companies fall far short of following the rules related to trucking safety. As a result, there are thousands of serious injury and fatal trucking cases every year that could have been avoided if the companies took their legal duties more seriously. One way to make sure trucking companies follow the rules is to hold them fully accountable when their failures result in injury or death. For that reason, it’s vitally important to hire a lawyer that knows the rules the companies must follow and knows how to expose the companies’ failure to follow the rules. The amount of your settlement or judgment is directly related to how effectively your lawyer can prove the trucking company violated multiple rules.