Truck Accidents

Truck Accidents

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Due to size disparities and the basic laws of physics, any collision between a commercial truck and a passenger car is likely to result in serious injuries and significant property damage.

The lawyers of Sanders & Parks have more than 30 years of experience standing up for the rights of injured people in Phoenix, Arizona, and throughout the United States. If you or a loved one has been involved in a truck accident, we can help. We are innovative, energetic attorneys who care about our clients. We take the time to get to know you and your needs. We work hard to meet your needs.

Overview


A traffic accident involving a large commercial truck can have disastrous consequences. A typical fully loaded 18-wheeler or semi truck can weigh over 80,000 pounds; compare this to the average passenger vehicle, which only weighs around 4,000 pounds. The massive size of these trucks means that any collision between them and a vehicle that is 20 times smaller is likely to result in serious or fatal injuries. If a truck is carrying hazardous chemicals or flammable materials at the time of an accident, the resulting injuries may be even more severe. This is because secondary injuries like burns and respiratory injuries, attributable to the dangerous or toxic cargo can result to vehicle occupants and innocent bystanders alike.

If you or a loved one has been involved in an accident with a commercial vehicle, you may be entitled to recover compensation for your injuries by bringing a legal claim against the responsible parties. An experienced trucking accident attorney at Sanders & Parks PC in Phoenix, AZ, can help determine whether you have a claim.


Proving your case

In general, the main legal theory of liability in a truck accident case (or any other motor vehicle accident case) is negligence. To establish a case, the injured party, known in legal terms as the “plaintiff” must show that the truck driver or other party (the “defendant” or “defendants”):

  1. Owed a duty to the plaintiff to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances
  2. Breached or failed in that duty
  3. This breach was the cause of the plaintiff’s injury
  4. Plaintiff suffered harm because of the breach

It is critical to begin investigating an accident as soon as possible so that evidence is preserved. There are a variety of types of information to be gathered after a crash that could be relevant to legal claims. These include information about previous violations of regulations by the trucking company or driver involved, the truck’s maintenance records, the speed the truck and your vehicle were traveling, the location of the impact on the vehicles’ exteriors, the truck driver’s log book and statements from eye witnesses or first responders to the accident scene (emergency personnel like police officers, firefighters, EMTs or state motorist assistance crews). Another crucial piece of evidence is the truck’s so-called “black box,” which records data before, during and after a collision. It will probably also be useful to investigate the trucking company’s policies and procedures.

An expert can also be a tremendous resource to use in proving your truck accident case. An expert can testify about the possible negligence of a trucking company based on his or her familiarity with trucking regulations and industry standards. An expert can be any person who has significant experience in the trucking field, such as a trucking company’s safety director, the former owner of a trucking company, a former investigator from the Department of Transportation (or the state-level equivalent) or a computer expert who can help interpret data pulled from a “black box.”

Potential defendants

Depending on the specific circumstances surrounding your truck accident, your lawyer may be able to pursue claims against third parties in addition to claims against the truck driver him or herself( and his or her insurance company). If the trucker is not an independent operator, then the trucking company or motor carrier employer, safety director for the carrier, diesel mechanic or tech who worked on the truck, state vehicle inspector and a truck or part manufacturer may also be liable for your injuries.

When a commercial truck accident occurs, if an employment relationship is established between the truck driver and a trucking or shipping company, then that company could be held liable for the driver’s negligence under a legal theory known as respondeat superior. Under this doctrine, a trucking company or other employer can be held responsible for the wrongful acts of its employee (in the case, the at-fault driver). Trucking companies may try to fight liability under this theory by arguing that the wrongful act did not occur within the scope of employment or that the driver was an independent contractor rather than an employee.

In some cases, the manufacturer of the truck may also be held liable if the accident was caused by some defect in the truck or one if its vital components, as might the maker of a particular part (if they are different legal entities). Liability might also lie with a shipper of hazardous materials carried by the truck if injuries were caused or exacerbated by the truck’s cargo. For example, if a shipper fails to advise a truck driver or trucking company of hazardous material contained in a load of freight, the shipper may be liable for injuries that result if that material catches fire or is released.

