Truck Accident

COMMON TRUCK ACCIDENT INJURIES

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Truck Accident Attorneys - California

Everything you as a victim need to know...

Accidents involving large trucks, including tractor-trailer vehicles or “18 wheelers,” can cause serious injury or death, whether on rural roads or on freeways. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), in 2019 there were 13.65 fatal large truck crashes per million people in the United States, an increase of 29% from 2010. In over 80% of fatal accidents involving a large truck, the person who died was someone other than an occupant of the large truck.


RULES FOR DRIVERS OF LARGE TRUCKS

Fatigued drivers cause countless accidents each year. For this reason, truck drivers

are required to maintain records and keep a logbook of their hours of driving. These rules are complicated, and many drivers try to avoid complying with these requirements. The FMCSA sets out the rules for drivers who transport property in large trucks:

11 Hour Driving Limit

A driver may drive a maximum of 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours off duty.

14 Hour Limit

A driver may not drive beyond the 14th consecutive hour after coming on duty, following 10 consecutive hours off duty. Off-duty time does not extend the 14-hour period.

30-Minute Driving Break

A driver must take a 30-minute break when he or she has driven for a period of 8 cumulative hours without at least a 30-minute interruption. The break may be satisfied by any non-driving period of 30 consecutive minutes (i.e., on-duty not driving, off-duty, sleeper berth, or any combination of these taken consecutively).

60/70-Hour Limit

A driver may not drive after 60/70 hours on duty in 7/8 consecutive days. A driver may restart a 7/8 consecutive day period after taking 34 or more consecutive hours off duty.

RULES FOR DRIVERS OF LARGE TRUCKS (cont.)

Sleeper Berth Provision

Drivers may split their required 10-hour off-duty period, as long as one off-duty period (whether in or out of the sleeper berth) is at least 2 hours long and the other involves at least 7 consecutive hours spent in the sleeper berth. All sleeper berth pairings MUST add up to at least 10 hours. When used together, neither time period counts against the maximum 14- hour driving window.

Adverse Driving Conditions

Drivers are allowed to extend the 11-hour maximum driving limit and 14-hour driving window by up to 2 hours when adverse driving conditions are encountered.

Short-Haul Exception

A driver is exempt from the requirements of §395.8 and §395.11 if: the driver operates within a 150 air-mile radius of the normal work reporting location, and the driver does not exceed a maximum duty period of 14 hours. Drivers using the short-haul exception in §395.1(e)(1) must report and return to the normal work reporting location within 14 consecutive hours, and stay within a 150 air-mile radius of the work reporting location.

If you have been involved in an accident with a large truck, it is imperative that you obtain the driver’s logbooks and determine if the driver violates these rules. This will often require an expert to review the logbook and compare it to other documentation, including weight tickets, bills of laden, and dispatch documents.

In a trucking accident, your attorney must also investigate the truck driver and the truck itself. For the driver, you must find out the following information:

  • Qualifications
  • Driving record
  • Prior training
  • Results of alcohol and/or drug screening

For the truck itself, you must obtain the following information:

  • All onboard systems, including a Blackbox
  • Maintenance records
  • Inspection records
  • GPS or other tracking devices

VICARIOUS LIABILITY

A truck driver’s employer will, in most circumstances, be held responsible for the negligence of an employee if the employee’s negligence occurred while in the scope of his or her employment. If, therefore, you are involved in a trucking accident while that truck driver was at work, the truck driver’s employer will typically be responsible for the negligence of the driver and therefore liable to you for your damages. This includes employees of governmental entities who operate large trucks, such as drivers of garbage trucks and CalTrans vehicles. The doctrine of vicarious liability is a rule of policy in the state of California based on a deliberate allocation of risk and is considered a cost of doing business for the employer.[1]


NEGLIGENT HIRING, SUPERVISION, OR RETENTION

The truck driver may not be the only person who is responsible for an accident and liable to the injured person for damages. In some situations, the truck driver’s employer may be liable under the principles of negligent hiring, supervision, and/or retention. In these cases, the truck driver’s employer will be held liable if the plaintiff can establish the following:

  1. The employer hired the driver;
  2. The driver was or became unfit or incompetent to perform the work for which he or she was hired;
  3. The employer knew or should have known that the driver was unfit or incompetent and that this created a particular risk to others;
  4. The driver’s unfitness or incompetence harmed the plaintiff; and
  5. The employer’s negligence in hiring, supervising, and/or retaining the driver was a substantial factor in causing plaintiff’s harm.

