What Are Your Legal Rights After an Accident Involving a Commercial Truck?
The size and weight of commercial trucks increase the risk of serious injury if you’re in an accident with one. In 2017, there were approximately 13.2 million commercial trucks and buses registered in the United States. That same year, there were 121,000 crashes with injuries involving large trucks and buses. There were 4,889 fatal crashes involving these vehicles. These statistics factor only the vehicles weighing more than 10,000 pounds. There are thousands more that involve smaller commercial trucks
What if it’s you or a family member? What if you’ve been hit by a commercial vehicle or are helping a loved one who has? There are laws that protect you in different situations. These are the things you should know.
Truckers Must Abide by Federal and State Laws
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has several federal laws for truck drivers to follow. One of the laws is that drivers cannot drive while impaired. They cannot drive while under the influence of alcohol, marijuana, or another drug. Some prescription drugs impair driving skills and must also be avoided. Truckers agree to random drug/alcohol tests, pre-employment tests, tests when there’s suspicion of a DUI, and tests after an accident.
Truck drivers are required to take breaks to prevent truck driver fatigue. They cannot drive more than 14 hours once on-duty, but that’s lowered to 11 hours if they’ve only had 10 consecutive hours off. They cannot drive more than 60 hours in 7 consecutive days or 70 hours in 8 consecutive days. If they do drive the full 70 hours in one week, they are required to take a full 34 hours off that covers at least two nights (1 a.m. to 5 a.m.) During an 8 hour shift, truck drivers must take at least one 30 minute break.
Specific state laws can override federal laws. If the laws in a specific state differ, drivers must follow state laws first. For example, in California, labor laws require workers in transportation to take a 10-minute break after every 4 hours of work. Shifts longer than 5 hours require the worker to take a 30-minute lunch break, too. A court ruling came out stating that workers would no longer be paid for these breaks, and that’s led to a number of lawsuits. There’s a risk that drivers will remain on the roads and skip breaks, and that can lead to more crashes caused by driver fatigue.
Trucks cannot be overloaded. If they are, it impacts safety. The axles and tires must be able to hold the weight they’re carrying. A two-axle truck can carry up to 34,000 pounds. A three-axle truck has a maximum weight capacity of 55,000 pounds while four axles increase that to 60,000 pounds. Full tractor-trailers use a formula that takes the length of the rig and the number of axles into consideration. When a truck is overloaded, it takes longer to brake and there’s a greater risk of equipment failure.
What Do You Do If You’re a Victim?
What happens if a commercial truck crashes into your vehicle? What happens then? First, take care of yourself. Your priority is to seek medical care. Your vehicle and any belongings in it are secondary to your health and well-being.
The police were likely called to the scene of the crash. Make sure you know the officer’s name. When you’re well enough to leave the hospital, go to the police department to fill out the accident report, if you haven’t already, and ask for the accident report number. You’ll want this when filing a claim.
Back at home, call your auto insurance company. That agent may start the claim against the truck driver’s insurance or give you the information you need to do so yourself. You’ll want to provide the commercial vehicle’s information like plate number and company, the driver’s information and CDL number, and any witness names and contact information. If you or someone else was able to get photos of the scene, make sure you tell the insurance company that you have them.
It can take weeks for the insurance company to investigate the crash and resulting claim. Keep track of the bills you accrue from hospitals and doctors, the time you miss from work or school, and other bills like the bill from the tow truck or flatbed. Submit copies of these bills to the insurance company to add to the claim. The truck driver’s insurance should cover everything if it was his/her fault.
Talk to an expert. When an insurance company offers you a settlement, you are not obligated to accept it. Ask the attorneys at Carpenter & Zuckerman if you’re being treated fairly. Carpenter & Zuckerman works hard to make sure you get the money you need to cover your medical expenses, lost income, pain and suffering, and other bills related to the crash. Best of all, you gain the team’s expertise and don’t pay a penny unless they win. Call 888-CZR-FIRST to arrange a free consultation.
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