Winston Salem, Charlotte, Raleigh Truck Accident Attorneys
How do trucking/commercial vehicle accidents differ from typical traffic accidents?
Truck accidents are far more dangerous than car accidents. Research shows that trucking accidents result in a 50% greater fatality rate than all other accident types combined. In crashes between passenger vehicles and large trucks, the ratio of occupant fatalities is about 32 to 1. Unfortunately, North Carolina ranks in the top ten states in the U.S. for fatal truck accidents.
In the imminent encounter between commercial vehicles and private passenger autos, the automobile driver doesn't stand a chance. Loaded tractor-trailers typically weigh 70,000 to 80,000 pounds. By comparison, an average automobile weighs 3,000 to 5,000 pounds, with the largest SUVs weighing 8,000 pounds. Thus, the mass ratio between a truck and an automobile can exceed 20 to 1, which means that a tractor-trailer has far more energy and momentum than the cars it may encounter. Further, trucks are typically "articulated vehicles" (hinged at the coupling between tractor and trailer) with vastly different performance and braking characteristics. In an emergency setting, trucks are nearly impossible to control and resulting collisions commonly cause catastrophic injuries and results.
Beyond collision physics and injury propensity, trucking accidents also differ from typical car accidents in the following ways:
- Commercial vehicle accidents involve hidden defendants and multiple parties who share the responsibility to pay for victims' losses.
- Trucking accidents often involve multiple causative factors, including latent dangers like driver fatigue, driver impairment, poor truck maintenance, over-loading, product/component failure, and outside neglect by the shippers and trucking companies who seek to hide behind the scene.
- Trucking claims are far more aggressively defended than personal injury claims arising from typical traffic accidents.
- The significant injuries that flow from commercial vehicle crashes require a far more detailed understanding and presentation of complex medical evidence which proves the full extent of injury, damages and financial loss.
How is the lawyer paid?
Our fee is paid on a pure contingency basis, meaning we receive no payment up front, and the fee is a fraction of the total case value/result paid at the conclusion of the case. This fee structure works well in personal injury cases for a number of reasons. First, the accident victim and their family who are suddenly confronted with injury, expense and disability are often unprepared to deal with accident costs, much less legal fees and case expenses. The contingency fee allows the victim to hire the best available legal counsel, and immediately put forward an aggressive, thorough legal position. Second, the contingency fee motivates your attorney to push for the maximum compensation for all aspects of your case. Third, the victim owes no legal fees in the event that a trial ends with a defense verdict. Fourth, the fee structure allows a competent attorney to more than pay for his own fee. Trucking cases are vigorously defended and insurers won't pay a fair settlement unless they fear litigation and trial. The unrepresented victim cannot effectively convince the insurance carriers and trucking company representatives that they will litigate a case through a jury trial without an attorney. If the insurance carriers know the victim intends to settle, they won't pay a settlement which reflects the likely plaintiff's verdict following a well conducted trial. On the other hand, if an experienced trial attorney presents your case, the insurance company knows your threat of trial is real and they will therefore pay the full amount of money which they expect to lose in Court. A lawyer also pays his own fee by adding to the damages and losses that the defense is forced to pay. We build evidence in ways that the victim acting alone would not, and in ways that the adjusters and trucking companies cannot ignore. By unearthing all medical evidence to reveal the true, permanent effect of injuries, by working with experts to document and prove true economic losses and anticipated future expenses, by exposing trucker and shipper misconduct which supports higher verdicts and/or punitive damages, and by putting teeth in the victim's threat of trial, attorneys add a tremendous amount of value to every case.
How much is my case worth?
This question cannot be fairly answered until medical care is either concluded, or until the wave of post-collision care is sufficiently completed to allow physicians to determine the prognosis and likely future effects of all injuries. Factors which affect case value include the type of neglect/misconduct which produced injury, the severity of the crash, the extent and permanency of injuries, the full cost of medical treatment including future care needs, the dollar value of all economic loss including out of pocket expenses, lost wages, lost profits, lost earning capacity and lost progress with accumulated benefits and retirement contributions, and the extent of pain, suffering and inconvenience produced by the collision and all related physical and emotional injuries. Wrongful death claims also allow for collection of additional damages for the surviving family members. Because medical care benefits the victim's health and also helps to provide objective medical documentation of all injuries and symptoms thereby strengthening the personal injury case, the accident victim is best advised to seek all necessary treatment and carefully follow all physicians' advice. Don't suffer in silence - recover your health with the assistance of your doctors, and use all available private health insurance coverage along the way. Once thorough medical care is completed, the value of your case can be determined by an experienced lawyer.
Will I have to go to Court?
Almost certainly not. Over 90% of accident cases involving personal injury are resolved through private, out-of-Court settlements. Thus, only about 1 in 10 cases involves a lawsuit filing. Of the 10% of cases that are filed, over 95% settle before the jury deliberates to a verdict. Thus, you should expect to settle your case. An experienced attorney forces the true value of the case to be considered and paid at settlement. That is, we force a settlement on your terms, rather than the sharply discounted settlement that the insurance adjusters and trucking companies hope you will accept.
Who regulates commercial vehicle drivers and operators?
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which is a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation, governs all commercial transportation and trucking, and promulgates all regulations which bind and control the trucking industry. The federal regulations and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Act cover all aspects of commercial driving including driver conduct, rules of the road, driver training, equipment requirements, insurance requirements, inspection and repair, vehicle weight, and cargo limitations. In North Carolina, additional state laws govern truckers and commercial vehicle operators. The State Highway Patrol's Motor Carrier Enforcement division enforces all applicable state and federal laws and regulations.
