Being on the road these days in Florida and elsewhere can be quite hazardous. For truck drivers who must travel thousands of miles to get to their destinations on a tight schedule, the daily on-the-job risks are stressful. In an accident involving a truck, however, the occupants of a passenger car will more likely suffer severe injury or death than the truck driver, who often walks away unscathed.
The tremendous difference in size and weight between a car and a fully loaded 18-wheeler makes a high-speed impact catastrophic. Not only will the impact crush the car, but since it is lower to the ground, there is a risk that it will slide under the truck. The massive trauma to the victims can be amplified if there are secondary injuries due to fire or a release of toxins from the hazmat or flammable material the truck was carrying.
Assessing the extent to which other parties may bear responsibility in a negligence claim is challenging, which is why accident reconstruction during the investigation into the crash is crucial. Because the costs of injury and damage are so high in such accidents, responsible parties of commercial motor vehicles (CMV’s) must purchase public liability insurance for bodily injury, property damage and environmental restoration from $750,000 to $5 million, depending on the commodities the CMV was transporting.
Investigating the causes of the accident
During the inquiry, law enforcement, insurance agents and independent investigators such as the victim’s legal representative will look at the circumstances of the crash, time of day, road conditions and any witness testimony. Determining the condition of the truck driver is important in proving that they were drowsy, distracted, or impaired at the time.
Drivers must adhere to strict federal hours-of-service regulations that mandate limits on the number of consecutive hours on the road, break times and off-duty hours. It is possible to build a negligence claim against the driver by checking for discrepancies in logbook entries, weight tickets, hotel receipts, driver qualification files or post-accident drug or alcohol tests.
Dashcam video and onboard recorders can help piece together what happened before and during the accident. Evidence such as broken glass or other debris, skid marks witness testimony will help piece together the chain of causation when the plaintiff presents their case in the courtroom.
Determining responsible parties
Although driver error may be responsible for poor judgement resulting in certain behaviors such as speeding, distracted, impaired, or careless driving, there may be other parties that contributed to the accident, including:
- the trucking company, if the owner did not perform regular maintenance checks on the truck or did not properly train the driver
- equipment manufacturers, who may share responsibility if the brakes or wheel bearings failed or malfunctioned, or if the tires caught on fire
- cargo loaders, if there was uneven weight distribution of the load that caused the driver to lose control of the truck
Florida follows comparative negligence when assessing liability, in which the percentage of the plaintiff’s responsibility for causing the accident will reduce their compensation by that same proportion. The court will then determine the share of common liability that third-party entities owe along with the defendant.