NEGLIGENT ENTRUSTMENT OF A VEHICLE

Someone other than the truck driver may also be held responsible under the doctrine of negligent entrustment. In these situations, a person who entrusted a vehicle to a truck driver may be liable to an injured person. In these cases, a plaintiff has to establish the following:

  1. The driver of the truck was negligent;
  2. The defendant either owned the truck or had possession of the truck with the owner’s permission;
  3. The defendant knew, or should have known, that the truck driver was incompetent or unfit to drive the truck;
  4. The defendant permitted the driver to drive the truck; and
  5. The truck driver’s incompetence or unfitness to drive was a substantial factor in causing harm to plaintiff.

In these cases, it is not enough to prove only that the owner of the vehicle entrusted the truck to the driver who was then negligent. Instead, it must be proven that the driver was incompetent or unfit to drive the truck at the time it was entrusted to him or her and that the owner knew, or should have known, that the driver was incompetent or unfit. Liability is imposed not based on the relationship of the parties but from the act of the owner’s entrustment of the truck when the owner knew, or should have known, that the driver was incompetent, inexperienced, or reckless.[2]


INDEPENDENT CONTRACTORS

An independent contractor is not an employee of a company, and a company may not be liable for the negligence of a true independent contractor. Many trucking companies try to escape liability to those injured by a truck driver’s negligence by claiming that the truck driver was an independent contractor and therefore the company is not responsible for his or her negligence.

The label placed on a truck driver is not determinative. Even if a company calls a truck driver an “independent contractor,” the driver can still be an employee under the law. In deciding whether a truck driver is an employee or an independent contractor, the primary consideration is the amount of control that the company has over the truck driver. In addition, several other factors are considered, including the following:

  • Whether the company supplied the equipment, tools, and place of work;
  • Whether the truck driver was paid by the hour rather than by the job;
  • Whether the company was in business;
  • Whether the work being done by the truck driver was part of the regular business of the company;
  • Whether the truck driver was not engaged in a distinct occupation or business;
  • Whether the kind of work performed by the truck driver is usually done under the direction of a supervisor rather than by a specialist working without supervision;
  • Whether the kind of work performed by truck driver requires specialized or professional skill;
  • Whether the services performed by the truck driver were to be performed over a long period of time; and
  • Whether the company and the truck driver believed that they had an employer-employee relationship.

 

CAUSATION

In addition to proving that a truck driver was negligent, an injured person must also establish that the truck driver’s negligence caused his or her injuries. In order to prove this, the injured party must establish that the truck driver’s negligence was a “substantial factor” in causing the injuries.

The term “substantial factor” can be misleading and confusing. A “substantial factor” means only that the negligence contributed to cause the injury and was more than a remote or trivial factor. If a reasonable person would consider the negligence to have contributed to cause the harm, then it was a substantial factor in causing the harm. In contrast, negligent conduct is not a substantial factor if the harm would have still occurred even without the negligent conduct.

The negligent driver’s actions do not have to be the only cause of a plaintiff’s injuries. To the contrary, a person’s negligence may combine with other factors to cause harm and that person’s negligence can still be a substantial factor in causing plaintiff’s harm. The law in California is clear that a defendant cannot escape liability just because someone else may have also contributed to cause the plaintiff’s harm.

Apportionment of Fault

When there are two or more causes for a plaintiff’s injuries, a jury may be asked to apportion fault. For example, a truck accident may involve two defendants who point the finger at each other, each saying the other caused the accident. In these situations, the jury can find that both defendants are responsible, at least in part, for plaintiff’s injuries and that each of them bear some responsibility.

At trial, a defendant may ask the court to permit apportionment of liability even for someone who is not a defendant in the case or who settled prior to trial. If the jury finds that the other person’s actions, whether a defendant or not, were a substantial factor in causing plaintiff’s injuries, the jury will be able to apportion fault to this person. This is done by percentages. If both the defendant and the non-party are found to be equally at fault, then they will each be found 50% responsible.

