How is a car accident different from a truck accident case? There are many ways in which these types of accidents are distinct from one another, including the severity of injuries that often result from truck crashes. While Indiana truck accidents can lead to greater harms than auto accidents involving only passenger cars, it may be possible to hold multiple parties liable when these accidents do happen.
What is a Truck Accident in Indiana?
What do we mean when we refer to a Indiana truck accident? We are not simply suggesting that a pickup truck causes crashes that are substantially different from a collision caused by a sedan or minivan. Rather, we are referring to large trucks, often called big rigs, 18-wheelers, or semi-trucks, which tend to weigh more than five tons. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), a large truck is defined as a vehicle that has a gross vehicle weight rating that is greater than 10,000 pounds. The FMCSA reports that, in 2014 alone, nearly 4,000 large trucks were involved in deadly crashes on America’s highways. While this number represents a five-percent decline from the previous year, it nonetheless emphasizes the severity of truck accidents involving passenger vehicles.
Get Compensation For Your Injuries After a Trucking Accident in Indiana
If you or someone you love sustained serious injuries in a trucking accident, you should learn more about filing a claim for compensation. An experienced Indiana truck accident lawyer can assist with your case. At Craig, Kelley & Faultless LLC, we have years of experience helping Indiana residents to secure compensation for injuries caused by truck drivers, truck companies, freight shippers, truck parts manufacturers, and other parties that can be held liable when dangerous collisions occur.
Structural Incompatibility of Passenger Cars and Large Trucks
Unlike the passenger cars traveling on the highway, large trucks weigh more than 10,000 pounds. When vehicles are constructed differently, and are in widely varying weight classes, they are considered to be “incompatible” with one another in the event of a collision, according to an article from The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. What, exactly, does incompatibility mean in this context?
In brief, when two passenger vehicles of a relatively similar size and weight collide with one another, they have the ability to exercise equal pressure upon the other, and the vehicle occupants likely have similar protections from outside force. However, when two vehicles of extremely different sizes, structures, and weight classes collide with one another, they are not compatible. In other words, they are unlikely to exercise equal pressure upon the other, and the occupants in the smaller vehicle are less likely to have equal bodily protections as occupants in the larger, heavier vehicle.
A big rig can exert substantial pressure upon a smaller passenger vehicle, causing extensive damage to that car. However, a smaller passenger vehicle is unlikely to exert substantial force upon an 18-wheeler or to cause significant damage to the truck. As such, passenger cars and big rigs are structurally incompatible.
Potential for More Severe Injuries in Indiana Truck Accidents
Given that most semi-trucks weigh approximately five times the weight of an average passenger vehicle—and sometimes more—the likelihood of drivers and occupants in passenger vehicles sustaining serious injuries increases when they are involved in a collision with an 18-wheeler.
As we mentioned previously, passenger cars and big rigs are structurally incompatible. To be sure, large trucks can exert a lot of pressure upon smaller passenger vehicles and can badly damage, or even destroy, a sedan or minivan. As such, an occupant in one of these smaller cars is more likely to suffer severe or even fatal injuries in a truck collision.
Potential for Multiple Responsible Parties, Including Truck Driver, Truck Owner, Trailer Owner, Freight Shipper, and Truck Parts Manufacturer
Truck accidents can have many underlying causes, and as a result, an injured party—or the survivors of someone who was fatally injured in a trucking accident—may be able to hold multiple parties liable. While traffic collisions involving only passenger cars can also involve a number of factors, truck accidents simply are different. How so? According to a FMCSA Truck Causation Study, trucking accidents often result from the following:
- Truck driver negligence or error: truck driver behaviors can lead to a serious accident. Those behaviors include but are not limited to: aggressive driving (speeding, following too closely, illegally changing lanes), drowsy driving, distracted driving (texting or talking on a cell phone, eating), and impaired driving (driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol).
- Improper loading: when large trucks are packed to transport goods, separate parties typically are responsible for loading the vehicle. These freight loaders must evenly distribute weight so that the truck is safe for highway driving, and the freight loaders also must take great care to ensure that the truck is carrying a load that is within the weight limits. When the loaders fail to take these steps, a serious truck accident can happen.
- Defective truck parts: sometimes trucking accidents happen because part of the truck has a defect, such as defective brakes. In some instances, defects occur in the design process, while in other they occur in the process of manufacture. There is also a possibility that marketing defects can result in truck accidents.
Given that large trucks are used to transport commercial goods across state lines, there are numerous parties that may be held liable for injuries in a trucking accident. Who may be liable? While every case has its own set of facts, the following parties may be responsible—even partially—in a truck accident case:
- Truck driver: when truck drivers behave negligently—by engaging in aggressive driving, drowsy driving, distracted driving, or impaired driving—and cause a crash, the injured party may be able to hold a truck driver responsible for any injuries that occurred.
