Fender benders, parking lot skirmishes, and getting rear-ended are time-consuming and sometimes painful accidents to experience. But getting into a semi truck accident is potentially even more severe.
In severe cases of passenger vehicle collisions, you could face pain from injuries and a potentially large payout to fix your vehicle. But at least the car you rammed into wasn’t 10 times the size of your own, right?
Victims involved in a semi truck accident face potentially a more serious and frightening situation for two reasons:
First off, a semi truck is a monster of a vehicle to physically have an accident with. It exponentially increases the severity of your injuries, the damage to your car — and, by extension, the size of your medical bills.
Secondly, the laws around trucking accidents in California can feel very obscure to you because you drive a car, not a truck. You’re familiar with rules around cars because you drive them. But unless you drive a truck, figuring out who’s responsible or what to do following an accident can be an uphill battle.
California Semi Truck Accident Statistics
Here’s the thing about semi truck accidents:
Because so many of these incidents occur on rural roads in Southern California, we may never hear of it. Unless the event is serious enough that it involves several cars and civilian fatalities, you may not hear about it on the news.
The numbers collected by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) paint a very different picture. Because California is a thoroughfare state for imports and exports between Mexico and the United States, it’s one of the 10 most common states for trucking accidents in the nation.
- Fatal accidents increased by 42% in the state over the past 10 years.
- Most truck crashes occur on the I-5, I-10, and I-715.
- The average big rig traveling in California can weigh up to 80,000 pounds while the average passenger car or SUV weighs a fraction of a truck, at just 4,000 pounds.
- In accidents involving a truck and a passenger vehicle, civilians in cars accounted for 97% of any fatalities, not truckers.
California’s prominent trade profile and the sheer number of commercial trucks that move tons of cargo on the state’s roads and highways means that it’s a prime location for these accidents.
Of course, California trucking companies will always put their profits, drivers, and the company profile ahead of civilian drivers. Even though it’s in their interests to protect themselves and adhere to trucking regulations, they will definitely try to save money by performing improper or poor repair work, or fail to correct careless and reckless driving because of driver fatigue.
However, when you know what laws they’re supposed to follow and what you can legally ask for access to in order to prove your case, you can make sure that you hold the parties responsible for a truck crash properly liable for the damage their actions have done.
Know Your Semi Truck Accident Laws in California
Before we get into what your rights and course of actions you need to take after a truck hits your car, you should know the basics of the major laws around truck accidents.
Here are a few significant laws within the California Vehicle Code that could affect you:
- Section 17150 — Vehicle owners are responsible for the damage to themselves and others done by their car (even if someone else is driving).
- Section 20001 — If you fail to stop in the event of an accident, you face penalties.
- Section 20003 — You need to provide your details and the details of your insurance to those involved in the accident, at the time of the accident. You must also try and help injured parties involved in the accident if you’re okay.
- Section 20004 — Accident reports must be filed.
- Section 34620 — Drivers and trucking companies must have all permits that are needed for commercial trucking.
Remember that you have two years to file a claim for personal injury and up to three years for property damage. However, as you’ll see later on, immediacy is your best friend in the event of any vehicle accident, especially one involving a semi truck.
What Types of Semi Truck Accidents Are You Likely to Experience?
Even automobiles that maintain a safe braking distance from a semi truck can face unpredictable accidents involving these hefty vehicles. In other words, it might not be your fault. Often, factors like driver fatigue or a failure to follow up on maintenance can put a semi truck in your way, rather than the other way around.
- Head-on crashes — When the trucker loses control and crosses over the line into oncoming traffic.
- Tire blowouts — Failing to replace or maintain tire tread could cause a blowout, resulting in head-on collisions.
- Rear-end crashes — Since semi trucks need more time to stop given their weight and momentum, they can easily crash into a passenger vehicle ahead if the driver doesn’t brake in time.
- Side collisions — Also known as T-bone collisions, side crashes happen when the full weight of the truck impacts the side of a vehicle. This usually happens at an intersection, and the sheer weight of the truck makes this kind of accident almost always a fatal one.
- Jackknife accidents — Trucks driving on slick, wet roads are particularly susceptible to this situation. It occurs when a trucker applies the brakes too quickly, causing the trailer to skid perpendicular to its attachment point to the cab.
- Rollover crashes — When a semi truck operator loses control of the truck, it can roll over to one side. Both the operator and passenger vehicles in the way of the truck are at risk. This can happen for a number of reasons, including skidding, sudden maneuvers, improper cargo loading, and a failure to perform maintenance.
- Load spills — Cargo or load spills are incredibly dangerous. If the truck is carrying hazardous materials, such as gasoline, explosives, infectious biowaste, etc., it could risk the lives of hundreds. However, any debris, even milk, left in the middle of the road could hurt oncoming vehicles beyond the victims in the accident.
Sometimes, adverse weather conditions make it very hard to steer and handle such heavy loads. A truck driver may take all the precautions necessary and just experience sheer bad luck.
However, when insurance companies investigate to determine fault, liability, and compensation, they often discover all-too-common situations that lead to semi truck accidents.
