If you are injured in a trucking accident, the questions of who is liable and what actually caused the accident can be much more complicated than those questions would be in a car-on-car collision. More are players involved – the driver, the owner of the truck, and usually leasing companies and other parties – so determining what went wrong often requires some trucking industry knowledge.

Thousands of trucks move into and out of South Florida every day. Understanding why truck accidents happen, and understanding the relationships among the parties involved, can help a truck accident victim determine if he or she has grounds to pursue a personal injury claim. While this is a general look at the overall causes of truck accidents, if you are injured in a South Florida truck crash, it’s best to discuss the particulars of your case with an experienced West Palm Beach personal injury attorney.

In the last twenty years, the number of truck collisions in the United States has jumped by about twenty percent. According to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, in 2013, 3,964 people were killed and an estimated 95,000 people were injured in crashes involving large trucks. In the United States, an estimated 342,000 large trucks were involved in police-reported traffic collisions during 2013.

Of the truck accident fatalities in the U.S. in 2013, 71 percent were the occupants of other vehicles, 17 percent were occupants in the trucks, and 11 percent were nonoccupants (pedestrians or others). Of the others injured in truck accidents in 2013, 72 percent were the occupants of other vehicles, 25 percent were occupants in the trucks, and 2 percent were nonoccupants. Of the fatal crashes involving large trucks in 2013, 79 percent occurred on weekdays.

Truck Accident Fatalities in 2013
Trucking accidents typically cause much greater harm than ordinary traffic accidents due to the large size and heavy weight of the larger trucks. Semis and tractor-trailers often weigh twenty to thirty times more than the average automobile, so even a large pickup or an SUV is no match for that kind of size and weight. A fully loaded tractor-trailer typically weighs about 80,000 pounds, while a typical passenger car weighs in at about 4,000 pounds. If that’s not frightening enough, consider that many trucks also carry toxic chemicals, flammables, and explosives.

The trucking industry is governed by federal regulations that trucking companies, drivers, and owners must meet and which often determine who is responsible in a truck crash. At the federal level, the trucking industry is regulated by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Each state also has its own Transportation Department and regulatory requirements for truck drivers and owners. Trucking companies and drivers who are not in compliance with state and federal regulations are subject to large fines. They’re also more likely to be responsible for serious trucking accidents. What are the leading causes of truck crashes in the United States?

1. FATIGUE AND DRIVER NEGLIGENCE

For as long as there has been a commercial trucking industry in the United Sates, virtually every research study and survey about truck accidents has shown that the leading cause is driver fatigue. Under federal regulations, truck drivers must break for at least thirty minutes after a day’s first eight hours of driving, and drivers may not drive more than eleven hours a day or seventy hours a week.

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The trucking industry’s payment system, however, actually encourages truck drivers to stay behind the wheel even when they are fatigued. When drivers can earn considerably more by driving one more hour, it’s a big temptation. While it’s the leading cause, fatigue is not the only cause of truck accidents. Drinking, texting, and other instances of negligent driving cause accidents too.

2. IMPROPER HIRING

If a trucking company employs a driver without a comprehensive background screening, that driver could be dangerous on the road. A history of reckless or distracted driving or driving under the influence should automatically disqualify a candidate for a truck driving job. Drivers with little experience also pose a risk. Frequent driver re-training and refresher programs should be a routine, regular part of every truck driver’s work. Continual monitoring and evaluation of a driver’s performance are also imperative.

3. IMPROPER LOADING

When a truck’s load is not properly secured and distributed on the trailer, a truck can malfunction catastrophically. With an unbalanced load, a truck can tip over when making a sharp turn. Even if the truck doesn’t tip, if the cargo isn’t rightly secured, it can fall off the truck and onto the road. Improperly-secured cargo poses a genuine danger to a truck’s safe operation and a genuine threat to anyone nearby. About seven percent of all serious truck accidents are caused by cargo shifting or falling from a truck. Federal law specifies that “Cargo must be firmly immobilized or secured on or within a vehicle.”

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4. DEFECTIVE EQUIPMENT OR PARTS

Equipment failures include design and manufacturing flaws as well as maintenance and mechanical matters like the failure to maintain tires or brakes. Federal regulations require every truck driver and every trucking company to conduct regular and routine safety inspections and maintenance of their vehicles, but too often the guidelines and regulations are ignored or forgotten.

5. POOR DRIVING CONDITIONS

Because trucks can weigh twenty or thirty times what a car weighs, a truck needs a lot more braking distance in bad weather. If a street or highway was improperly designed and constructed, or if it’s poorly maintained, it can be an accident waiting to happen, and bad weather only exacerbates the dangers that are posed. In South Florida, truck accident victims should discuss their options with an experienced West Palm Beach personal injury attorney. If you’re injured in an accident with a truck, almost certainly, someone can be held liable.

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All personal injury claims are about determining negligence and liability, but truck accident claims are much more complicated than most claims because so many parties – as well as federal and state trucking regulations – are involved. When an injury is catastrophic or permanently disabling, determining who is responsible is imperative. Parties who may or may not be responsible for a victim’s injuries in a truck collision include:

  • the driver
  • the owner or owners of the vehicle or the trailer
  • the company or person that has leased the truck or trailer
  • the manufacturers of the vehicle, the tires, or of any defective equipment or parts
  • the shipper or the loaders of the cargo

In many cases, federal law now makes it somewhat easier to determine liability in some truck accident cases. Any company owning a trucking permit is responsible for any accidents involving a truck that has the company’s sign or name displayed on the vehicle. It doesn’t matter what the lease says or if the driver is legally an employee or an independent contractor. If you’re injured in an accident with a truck, in most cases, the law is on your side.