- Truck owner: truck drivers often do not own the trucks they drive. Rather, those trucks frequently are owned by the company that employs the truck driver. Under a legal theory known as “respondeat superior,” according to the Cornell Legal Information Institute (LII), an employer can be held liable for an employee’s wrongful actions if those wrongful actions occur within the scope of employment. As such, if a truck driver’s negligence—such as aggressive driving or drowsy driving—causes an accident, the truck owner (the truck driver’s employer) may be responsible for damages. There are also other scenarios in which a truck owner may be responsible. For instance, if the truck owner failed to have the truck properly serviced, and the wear on a truck led to an accident, the owner may be held liable.
- Trailer owner: similar to a situation in which a truck owner must ensure that a vehicle is properly maintained and safe for use on the highways, a trailer owner must have the trailer properly maintained and must be sure that it meets requirements for safe carry of commercial freight. When trailer owners fail to meet these standards and a truck is involved in a severe crash, the trailer owner may be held liable for damages.
- Freight shipper: as we mentioned above, commercial freight often gets loaded by the company that’s shipping it (or, at the very least, by a party other than the truck driver). The FMCSA has specific cargo securement requirements that are aimed at ensuring that cargo is loaded properly, that a trailer is not overloaded, and that the cargo is properly secured (so as to prevent it from becoming dislodged). Freight loaders must abide by these requirements. In the event that commercial cargo is improperly loaded or improperly secured, the loader and/or shipper may be responsible for an accident victim’s damages.
- Truck parts designer or manufacturer: in some cases, truck accidents result from a defective product. For instance, the brakes on a truck can be defective as we mentioned, or another part of the truck may have some sort of defect that caused the accident to happen. Generally speaking, these types of claims fall under an area of the law known as products liability law. According to a definition from the Cornell LII, products liability law “refers to the liability of any or all parties along the chain of manufacture of any product for damage caused by the product.” There are three basic types of defects for which an injured party can file a products liability lawsuit: 1) design defect; 2) manufacturing defect; and 3) marketing defect. Most often, product liability claims resulting from truck accidents usually will be either design defects claims or manufacturing defects claims. A design defect is a defect that occurs prior to the truck part ever being made—there is an inherent problem in the way the part was designed. A manufacturing defect occurs during the stage of manufacture. While there is no inherent flaw in the design of the truck part, something went wrong during the part’s manufacture. Depending on the specific defect that caused the accident, the designer of the product may be responsible, as well as the manufacturer.
Indiana law recognizes a theory of “comparative fault” in personal injury lawsuits. Under the theory of comparative fault, the plaintiff can recover damages as long as she or he was not 51 percent or more at fault for the accident. As such, even if you played some role in causing the truck crash, as long as a jury says you were 50 percent (or less) responsible, you can recover damages from the other parties who may be liable.
Hours of Service Limits and Other Federal Rules that Apply to Interstate Truckers
How can you prove that a truck driver bears some liability for an accident? The FMCSA makes clear that commercial truck drivers must abide by hours of service limits, meaning that they cannot be on the road for longer periods than federal law permits. An experienced truck accident attorney in Indiana can always work with an accident reconstruction expert to prove that a trucking crash resulted from aggressive driving or distracted driving. In the event that a trucker violated the rules of service requirements, however, and an accident results from suspected drowsy driving, the rule violation can go a long way toward proving the plaintiff’s case.
Higher Insurance Requirements for Truck Drivers and Commercial Carriers, increasing Stakes of Claim
Commercial carriers—meaning semi-trucks carrying commercial freight—are required to have higher insurance requirements, according to a table supplied by the FMCSA. Specifically, carriers typically must have insurance minimums of anywhere from $750,000 to $5,000,000, depending on the type of freight being transported.
Since truck drivers and other commercial carriers are required to have much higher insurance minimums in the event of an accident, the stakes of any truck accident lawsuit increase dramatically. While a passenger injured in a standard traffic collision involving two smaller cars may be limited by a vehicle owner’s insurance policy, the limits for truckers are much higher and thus can supply greater damages awards.
Greater Likelihood of Involvement by Lawyers Representing Trucking Company and Insurers
Since more money often is at stake in trucking accident claims, there is a greater likelihood of lawyer representing the trucking company and the company’s insurer getting involved in the lawsuit. As such, it is extremely important to have an experienced Indiana trucking accident lawyer on your side throughout this process.
The company’s lawyer, or the counsel for the insurer, may attempt to argue that you were at fault for the accident and should not receive compensation. Your personal injury lawyer can use evidence to show that another party (or parties) bears substantial responsibility for the collision and should have to pay damages to compensate you for your losses.
Contact an Indiana Trucking Accident Lawyer Today
Was someone you love recently injured in a truck accident? When considering the distinctions between a car vs. truck accident, it is clear that trucks have a much greater capacity to cause damage to smaller passenger vehicle and to inflict severe and often fatal injuries on car occupants. It is important to reach out to an experienced Indiana trucking accident lawyer as soon as possible to learn more about filing a claim for compensation. An aggressive advocate at our firm can discuss your options with you today. Contact Craig, Kelley & Faultless LLC to learn more about the services we offer to clients throughout the state of Indiana.