If a third party logistics company (a company that specializes in brokering transportation services but is not itself a motor carrier) is involved, it may be difficult to recover from that company. Examples of well-known third party logistics providers include DHL, Nippon and C.H.Robinson. Many court cases on this subject have held that the respondeat superior doctrine cannot be used against logistics companies because they generally engage in independent contractor relationships with common carriers and are therefore exempt from liability. In addition, certain provisions of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s regulations serve to limit the liability of third party logistics companies in personal injury cases.

Speak to a trucking accident lawyer

A traffic accident involving a tractor trailer, 18-wheeler, semi truck or other commercial vehicle can result in serious physical injury and property damage, particularly to occupants of smaller passenger cars and trucks. If you or a loved one has been injured in a truck accident, you may be entitled to compensation. It is important to contact an experienced truck accident attorney at Sanders & Parks PC in Phoenix, AZ, to discuss your case as soon as possible.

What to Do if You Are Injured in a Truck Accident


Any motor vehicle accident could potentially result in serious injuries and property damage. This is especially true when the crash involves a large commercial vehicle. If you or a family member was involved in a truck accident, you may be unsure about what you should do next.

What follows is a general guide to what you should do immediately after an accident involving a tanker, tractor trailer, semi or 18-wheeler. Your first priority should be taking care of any injuries you sustained; you need to seek medical attention immediately. As soon as possible after an accident, you also need to contact an attorney.


Say nothing

When talking to the police or highway patrol about the accident, it is important to be truthful, but to also keep your comments minimal. Limit yourself to asking if anyone was hurt. You should definitely not:

  • Apologize
  • Express a belief that the accident was your fault
  • Tell the other driver that your employer will “take care of everything”
  • Say “I didn’t see you” or something similar

Comments like these could be taken as an admission of fault. At this stage, it is often too early to determine legal liability, and you do not want to risk damaging your case or jeopardizing your rights down the road.

Report the accident

Call 911 to report the accident immediately, especially if there are any injuries. Many states’ laws require that you report an accident right away; leaving the scene of an accident without waiting for the police to come is a crime in most jurisdictions. Reporting an accident and ensuring that a police report is generated is also important from an insurance perspective.

See a doctor

It is best to see a doctor soon after an accident, even if you are not sure that you need it. You may be dazed or in shock from the accident and not notice your own injuries. In addition, some injuries, particularly head or brain trauma, may not manifest right away. It can take time and sophisticated medical testing to determine the real impact. It is important to make sure that you have not sustained any serious injuries, or if you have, that you are seen by a doctor or other health care professional immediately so that proper treatment can begin.

Notify your insurance company

Instructions on how to report a claim, including the person or office to whom it must be reported, will be found in your insurance policy, so you should call your insurer as soon as you can. You should also review your policy to find out how much and what kind of coverage you have.

The role of a personal injury attorney

If you or a loved one has been seriously injured in a truck accident, it is important to contact a personal injury lawyer as soon as you can. You will likely need to file a legal claim to ensure that you are properly compensated, and it is is critical to have an attorney begin investigating the accident and preserving evidence as early in the process as possible. An attorney can assist you with gathering evidence such as:

  • Information regarding the truck’s age, condition and maintenance records
  • The speed the truck was traveling at the time of the accident
  • The truck driver’s log book, GPS information and the truck’s “black box”
  • Witness statements from eyewitnesses and first responders
  • The driver’s driving history and whether he or she had any prior accidents
  • The company’s accident history
  • The relationship between the driver and the carrier (i.e. whether the driver was an employee or an independent contractor)
  • The transportation company’s policies and procedures regarding safety and maintenance

Your attorney will also be able to work with expert witnesses who may be needed to testify about the possible negligence of a trucking company or driver. An expert can be any person who has experience in the trucking industry, such as a former trucking company executive, a safety director, a department of transportation investigator or an accident investigator with experience in the trucking field.