Common Causes of Semi Truck Accidents
The truth is that commercial trucking companies protect themselves very well. Their objective is always to settle quickly and for as little money as possible. Even these common causes of semi truck accidents may not be “enough” to prove liability.
- Distracted driving
- Driving under the influence
- Failure to yield right of way
- Failure to obey traffic devices
However, it’s not always the truck driver that is at fault. It’s a combination of issues — and it could even start and end with mechanical failures and problems with the truck’s operation itself. These defects may be product-related or they may occur because the trucking company failed to do proper maintenance.
Commonly Abused Trucking Requirements
A skilled attorney should be able to help you build an airtight case around a driver’s (or a trucking company’s) negligence.
Thanks to California’s comparative negligence adherence, an at-fault passenger vehicle driver can still recoup some of the losses if the courts (and insurance companies) find that the truck driver’s negligence was a contributing factor.
Some common violations of trucking regulations include:
A commercial driver’s license is connected to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s requirements and tests for commercial truck drivers. While there are different levels of CDLs, based on the size of the truck, every driver must demonstrate essential operating skills such as hazardous materials containment regulations and procedures, how to maneuver the full rig for parking, backing, and turning, defensive driving for truck drivers, pre-trip inspections, and maintenance of tires, lights, and other truck-related equipment.
Log Book Regulations
For administrative and tracking purposes, all semi truck drivers in California must keep a log book of particular details. These include the hours of service and time spent resting every day, load pick-up dates, the weight of the truck before and after loading cargo, trip destination, and load delivery date.
What Do You Need to Prove Your Truck Accident Injury Claim?
The regulations stated above, as well as the common situations that cause truck drivers to get into accidents, are what you’ll need to uncover at the scene and as part of the police report. However, the rest you can only learn from an experienced attorney who may need to issue a subpoena.
- Whether the driver has a criminal record or not
- How many accidents the driver has been in before
- Whether they were on medication, drunk, or high from drugs and alcohol
- Any prior traffic tickets
- Whether the driver was on the intended route or they deviated
- Any outstanding debts or judgments
- The cargo load (and whether it was over the legal limit)
Basically, the trucking company wants to keep your hands away from any information that could be potentially incriminating. That’s why it’s so important to get legal representation to take action far beyond what you, as a civilian, could do alone.
What to Do After a Semi Truck Accident
The standards for truck drivers, and truck safety and operation in general, are very high. They have to be because semi trucks can cause a lot of damage to a high number of individuals.
You already know what violations are counted as negligence. You should also know that when this negligence leads to an accident, and the accident is the “proximate cause” (i.e., the only reason) for your injuries, then you can be sure that the trucker (and the company) will pay for your damages and injuries.
However, to get to this point and ensure you hold the right parties responsible, you need to do a few things on your own to prove your case. These on-the-scene details and procedures are invaluable to your attorney and to insurance providers to make sure you’re fairly compensated.
If you’re able, call for help
If you can’t call for help yourself, don’t worry. Someone else arriving on the scene can and you can ask them to do it. The dispatcher will need to know your location and if any hazardous liquids or items are leaking or spilling from the truck.
Never refuse medical care
As police and first respondents arrive on the scene, they’ll evaluate everyone, including the truck driver, for injuries. Even if you’re not severely injured, you need to, without delay, submit to a medical evaluation either right on the scene or directly after.
Failing to do so gives insurance companies grounds to say that you clearly weren’t injured because you didn’t seek immediate medical attention.
Collect the trucker’s information
The trucker’s information should include details like:
- The license number of the cab
- The name, address, and contact information of the cab owner, if different from the driver
- Insurance details
- Information about the cargo
- The name of the company that owns or has hired the truck
- The CDL of the driver
Gather evidence from the scene
Evidence is important, yes, but not at the expense of seeking medical treatment. Remember, medical treatment is your first priority.
However, if you are able and of sound mind, you can collect as much additional information as possible through:
- Detailed notes on your phone’s Notes app
- Witness statements and contact information
- Surveillance cameras
Return to the scene
If you feel well enough or have a family member who can accompany you, try and return to the scene the next day. Even though the debris from the collision may be all cleaned up, you may still be able to take down or photograph details such as the length of skid marks and nearby objects (like poles and signs) that were impacted because of a semi truck accident.
Get the Right Semi Truck Accident Representation On Your Side
Truckers, like all American motorists, are bound by a duty to care. That’s why no one is legally allowed to cause a collision and simply bolt. So the law — and the circumstances around semi truck incidents — are on your side. However, your involvement in a semi truck accident will pit you against insurance companies. For these parties, the only thing that truly matters is keeping their payout as low as possible without breaking the law.
That’s why you need to make sure that you have the right legal representation on your side. At Quirk Reed LLP, our team of attorneys and legal professionals are hardworking and communicative. If you’re already facing strain, the last thing you need is to be straining and struggling to understand the legal ramifications of a truck accident. Get the compensation you deserve, through a process designed to deliver you justice. Contact Quirk Reed LLP for a free consultation today.