Imagine stepping inside a work zone where the employees are operating pieces of equipment that weigh up to 80,000 pounds, are at least 13 feet tall and are traveling at high speeds. In this dangerous work zone, you would expect the employees to practice the utmost care and caution for their own safety and the safety of others.
This “work zone” is actually a road or highway for thousands of truck drivers each day. The 80,000 pound piece of equipment is an 18 wheeler and it is traveling by you and your family at high speeds. Truck drivers do not operate in a fenced-off work zone. They operate within feet, sometimes inches, of everyone they share the road with. Truck driving is a huge responsibility and should be taken extremely seriously.
According to the latest data released in 2019 from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, there were 4,761 deaths resulting from crashes involving large trucks in the United States in 2017. Of those deaths, 18%, or 841 deaths, were occupants of the truck itself, while an astonishingly 72%, or 3,450 deaths, were occupants of other vehicles. Additionally, 10%, or 470 deaths, were non-vehicular individuals, such as pedestrians. These statistics exemplify the horrendous danger of being involved in a trucking accident.What Makes a Trucking Accident Unique?
Trucking accidents are unique because they are far more likely to cause serious injuries and fatalities compared to automobile accidents. Additionally, commercial trucks using West Virginia roads and federal highways are regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), as well as West Virginia state regulatory agencies. Thus, when a motor vehicle accident involves a commercial truck, it is extremely important to determine if the driver or trucking company was in violation of any state or federal regulation.
Other aspects of truck driving accidents that make them particularly unique include considerations for:
- Truck driver texting or phone use
- Distracted driving
- Truck driver fatigue
- Truck driver intoxication
- Improper or negligent truck maintenance
- Overloaded or improperly loaded trucks and semi-trailers
- Speeding and other moving violations
- Unsafe emergency stops
- Violations of rest stop and break regulations pursuant to the FMSCA
- Inadequately trained truck drivers
- Balding tires or tire failure
When you contact attorneys Gary Rich and Matthew Gutta, we can evaluate the nature of your trucking accident to determine the viability of a potential claim. The success of a claim is dependent upon the extent to which the injuries, harm, or death was caused by the negligence of others. There are four elements of a negligence claim. Remember, the “Plaintiff” in a lawsuit is the injured party who is filing an action, or claim, against the Defendant. The “Defendant”, sometimes referred to as the “Respondent”, is the party accused of causing the harm. The four elements of a negligence claim are:
Duty: The Plaintiff must show that the Defendant owed a certain duty of care in the specific situation. The extent of the duty of care varies based upon the circumstances of each situation.
For example, truck drivers and trucking companies have a duty to abide by the regulations of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, as well as trucking specific state regulations. This is in contrast to regular motorists, who do not have a legal obligation to abide by such regulations. In this sense, truck drivers and trucking companies have a heightened standard of care when engaged in trucking.
Breach: The Plaintiff must show that the Defendant breached the duty of care that was required in that specific situation.
For example, if it is proven that a truck driver was driving recklessly because he was texting, resulting in an accident, the duty of care has been breached. Likewise, if it is proven that a trucking company improperly overloaded a dump truck and the extreme weight of the load caused brake failure, resulting in an accident, the duty of care has been breached.
Causation: The third element of a negligence claim is causation. The Plaintiff must prove that the Defendant’s breach of duty actually and proximately caused the Plaintiff’s damages, harm, injuries or loss. Evaluating actual and proximate causation can be a complicated task which requires the skills and knowledge of experienced attorneys.
Actual cause is sometimes referred to as cause-in-fact. Actual cause exists when the Defendant’s actions, or inactions, directly cause the Plaintiff’s harm. In determining actual cause, attorneys must implement the “but for” test: “But for (without) the Defendant’s actions, would the Plaintiff have been injured?” In other words, if the Defendant did not do what he did, would the Plaintiff have suffered the harm that was suffered? If the Plaintiff wouldn’t have suffered the harm without the Defendant’s actions, then actual cause has been established.