Speak to a trucking accident lawyer today

After a serious accident involving an 18-wheeler, tanker, dump truck or other large commercial vehicle, you may have many questions. An experienced personal injury attorney at Sanders & Parks PC in Phoenix, AZ, can provide advice about how to handle your truck accident case.

Overview of Federal Trucking Regulations


Those involved in the trucking industry must abide by numerous federal and state regulations. The applicable federal laws can be found in the regulations of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. These regulations are very important, but they are extensive and can be confusing.


Controlled Substances and Alcohol Use and Testing

Testing of drivers for controlled substances and alcohol use is governed by federal law. These statutes establish programs by which trucking companies can work to prevent accidents by using drug/alcohol testing. With limited exceptions, the testing regulations apply to all American commercial vehicle drivers and their employers. Under this provision, all commercial driver’s license (CDL) holders are to submit to mandatory, periodic testing if they drive a vehicle:

  • With a gross vehicle weight of 26,000 pounds or more
  • With a gross vehicle weight of more than 26,000 pounds including a towed unit or trailer weighing 10,000 pounds or more
  • Capable of carrying 16 or more passengers
  • Designed and used to transport hazardous materials

Commercial Driver’s License Standards; Requirements and Penalties

Generally, drivers must have a CDL if they drive a vehicle that has a gross combination weight or weight rating of more than 26,000 pounds, has a gross vehicle weight or weight rating of more than 26,000 pounds, is designed to transport 16 or more passengers (including the driver) or is used to carry hazardous materials. Drivers must be knowledgeable about the various procedures that ensure safe operation of vehicles and be told about the negative effects of driving while fatigued, poor vision, alcohol or drug use and improper use of the bus/truck’s lights, horns, mirrors and other emergency equipment. These requirements are designed to reduce or prevent truck and bus accidents by forcing CDL holders to have special knowledge of their oversize vehicles.

Qualification of Drivers

If a driver operates a tractor trailer or other commercial vehicle that weighs over 10,000 pounds, carries 16 or more passengers or transports hazardous materials, he or she must comply with certain provisions set forth in federal law. Specifically, commercial drivers must:

  • Be at least 21 years old
  • Be able to speak, read and understand English
  • Be physically able to safely operate their truck
  • Be in possession of a valid CDL
  • Have a driving record free from license revocation or suspension for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, committing a felony, leaving the scene of an accident or refusing to take an alcohol test

Driving of Commercial Motor Vehicles

Under federal law, a truck driver, the trucking company and all other people responsible for the management, maintenance, operation or driving of any commercial motor vehicles or the hiring, supervision, training or dispatching of drivers must comply with federal regulations in order to operate a tractor trailer, tanker, straight truck or other commercial vehicle in interstate travel. Drivers must not drive while sick or tired and may not drive while under the influence of alcohol, illegal drugs or other intoxicating substances (even those for which the driver has an otherwise valid prescription). Drivers must obey traffic laws, load cargo safely, perform periodic inspections and drive cautiously in hazardous conditions. They must also be prepared to take special precautions around railroad crossings if towing a trailer or hauling hazardous materials. Furthermore, they should never, barring an emergency, shift gears while crossing railroad tracks.

Parts and Accessories Necessary for Safe Operation

The purpose of these federal laws is to make sure that no employee or employer of a commercial motor vehicle company drives a truck or allows one to be driven unless the truck complies with the minimum equipment requirements. There are specific regulatory provisions dealing with nearly every aspect of a commercial truck, including: lighting devices and reflectors, brakes, brake performance, tires, emergency equipment, protection against shifting or falling cargo, cargo securement systems (blocking and bracing, tie-downs, fasteners, etc.), front-end structure, frames, doors, hood, seats, bumpers, wheels, sleeper berths, steering wheels, and suspensions.