Prop 51

In many situations, defendants are “jointly and severally” liable, which means that any defendant may be responsible for paying all of plaintiff’s damages, even if it is more than the percentage of fault allocated to that defendant. California limited joint and severally liability when it enacted Prop 51, which has been codified at Civil Code § 1431.2(a). This section states the following:

In any action for personal injury, property damage, or wrongful death, based upon principles of comparative fault, the liability of each defendant for non-economic damages shall be several only and shall not be joint.  Each defendant shall be liable only for the amount of non-economic damages allocated to that defendant in direct proportion to that defendant’s percentage of fault, and a separate judgment shall be rendered against that defendant for that amount.

Under Prop 51, therefore, a defendant’s joint liability is limited only to economic damages. For non-economic damages, a defendant’s liability is limited to that particular defendant’s percentage of fault.

For example, a jury renders a verdict of $500,000 for economic damages and $500,000 for non-economic damages for a total verdict of $1,000,000. A defendant who was found only 1% at fault will still be responsible for paying all of the plaintiff’s economic damages, or $500,000. But, that defendant will only be responsible for paying 1% of the plaintiff’s non-economic damages, or $5,000.

Comparative Negligence

In some cases, the injured party may have also been negligent and contributed to cause the auto accident. In these situations, the law does not prohibit the injured party from recovering damages. Instead, a jury will be asked to determine the injured party’s comparative fault, or the percentage of fault to be placed on the plaintiff. For example, if the jury finds that the truck driver was 90% at fault, then the plaintiff will be found to be 10% at fault.

If a plaintiff is found to be at fault, the plaintiff’s damages will be reduced by that percentage of fault. For example, if the plaintiff is 10% at fault, the plaintiff’s damages will be reduced by 10%. If the jury awards the plaintiff $1,000,000, that amount will be reduced by 10% and the plaintiff will only be entitled to recover $900,000.

Medical Causation

A common tactic of defense counsel for truck drivers is to argue that a plaintiff’s injuries were not actually caused by the truck accident. For example, a person may start having low back pain following an accident and eventually be told surgery is required. The defendant’s attorney will then argue that the accident did not cause the low back pain and/or the need for surgery is not due to the auto accident. In these situations, it is imperative that the injured party have experienced and knowledgeable attorneys involved in the case. Expert testimony is usually required to establish the injuries were, in fact, caused by the auto injury.

In many situations, a plaintiff may have an underlying or preexisting condition that is exacerbated by a truck accident. If the plaintiff establishes that an underlying or preexisting condition was made worse by the truck accident, the plaintiff is entitled to damages that will reasonably compensate him or her for the effect on that condition.


DAMAGES

If you have been injured in a trucking accident caused by someone else’s negligence, you may be entitled to recover your damages, both economic and non-economic.

Economic Losses or Special Damages

Economic damages are ascertainable monetary amounts, including lost wages and medical bills. If injuries are severe, the person may not be able to return to work and therefore may be entitled to the loss of future wage-earning capacity for the remainder of the anticipated life expectancy. In addition, some people injured in a trucking accident require medical treatment for the rest of their lives. To calculate the amount that this long-term care will cost, our firm may retain a specialist to prepare what is known as a “life care plan,” which is a plan that sets out medical and medically related care that will be needed over the remainder of the injured person’s life.

Non-Economic Losses or General Damages

Non-economic damages include items such as emotional distress, mental pain and suffering, physical pain and suffering, disfigurement, and humiliation.

Wrongful Death

In some situations, a trucking accident can result in death. In such a case, the deceased’s family members, or wrongful death beneficiaries, may be entitled to recover the medical bills as well as the funeral and burial costs. The deceased’s loved ones can also recover for their own damages due to the loss of love and society of the deceased person.


TIME LIMITS FOR FILING CLAIMS FOR TRUCKING ACCIDENTS

In California, the statute of limitations for filing most claims is two (2) years from the date of the injury. If, however, the claim is against a state or local governmental entity, including auto accidents in which the at-fault truck driver was employed by the city, county, or state, the deadline to provide notice of your claim may be as little as six (6) months. For this reason, if you believe you or someone close to you may have a claim for damages as the result of a trucking accident, you should contact an experienced attorney as soon as possible.

[1] Perez v. Van Groningen & Sons, Inc. (1986) 41 Cal.3d 962, 967.

[2] McKenna v. Beesley (2021) 167 Cal. App. 5th 552, 566.

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