Does federal law limit the hours that a trucker can stay behind the wheel?
Yes. Driver fatigue is a well-documented problem, and a very common factor in trucking accidents. The Hours-of-Service (HOS) laws codified in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations were significantly revised in 2003 (the first such revision in over 60 years!) to respond to this common problem. Drivers are legally required to maintain logs showing their time behind the wheel, and the origin and destination for each leg of their trip. Trip receipts and other documents must also be maintained. Unfortunately, these logs are often maintained in duplicate, with one "complying" log, and one "true" log (drivers hold "true" logs to extricate themselves in cases where shipper and employer demands necessitate driver violations). Satellite tracking data, trip reconstruction, and careful log-book analysis typically reveals log entry manipulation, and prove violations which help us understand why these tragic accidents occur.
Currently, federal law limits Hours-of-Service as follows: Drivers are allowed to drive 11 consecutive hours after 10 consecutive hours off duty. Truck drivers may not drive beyond the 14th hour after coming on-duty, following 10 hours off-duty. Truck drivers may not drive after being on-duty for 60 hours in a seven-consecutive-day period, or 70 hours in an eight-consecutive-day period. This on-duty cycle may be restarted whenever a driver takes at least 34 consecutive hours off duty.
How much insurance must a truck driver carry?
All commercial vehicles in operation must carry liability insurance to fund the costs of accidents. Federal law requires a minimum of $750,000.00 in liability insurance for each commercial vehicle operating in interstate transportation. In many cases, the tractor and trailer qualify as separate vehicles, thus doubling the available coverage. For trucks transporting hazardous materials/cargo, the minimum liability coverage limit for each vehicle rises to either $1,000,000.00 or $5,000,000.00, depending on the type of cargo being shipped.
What types of records must a truck driver and a trucking company maintain/produce?
Driver trip logs detailing driving hours and trip progress must be maintained by the truck driver, and thereafter by the trucking company. Maintenance inspections and maintenance reports are also mandated by federal law, and the documents must be maintained and later produced to accident victims. These include post-trip inspection reports completed by the driver at the conclusion of every shift (which detail the working order and condition of hand brakes, steering mechanism, horns, lights, emergency equipment, coupling devices, and tires). Annual inspection reports must also be maintained and produced.
New rules enacted in 2004 require trucking companies who employ commercial drivers to request information from all previous DOT-registered employers for the driver wishing to be hired. Employers are required to ask about previous accidents, previous drug and alcohol violations, and compliance with drug/alcohol treatment and records of all such information must be retained for a prescribed number of years. Once a driver has been hired, the employer must conduct annual reviews to assess the skills and ability of the driver, as well as to ascertain any new traffic citations issued to that driver.
What if the truck driver was intoxicated, impaired or fatigued?
Truckers often extend their ability to drive long hours by turning to amphetamines and other controlled substances which can impair the driver's reflexes and judgment. Further, the BAC limit for alcohol use for commercial drivers is .04, or half the legal limit for other drivers. Any impairment for a driver of an 80,000 pound vehicle would support a significant increase in case value due to likely jury reaction, and the additional claims available for punitive damages.
What types of claims can be brought against truck drivers, trucking companies, and shippers?
The following are common errors and claim types which support the successful commercial vehicle accident case:
- Negligent Loading - If cargo is negligently loaded, distributed and/or secured, the resulting "shifting load" can cause the driver to lose control. Tractor trailers can weigh up to 80,000 pounds fully loaded (even more with special DOT permit), and cargo often comprises more than half of the weight. Shifting cargo is a common cause of truck accidents, and supports a direct claim against the owner and shipper of the truck's contents.
- Negligent Hiring/Retention - Commercial drivers are held to higher standards than drivers of private vehicles, and the companies who employ these drivers can be held independently liable if they entrust the use and operation of these large, uniquely dangerous vehicles to drivers with a history of traffic offenses, drug and alcohol use, or prior accidents.
- Negligent Training - failure to provide safety and vehicle operation training.
- Improper Equipment/Negligent Maintenance - Profit motive for truckers and trucking companies tends to reduce the priority of maintenance expenses. Of all trucks with out-of-service violations (trucks pulled off the road when local officers inspect and find equipment deficiencies), more than one-third have problems with brakes.
- Negligent Driving - Any driver error or oversight gives rise to liability.
- Willful Misconduct - Conduct such as impaired driving, knowingly operating vehicles with unsafe brakes or other unsafe equipment, aggressive driving, or willful violation of traffic laws or driver hours-of-service regulations can support a claim for punitive damages. This is additional compensation to the victim which is taxed as a fine against the at-fault parties.
- Defective Products - Trucking accidents often involve failure of some component of the commercial vehicle. Examples include any lack of proper lighting, lack of side/rear under-ride protection which prevents automobiles from driving under the trailer causing catastrophic or fatal injuries, and lack of anti-jackknifing safeguards at the trailer coupling. If the truck was unsafely designed or built, the vehicle manufacturer should always be added as a party defendant.
Why would I choose Nagle & Associates?
Carl Nagle has extensive knowledge in the transportation field, and the insurance and litigation experience necessary to effectively represent clients with personal injury claims arising from commercial vehicle accidents. Truck accident victims need an aggressive lawyer with in-depth knowledge of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Act and all other state and federal regulations governing commercial transportation, and with experience in the detailed tasks of accident reconstruction, review of driver and carrier documents, and establishing all bases for claims based in negligence and willful misconduct. Further, only an experienced personal injury attorney with a ready threat of litigation and trial can secure the attention of all responsible parties and force prompt payment of maximum, compensation for victims' claimed losses.