Hours of Service for Drivers

Federal law contains a number of restrictions related to the hours that a driver is permitted to drive in a given day as well as in a given work week. There are also separate regulations regarding the time spent driving in hazardous weather conditions.

From the time a driver begins work (or is required to be ready to work) until the time the driver is relieved from all responsibility for performing the essential functions of his or her job is known as “on-duty” time. On-duty time includes:

  • Time waiting to be dispatched
  • Time inspecting, servicing or conditioning any commercial motor vehicle at any time
  • Driving time (this is defined as “all time spent at the driving controls of a commercial motor vehicle in operation”)
  • Time in or on a commercial motor vehicle (other than time spent resting in or on a parked vehicle, time spent resting in a sleeper berth or up to two hours riding in the passenger seat of a property-carrying vehicle moving on the highway immediately before or after a period of at least eight consecutive hours in the sleeper berth)
  • Time loading or unloading a commercial motor vehicle
  • Time repairing, obtaining assistance for or remaining in attendance with a disabled commercial motor vehicle
  • Time spent providing a breath sample or urine specimen (if requested to comply with random, reasonable suspicion, post-crash or follow-up testing)
  • Time performing any other work in the capacity, employ or service of a motor carrier
  • Time spent performing any compensated work for a person who is not a motor carrier

Inspection, Repair and Maintenance

The FMCSA provisions ensure that all parts of certain commercial vehicles are kept in proper working order, regularly inspected and maintained according to guidelines. No driver is permitted to operate a vehicle that is likely to break down or cause an accident. Furthermore, drivers are responsible for inspecting their trucks at the start of each driving day and reporting or repairing any discovered defects.

Transportation of Hazardous Materials

Drivers responsible for transporting hazardous materials, motor carriers involved in the transport of such goods and supervisory employees of said motor carriers are subject to additional regulations. Generally, the driver of a commercial motor vehicle that is carrying explosives cannot leave the vehicle unattended unless there is an emergency. There are also restrictions about where a driver carrying explosive materials can park, and no smoking is allowed within 25 feet of a truck containing explosives or flammable materials.

Speak to a trucking accident lawyer

The information provided above is merely a general overview of some of the most common federal regulations and regulatory provisions that can be at issue in truck accident litigation. Legislative guidance on the transportation industry is both complex and voluminous. It can be very difficult to decipher and apply these myriad federal and state regulations without experience. For more information about these and other regulations, and how they could potentially affect your truck accident case, contact an experienced truck accident attorney at Sanders & Parks PC in Phoenix, AZ.

Lawsuit Chronology


If you or a member of your family has been injured in an accident involving a commercial truck, you may not fully understand your legal options or what to expect in the civil justice system. The following information provides a basic overview as to how a lawsuit normally proceeds.


Initial steps

A personal injury action arising from a commercial vehicle accident will begin with a complaint, usually accompanied by a summons. A complaint is a legal document that lays out the claims that the “plaintiff” (the person or business bringing the lawsuit) has against the “defendant(s)” (the person, people or legal entity being sued). The summons lets the defendant know who the plaintiff is, in what court the case is being brought and how long the defendant has to respond to the complaint. In short, the complaint tells why the defendant is being sued, and the summons gives the defendant guidance about how to reply.

The defendant has to file an answer within a certain time (usually less than 21 days) after receiving the summons and complaint. The defendant’s response must include what portions of the complaint, if any, the defendant admits to, what specifically the defendant contests, what defenses the defendant may have to any of the allegations made in the complaint, and whether the defendant has claims against the plaintiff or any other party. Along with the answer, the defendant may include a counterclaim against the plaintiff, or a related third party claim against another person or business.

Instead of filing an answer, a defendant could file a motion to dismiss. A motion to dismiss can raise a number of defenses that, if proven, would warrant that the case be dropped. These include: lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter, lack of jurisdiction over the person, insufficiency of process, insufficiency of service of process, failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, and failure to join a party.