For example, if a truck driver is distracted because he is texting and driving, and because of that distraction he swerves into your lane and collides with your vehicle, the truck driver’s actions were the actual cause of your harm. Using the “but for” test, ask the following question: “But for (without) the truck driver texting while driving, would the truck have swerved and collided with your vehicle?” If the answer is that the collision wouldn’t have happened if the truck driver hadn’t been texting and driving, then we have established actual cause.
When determining proximate cause, courts will consider whether the Plaintiff’s injuries were foreseeable to the Defendant. If the Defendant’s actions set forth a chain of unforeseeable events that resulted in harm to the Plaintiff, then it may be established that the Defendant did not proximately cause the Plaintiff’s injuries.
Damages: The fourth element of a negligence claim is damages. The Plaintiff must have suffered damages, harm, injuries or loss as a result of the Defendant’s actions. If the Defendant breached a duty of care without causing any damages, harm, injuries, or loss to the Plaintiff, then the Plaintiff has no claim.What Types of Damages/Compensation are Available?
If you are harmed, or if a loved one is killed or harmed in a trucking accident, and if you have a viable claim, attorneys Gary Rich and Matthew Gutta may seek multiple categories of damages to provide the compensation that you may be entitled to:
Compensatory Damages: Compensatory damages are intended to compensate the victim for the cost of the injury or harm. Furthermore, there are two different types of compensatory damages, actual and general.
Actual compensatory damages can include property damage, lost income, lost employment wages, and medical expenses such as hospital bills, rehabilitation treatment, physical therapy, medical equipment, nursing home care, in-home care and prescription drug costs.
General compensatory damages can include pain and suffering, mental anguish, loss of consortium and future losses as a result of lower earning capacity and future medical care.
Punitive Damages: Although punitive damages will only be awarded in specific instances, punitive damages serve as a punishment to the Defendant. Furthermore, awarding such damages sends a message to others in society and in that respect, punitive damages serve as a deterrent for such negligent behavior. Although there is a high burden on the Plaintiff to prove punitive damages, such awards can be substantial in comparison to compensatory damages.
Steps to take if you or a loved one is involved in a trucking accident:
- Contact 911 immediately and seek roadside assistance and medical treatment for all involved.
- Insofar as you are safely able to do so, identify the other parties involved and exchange information. Take as many photographs of the scene as possible. Take photographs from various angles and photograph the roadway, surrounding area, debris, license plates and vehicle damage.
- Do not speak with an insurance company or provide any written statement to an insurance company without first talking to Rich & Gutta, PLLC.
- Call Rich & Gutta, PLLC, as soon as possible.
Regardless of whether you sustain severe injuries or minor injuries, it is imperative that you seek medical treatment immediately after your accident. A doctor will properly evaluate your condition and check for internal injuries that might not be immediately apparent to you. Your doctor will then provide a medical report that will be essential in building your case.Why You Should call Rich & Gutta, PLLC Immediately?
Preservation of evidence is paramount. This means that time is of the essence and you need an experienced legal team to ensure that, among other things, witnesses are identified, medical and police records are obtained and other evidence is properly gathered. If you or a loved one were involved in a trucking accident, call Rich & Gutta, PLLC at (304) 924-7001.
Tips for Safe Driving:
- Be cognizant of large trucks and their drivers. Your vehicle may not be visible to them at all times or you may be in their blind spot.
- Be cognizant of trucks that look aged. These types of trucks may be more likely to experience mechanical failures such as brake failure. Travel at a safe distance from such trucks.
- Your ability to react as a driver in an emergency situation is imperative. Travel at safe speeds when traveling near or passing large trucks so that you may properly react to a truck that may collide with you.
- Do not tailgate large trucks.
- Be cognizant of traveling in front of large trucks, especially traveling downhill. Ensure that there is a safe distance between your vehicle and the large truck.
- Be cognizant of trucks and trailers carrying heavy loads or cargo that is strapped or fastened down. Such loads have an increased likelihood of human error in the loading or fastening process.