Central Coast Truck Accident Lawyer Serving San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Monterey
In 2012, there were 7,340 people injured in truck accidents in California. Another 261 people died in truck-related fatalities. In the US as a whole in 2012, truck accidents killed almost 4,000 people. More than 100,000 others were injured.
It goes without saying that in collisions between commercial trucks and the much smaller passenger vehicles, the injuries to car occupants are often very severe. An experienced San Luis Obispo truck accident lawyer, working with other crash experts, can often reconstruct what happened from the evidence at the scene: skid marks, the position of the vehicles when they came to rest, the type and extent of vehicle damage, the type and extent of the personal injuries, witness testimony etc. This can help better determine the cause of the accident, which is the first step in establishing the right to compensation.
“Big Rig” Accidents
Collisions between passenger vehicles and huge “semi” trucks tend to be one-sided fights. A great majority of the people killed or injured in accidents that involve “big rig” tractor trailers are occupants of the other vehicle. The mismatch is made even worse if the collision involves a fully loaded rig and/or one moving at high speed. Because of the great danger to the public that shares the road with the big rigs, it is important to try to ensure that drivers of the rigs are especially competent, adequately trained, and resting enough to avoid accidents from the effects of fatigue. Big rig drivers are held to higher standards than your ordinary non-professional driver.
Unfortunately, these rigs have several characteristics that make them susceptible to accidents:
- They all have blind spots that conceal the presence of other vehicles near them.
- They do not stop as quickly as smaller, lighter vehicles; it takes twice as long to stop a semi going 55 mph as it does to stop a passenger vehicle travelling at the same speed.
- They are difficult to maneuver; a classic example is that many big rig drivers start a turn in one direction by swinging the rig to the opposite direction in order to get a better turn angle (causing impatient drivers behind the rig to start passing on the very side to which the rig soon turns).
An underride accident is one in which a smaller vehicle’s front end literally drives under the edge of a larger truck (usually the rear of the trailer). In the typical underride, the truck stops or is in the process of stopping, and the following vehicle continues ahead into the rear of the truck.
These accidents are among the deadliest of truck accidents, because the bottom edge of the truck crushes the top of the smaller vehicle. Passengers in the smaller vehicle usually suffer severe head injuries, and may even be decapitated. A significant portion of all deaths in truck accidents occur in underrides.
The usual safety features in vehicles, like airbags and seatbelts, offer no protection to people in an underride accident. In fact, they tend the hold the passenger in place in a position where injury is practically guaranteed. The best protection is for the big truck to have a strong crash guard attached to the back. The guard is a metal bar that extends below the back edge of the big truck, low enough to the ground that the following vehicle’s front end hits the guard and is prevented from sliding under the truck.
These rear crash guards have been required in the United States for a number of years, but testing by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) showed that the US regulation was largely ineffective because the guard it required wasn’t strong enough. The following vehicle would simply crash through it and end up under the truck. A stronger crash guard, as required in Canada, is far more successful in preventing underrides.
In July of 2014, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced that it planned to begin the rulemaking process to upgrade the strength requirements for American trucks, and was evaluating the possibility of issuing new rules for side guards and front override guards.
Who is Legally Responsible?
The commercial long-haul business, in which most big rigs operate, has become very complex. The truck may be owned by any one of several entities: the driver, a transportation company, the shipper or a third party. The driver may be working for himself or for any of the entities just mentioned.
Ultimately, the person or business which is legally responsible will depend on both who caused the accident and who may be responsible for that person’s actions. In many cases, this will be one of the following:
- The driver of the truck
- The driver of a different vehicle involved in the accident
- The trucking company
- The manufacturer of the truck or of one of the truck parts (if the cause of the accident was a defect)
It all depends on the circumstances. For example, if the highway’s design or its poor maintenance is to blame, the government units responsible may be liable. If the truck was badly loaded by the shipper, the shipper may be liable.
Delivery Truck Accidents
There are several things about delivery trucks that make accidents more likely than with other vehicles. First and foremost is that delivery truck drivers are often under time pressure. Companies like UPS have strict standards on how much time it should take their drivers per delivery. Pizza restaurants sometimes guarantee that delivery will occur within a specific amount of time. Drivers nearing the end of the work day may find that they have limited time to get back to the company’s garage by closing time. The time pressure encourages speeding and may impair the driver’s concentration.
And while they may be considerably smaller than tractor trailers, delivery trucks still need more room than passenger vehicles to stop and to turn around.
Other aspects of truck delivery that may cause accidents include:
- Double parking the truck while making the delivery, which raises the risk of other vehicles ramming the truck, or pulling around it into the path of another vehicle
- Backing up against traffic to reach a driveway or unloading area
- Sudden and/or frequent stops
- Cargo spilling out the truck’s doors or falling from its roof
- Cargo exceeding the safe weight that the truck’s tires can support, causing blown tires and loss of control
- Unbalanced or unsecured cargo that causes the truck to rollover or swerve
Determining Who May be Liable for Delivery Truck Accidents
Determining who caused the accident doesn’t always tell you who is legally responsible. In many cases, the truck’s owner and/or the driver’s immediate supervisor may be liable due to such things as:
- Requiring an unreasonable number of deliveries
- Supplying a defective vehicle
- Requiring that the vehicle be overloaded
- Failure to ensure proper loading
Federal and California Regulations and Truck Accidents
In addition to the rear crash guard requirement discussed earlier, there are extensive rules governing big rigs in the federal government’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR). The FMCSR imposes detailed standards for many aspects of trucking, such as:
- Maintenance and other safety obligations for trucks
- Minimum qualifications for drivers
- Maximum limits on driver hours
- Financial responsibility requirements
- Standards for licensing motor carriers and other entities like freight forwarders
From the perspective of a truck accident victim, the importance of these regulations is that any violation of them which contributes to the accident amounts to negligence.
In practical terms, efforts to recover damages for injuries in a truck accident involve making a detailed analysis of the relevant regulations.
Cities in California, like San Luis Obispo, Monterey, and Santa Barbara, have their own extensive rules for trucking, which are particularly important for accidents that involve trucks not subject to the federal regulations.
Get Experienced Help Early
Evidence about the accident is crucial to establishing your right to recover from the driver, the driver’s employer, or the driver’s supervisor. The closer to the time of the accident that you begin collecting that evidence, the better off you will be. That means that you need to get an experienced San Luis Obispo Truck Accident lawyer involved as soon as possible before witness memories start to fade or the scene of the accident undergoes changes that make accident reconstruction difficult or impossible.
Attorney J. Jude Basile, of The Basile Law Firm, has decades of experience handling the most serious injury cases in California’s mid-coast region, including San Luis Obispo, Monterey, and Santa Barbara. He’s a four-time winner of the Trial Lawyer of the Year award. Call 805-781-8600 today for a free consultation about your case. We’re selective in the cases we accept, and determined to get what our clients are due from those who have caused them great injury.