If the defendant does not respond to the complaint within the allotted time frame, the court may enter a default judgment against the defendant. When the defendant’s answer contains a counterclaim or a third-party claim, the party against whom that claim is made also has to answer within a certain time.

Discovery

In most lawsuits, the majority of the effort and time is spent on discovery. This is the process in which parties exchange documents and other information about the issues relevant to the litigation. Discovery can take four forms: written interrogatories (questions which must be answered under oath); document productionrequests for admissions (asking the other party to admit certain facts); and depositions (formally transcribed and sworn statements taken in front of a court reporter or other court officer). If discovery disputes arise, parties can bring motions for the court to rule upon, like motions requesting that the other side be compelled to provide requested information.

After the end of the discovery process, in many cases, one or both of the parties may try to dispose of the case (or a portion of it) with a motion for summary judgment. Basically, facts that are not in dispute (either because the parties agree upon them or because application of the law to the facts dictates a particular result) are presented to the court, and then the court must decide if the case can move forward.

Resolution of the lawsuit

The parties can voluntarily resolve all their issues through alternative dispute resolution (ADR) such as mediation or a negotiated settlement instead of proceeding to court. The parties could also agree to binding arbitration. Some states require litigants to go through some form of ADR before proceeding to trial.

If the parties cannot come to an agreement using ADR methods, and the matter is not disposed of by motion, the case will go to trial. In most civil cases, either party can choose to have a jury. At trial, the attorneys present evidence and arguments for each side, and the judge or jury then decides any unresolved issues. Once a decision has been reached, the judge will order that a judgment be entered.

Either or both parties can appeal a judge’s decision to a higher court, but it is fairly uncommon for civil cases to be overturned by appellate courts. Importantly, negotiated settlements and arbitration awards usually cannot be appealed if both parties agreed to the terms beforehand.

How your own liability may affect the outcome

Even if you were careless and partly caused an accident with a commercial truck, in most states you can still get at least some compensation from anyone else who was also careless and partly responsible for the accident. The amount of the other person’s liability for the accident is determined by comparing his or her carelessness with your own. That party’s portion of liability determines the percentage of the resulting damages he or she must pay. This rule of apportioning responsibility is known as “comparative negligence” or “comparative fault.” In most jurisdictions, you cannot recover anything if your own carelessness or negligence was 50 percent or more responsible for the accident.

There is no set formula for arriving at a precise percentage of each side’s comparative negligence. During negotiations, your attorney, the other side’s attorney and your respective insurance adjusters will discuss all of the factors that might have caused the accident. At that point, the question of your own carelessness or negligence will be considered, along with all the other factors that determine how much your claim is worth, such as the seriousness of your injuries, your past and future medical expenses, the extent of the property damage involved, etc.).

Speak to a trucking accident lawyer

It is hard to say how long all these steps will take in your particular commercial truck accident case. The entire process can take from as little as a few months if a negotiated or mediated settlement can be reached, to as long as a few years for highly contested litigation. Generally speaking, the less money at stake, and the more issues that can be resolved before trial, the smoother and faster the lawsuit will proceed. An experienced attorney at Sanders & Parks PC in Phoenix, AZ, can explain all the steps involved in truck accident litigation and can effectively guide you through each stage.

Common Causes of Truck Accidents


Commercial trucks such as 18-wheelers, semi trucks, tractor trailers and other large freight carriers tower over smaller passenger vehicles on the road. At highway speeds on crowded roadways, seemingly insignificant driving errors that could easily occur without consequence in a small car or truck can result in catastrophe when a large truck is involved. If you have been injured in an accident with a commercial vehicle, determining the exact cause of the accident can be difficult.


