Accidents in Georgia Involving Trucks
If you have been in an accident with a truck or commercial vehicles, you may be wondering what to do immediately afterwards–who is liable and what the relevant state and federal rules and insurance requirements are. Trucking accidents often result in very serious injuries, so it’s important to understand the complexity before signing any settlement agreement.
Initially, it’s important to address steps to take immediately after an accident in order to ensure you receive the benefits you may be entitled to.
What to do after an accident with a truck
- Seek Medical Attention. The health and well-being of you and your passengers is of the utmost importance after an accident. If you or a passenger in your vehicle has been injured in the incident, seek medical attention immediately. In addition to this initial treatment, be sure to attend any follow-up visits or referrals your treating doctor recommends.
- Call the police immediately. The police will create a report, which is an important step in recording the details of the accident. Request a copy of the police report at the scene.
- Stay at the scene. Under Georgia law, O.C.G.A. § 40-6-273, you are required to stop your vehicle and remain at the scene until authorities arrive if anyone was injured or if over $500 in damage has occurred.
- Exchange information. Exchange information with the driver of the truck and any witnesses, if possible. Important information to obtain from the driver includes: name, contact information, driver’s license, and insurance information.
- Take pictures of the scene. If you have a smartphone on hand, take pictures of any injuries, the damage to both your vehicle and the truck, signs, stoplights, the weather and any other images that could be relevant to your case.
- Contact an attorney. It is important to contact an attorney experienced with this type of accident to navigate you through the process.
Liability in Truck Accidents
Vehicle accidents are terrifying and dangerous situations, but accidents involving trucks or commercial motor vehicles pose an even larger threat due to their sheer size and weight. A fully loaded tractor-trailer can weigh up to 80,000 pounds, and accidents involving commercial vehicles often result in very serious injuries or even fatalities. Commercial drivers and the companies that employ them are held to a higher standard than non-commercial drivers. Failure to adhere to these standards can create significant liability. Accidents involving commercial vehicles can occur for a variety of reasons, but the most common is negligence. Common causes of accidents involving trucks include the following:
- Driver fatigue
- Vehicle defects
- Distracted driving
- Aggressive driving
- Failure to equip trucks with safety technology
In a typical two vehicle accident, liability can be fairly easily determined because only two parties are involved. But the situation becomes more complicated in an accident with a commercial vehicle. Several different parties could be found to be negligent and liable for damages. If commercial drivers are employees, their employer may be held liable in these types of cases. If commercial drivers are claimed to be independent contractors, the legal question of who is liable is more complicated. It’s not uncommon for any of the following parties to be held liable in trucking accidents:
- Commercial driver
- Trucking company or employer
- Truck manufacturer
- Truck maintenance and repair company
- Truck parts manufacturer
- Tire companies
- Insurance company for the truck company
In considering liability, it’s also important to note that Georgia is a modified comparative negligence state. This means that if your own actions were determined to be more than 50% responsible for the accident, you may not be eligible for damages for the accident. If it is determined that you have less than 50% responsibility for the accident, your percentage of fault may be calculated and damages reduced accordingly.
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations or FMCSR
Interstate trucking is governed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which is a division of the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT). The FMCSA was enacted by the USDOT on January 1, 2000. The primary mission of the FMCSA is to prevent commercial motor vehicle-related injuries and fatalities. The FMCSA’s rules have been adopted, in large part, by the state of Georgia for trucking within the state. The FMCSA provides that commercial vehicle operators must adhere to strict requirements to ensure the safe operation of commercial vehicles. These requirements include, but are not limited to:
Licenses and training required – Commercial drivers in Georgia are required to maintain a commercial driver’s license (CDL) in order to operate a commercial vehicle. (O.C.G.A. § 40-5-146).
Maximum number of hours of service – The FMSCA requires that drivers may stay on the road for no more than 11 consecutive hours, as long as they are preceded by 10 consecutive hours of rest.
Alcohol and drug testing rules – Under the FMSCA, commercial drivers must be randomly tested throughout the year. (§ 382.305) Drivers who appear to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol can be immediately tested. (§ 382.307) For any driver who has tested positive or refused a test, a negative test and a return to duty process with a DOT substance abuse professional is required before resuming duties.
Inspection and safety routines – Every commercial motor vehicle and its parts must be maintained and in safe condition, including lights, brakes, equipment and all other parts or accessories. (O.C.G.A. § 40-1-8).
These are just a few examples of requirements the FCMSA imposes. Other requirements may apply for both drivers and employers or haulers.
Insurance Requirements for Commercial Vehicles
The laws surrounding liability insurance for commercial vehicles differ from personal vehicle requirements. Commercial trucks that stay within Georgia’s borders, or intrastate trucking operations, are required to carry limits of $100,000 per person and $300,000 per accident. These limits are often not sufficient for a serious accident, so transport companies typically carry a minimum of $1,000,000 in liability insurance.
An accident involving a truck is not only stressful, but also presents difficult legal questions in determining liability. It is critical to consult with an attorney specialized in these types of cases in order to secure your rights. The laws and regulations surrounding commercial trucking are complex. If you have been injured in an accident with a truck or commercial vehicle, it’s always advisable to seek the assistance of experienced legal counsel.