Smyrna Truck Accident Lawyer
Skilled, Compassionate Truck Accident Attorney in Smyrna, GA
Trucking accidents are among the most catastrophic of motor vehicle accidents owing to their size and immense weight. A fully loaded tractor-trailer can weigh up to 100,000 pounds as compared to an ordinary passenger vehicle that tops out at 5,000 pounds. If you or a loved one was seriously injured or killed in a truck accident, promptly contact a Smyrna truck accident lawyer to handle your claim.
Truck drivers have commercial driver’s licenses, and the companies that hire them are common carriers since they haul goods for a fee, which means that they are required to follow stringent safety and operating rules. And because most trucks are involved in interstate commerce, they are subject to numerous state and federal regulations.
There are about 5,000 roadway fatalities each year involving trucks with thousands of more individuals who suffer serious and catastrophic injuries such as traumatic brain injuries, paralysis, disfigurement, and other permanent injuries. Only about 15% of truckers involved in accidents ever suffer any kind of injury.
Duty to Exercise Reasonable Care
All drivers have a duty to exercise reasonable care and to be on the lookout for hazards and dangers on the roadways. Commercial or common carriers have a higher duty of care to others on the roadways, and any violation of a traffic law or regulation can cause a court of law to find the carrier negligent per se or as a matter of law. That can make it easier for an injured driver to collect compensation from the truck company and its insurance company.
Many of the regulations relating to truck drivers and trucking companies are set by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) also sets out safety rules and guidelines for trucking companies to follow, including:
- Adequate screening and fair hiring practices of truck drivers
- Training drivers so they have, or are expected to have, a firm foundation of the skills and knowledge needed to safely operate the truck
- Having adequate drug testing policies and procedures
- Training and ensuring that drivers perform pre-trip inspections
- Monitoring rules on hours of operation and rest periods
- Maintaining detailed logs (usually electronically) regarding cargo, trip origin and destination, mileage, stops, and other data
- Following strict reporting requirements
Violation of Hours of Rest and Operation
It is not uncommon in a truck accident investigation to discover that the trucker failed to follow the federally mandated hours of operation and rest periods. A driver may drive up to 14 hours in one day but only for 11 continuous hours. In a 7-day period, the trucker can drive for up to 77 hours. Over an 8-day period, the trucker can drive no more than 88 hours. The time between shifts must be at least 10 hours. A violation of operating hours is a breach of the trucker and the trucking company’s duty of care to anyone who was injured in a trucking accident.
Alcohol and Drug Violations
Other strict regulations include drinking. A regular passenger or C class licensed driver may not legally drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of 0.08%. A trucker or any other driver with a commercial driver’s license in a commercial vehicle may not drive with a BAC of 0.04%. O.C.G.A. § 40-6-391(i); 49 CFR § 391.15. At this level, the law presumes that the driver was under the influence. A first DUI offense or a refusal to submit to alcohol testing will result in a suspension of the driver’s license. A second offense bars the driver from operating commercial vehicles for life.
Controlled substance use by truckers is not uncommon due to the pressure to stay alert during the monotony of the open road and to deliver cargo by the deadline. If such substances such as cocaine, methamphetamine, or marijuana are found following a blood test, the trucker’s driver’s license is suspended for one year.
Should a driver have caused an accident and was under the influence, the company that retained the driver may be held responsible under a legal doctrine called “respondeat superior”. 49 C.F.R. § 382.205. The company’s negligent hiring of someone with a driving history of alcohol or drug use can expose it to liability. Smith v. Tommy Roberts Trucking Co., 209 Ga. App. 826, 829 (1993); O.C.G.A. § 34-7-20.
Insurance Requirements for Commercial Vehicles
Commercial vehicles like trucks carry non-hazardous and hazardous loads. For these reasons and because of their potential for causing significant accidents, there are federal minimum liability insurance requirements for trucking companies:
- For non-hazardous cargo, a minimum of $750,000 in insurance coverage
- For HAZMAT goods (no explosives), a minimum of $1 million in insurance coverage
- If carrying HAZMAT goods and/or explosives, coverage must be at least $5 million in insurance coverage
- For trucks less than 10,000 pounds in gross weight but carrying HAZMAT goods, they must possess $5 million in coverage
Common Causes of Trucking Accidents
Despite the plethora of rules and regulations for truckers and their employers to follow, thousands of accidents continue to occur. Common causes include:
- Poor maintenance practices
- Lack of driver training
- Distracted driving (cell phone use, eating, etc.)
- Excessive speed
- Unsafe lane changes
- Brake and steering failure
- Tire failure
- Loads that exceed the truck’s capacity
- Unsecured loads
- Reckless driving
- Impaired driving from alcohol or drugs
Speeding is a major factor in truck accidents. Georgia truck drivers can travel up to 70 mph but only on rural interstates. On urban interstate highways, they are limited to 55 mph, and 65 mph on other limited access roads.
New speed regulations being recommended by the FMCSA and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are on the horizon where trucks weighing at least 26,000 pounds will have speed limiting devices whereby the truck will be unable to exceed a set limit. The device will also record the truck’s previous two-speed settings and the date when the settings were in place.
Even with improved safety devices on trucks such as rear-view cameras, emergency braking systems, and warning systems, accidents will continue to happen due to human error and a willingness to ignore regulations in the interest of profit.
Investigation of Trucking Accidents
Trucking accidents are a complex area in personal injury litigation, which is why retaining a skilled and knowledgeable Smyrna truck accident lawyer is so important. An investigation of the accident needs to be thorough and professionally handled.
Experts in trucking accident reconstruction are often hired where liability is not evident or is contested. Some of the issues that an expert will review include:
- Human error
- Impairment due to alcohol or drugs
- Weather and visibility
- Mechanical systems
- Event data analysis including electronic or manually kept logbook entries
- Electronic control module data
The accident investigator will visit the accident scene at least once to take photographs. Police investigators should have noted skid marks, debris, and property damage that are likely no longer present at the scene. There are matters such as crush damage and impact points. If there were witnesses, they need to be found. Many trucks have onboard cameras that record the seconds before impact. If the accident was at an intersection or traffic light, there may be surveillance footage kept by businesses adjacent to the accident scene.
Of course, the truck itself must be preserved so that it can be examined for mechanical and equipment issues, and if an unsecured load may have contributed to the accident. Onboard monitoring systems, similar to black boxes, may have data on speed and braking just before impact. All of this could be erased, or alleged to have been done in error, so it is essential that you immediately hire a good Smyrna personal injury attorney who can preserve the evidence.
Get A Smyrna Truck Accident Lawyer On Your Side Today
Consulting with and retaining a skilled Smyrna truck accident lawyer can only increase your opportunity for obtaining the most compensation for your trucking accident injuries. If you are the victim of someone else’s negligence, the law gives you the right to seek justice and restitution. Don’t delay when your well-being and your family’s future is at stake. Call us today. We can be reached at (404) 665-9665, or feel free to fill out our online contact form below.