Investigating the accident

It is critical to begin investigating a commercial truck accident as soon as possible so that evidence is preserved and the true cause of the accident can be determined. There are a variety of types of information relevant to your claims that must be investigated when handling a trucking accident case, including:

  • Information about previous violations of regulations by the trucking company or driver involved
  • The truck’s maintenance records
  • The speed that both the truck and your vehicle were traveling
  • The location of the impact on the vehicles themselves
  • The location of the impact on the roadway
  • The truck driver’s log book, driving record and employment history
  • Statements from eye witnesses and first responders to the accident scene, such as fellow motorists, emergency personnel and police officers
  • Information from the truck’s “black box,” which records data before, during and after a collision
  • The trucking company’s policies and procedures regarding maintenance and safety
  • The trucking company’s accident history

An expert can be a tremendous resource when determining the cause of an accident. An expert can testify about the possible negligence of a trucking company based on his or her familiarity with trucking regulations. An expert can be any person who has significant experience in the trucking field, such as a trucking company’s safety director, the former owner of a trucking company, a former investigator for the department of transportation in your state, an accident reconstruction specialist or even a truck driving trainer/instructor.

Equipment failure

A truck is a complex machine, or, more accurately, a complex group of machines. There are many different systems operating at the same time. It does not matter how safe the truck driver is if the equipment does not work properly. If one of the parts of a truck breaks down or does not function properly, an accident can result.

If you have been injured by defective truck equipment or by a component or system on a truck that did not function properly, you may be able to recover for your injuries. Possible parties who may be liable for defective equipment include the manufacturer, the seller of the truck and the technician or mechanic who made repairs or installed a faulty component.

Errors by truck drivers

Most truckers are safe drivers who understand the risks and dangers that their huge vehicles could pose on the highway. That being said, there are some truck drivers out there who take unnecessary chances, make poor choices and otherwise operate their vehicles negligently or recklessly. Truck accidents are commonly caused by driver fatigue, failure to follow safety guidelines, failure to properly load the truck or secure cargo, overloading, not balancing a load correctly, and using alcohol or drugs while driving.

Some drivers are improperly trained for the operation of a big rig. These drivers do not realize that operating a commercial truck is not something you can just learn by doing; specialized training is imperative. Even when they have received extensive instruction, though, some drivers may not get adequate training in the areas of defensive driving, avoiding accidents and handling changes in weather or road conditions.

The best trained and most experienced drivers may still fall prey to a trucking industry that does not always encourage safe operation. In order to make a living driving a truck, it may be necessary to drive for too many hours without enough rest. This is a hazard not only to the driver who may be breaking safety rules and regulations, but also to all other drivers and passengers on the road. Unrealistic schedules and expectations, as well as fee schedules based on the number of loads delivered in a set period of time could encourage drivers to rush, disobey speed limits and cut corners.

Speak to a trucking accident lawyer

There are many possible causes of truck accidents, and everything from bad road conditions to driver fatigue and equipment failure to driving under the influence can be to blame. It is important to begin investigating the cause of an accident as soon as possible so that evidence can be preserved and vital information gathered. It may be necessary to work with experts in building your case as well as having a skilled lawyer by your side throughout the process. If you have been injured in a truck accident, an experienced attorney at Sanders & Parks PC in Phoenix, AZ, can help you determine its cause and seek justice.

Resource Links

Share the Road Safely
From the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), dedicated to reducing motor vehicle accidents involving large trucks.

Insurance Information Institute
Includes information on vehicle safety, insurance and more.

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)
Division of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). Contains information about safety programs, regulations and facts related to the prevention of commercial truck and bus accidents, injuries and fatalities.

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety / Highway Loss Data Institute
Features vehicle ratings, safety facts and publications.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
Division of the U.S. Department of Transportation. Provides crash statistics and articles about traffic accidents and vehicle safety.

Safety on the Road
Features articles about car maintenance and safety, airbag and seat belt safety and more, provided by the National Safety Council (NSC).

American Trucking Association
The ATA is the nation’s largest trucking industry trade association. Includes information and research about the trucking industry, highway safety and driver safety.

U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT)
The DOT is the federal agency charged with ensuring a safe transportation system. Features statistics, dockets, rules and other relevant information.