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How Are Truck Accidents Different from Car Accidents?

North Carolina truck accident

How are truck accidents different from car accidents? For starters, there are often more catastrophic injuries for occupants of passenger vehicles involved in truck crashes.  Commercial trucks typically weigh 50,000 to 80,000 pounds – 10-20 times the weight of most cars, pickup trucks, and SUVs.  Drivers struck by large trucks truly face mortal danger.  Beyond the severity of most truck accident injuries, commercial insurance policies that cover truck drivers typically carry very high coverage limits.  Thus, insurance companies with large amounts of money at risk employ lawyers and highly-trained claims adjusters immediately after truck accidents occur, and their legal team works hard and quickly to minimize all victims’ claims.  You should respond by hiring an experienced truck accident lawyer to investigate the crash on YOUR behalf, to take control of the trucker’s insurance carriers, and to make sure your case is properly built, presented, and respected.

Another key difference is the laws involved are far more complex.  Legal rights arising from typical car accidents are established by North Carolina statutory laws and case law (decisions made by our Appellate courts).  Legal rights in truck accident cases involve the same state laws, but also require careful analysis and application of United States federal trucking laws, including the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. To collect full value for all legal claims against a careless truck driver and the trucking company who employed him, you must demonstrate full knowledge of all state and federal laws, and stand ready to identify all driver errors which led to causing your trucking accident.

What Obligations Do Truck Drivers Have When Working?

Most truck drivers deliver goods to multiple states, making them subject to interstate carrier laws managed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). Under FMCSA laws, truckers must adhere to regulations including:

  • The number of hours they may drive each day
  • How many hours of rest they need between drives
  • The number of hours they may drive in a seven-day or eight-day period, depending on other hourly limitations
  • Limitations on load weights for their trucks
  • Limitations on how to load cargo to avoid cargo-shifts which can cause severe injury
  • Mandatory driver submission for drug and alcohol testing immediately after a truck driver is involved in an accident involving injury
  • Regulations on how to properly back up in a cargo truck or tractor trailer
  • Regulations on how a driver must inspect the trucks braking and safety components before every trip, and record the inspection findings
  • Labeling of hazardous materials if hauling certain chemicals or compounds
  • Significant increase in mandatory insurance limits for all trucks that carry hazardous materials up to $5,000,000.00

Truck drivers or their supervisors often break rules about the hours allowed for driving in a day or mandatory meal breaks to rest during a full day of driving. These infractions lead to tired drivers with slow reaction times failing to adequately adjust to traffic patterns or falling asleep at the wheel.  Many studies have found fatigued driving to be as dangerous as drunk driving.  Unfortunately, to meet delivery deadlines and maximize profit, truck drivers often wilfully violate these safety laws.  By compelling the driver and trucking company to provide driver trip logs, trip receipts, and GPS data, we often are able to prove a pattern of willful violation of federal safety laws.  

Truckers are also supposed to follow speed limits or adjust their speeds to accommodate inclement weather. A truck driver speeding during heavy rain or icy road conditions can easily jackknife and cause a major accident with serious injuries.  Federal regulations require truck drivers to leave the road when weather or other roadway conditions render commercial driving dangerous.  Thus, in some cases, a truck driver who is traveling at or under the posted speed limit is still “speeding” based on the laws that apply at the time.

Is Insurance Coverage Different for a Car Accident Compared to a Truck Accident?

In a normal car accident involving a collision between two passenger vehicles, each driver would have a standard North Carolina personal auto policy. The state minimum required insurance for car insurance includes:

  • $30,000 bodily injury liability per person
  • $60,000 bodily injury liability per accident
  • $25,000 property damage liability
  • If the minimum policy, the driver must also carry uninsured motorist coverage
  • We often see higher limits of coverage, but this is always optional coverage purchased by choice by the registered owner of the insured vehicle.  Even higher-limit car insurance policies typically have lower limits than the coverage carried by delivery vehicles, cargo trucks, and tractor trailers

While these limits may cover many of your costs in a smaller car accident, they would be inadequate for the catastrophic injuries or death of a loved one caused by a truck accident. Truck drivers and trucking companies must have at least $750,000 in liability coverage for interstate driving with a truck rated over 10,000 pounds.  If the tractor and trailer are registered separately, we often find $750,000 in liability coverage for each component of the vehicle – effectively doubling the coverage available to pay victims’ claims.  

Truck drivers must also carry at least $1 million in liability coverage if they transport hazardous materials such as oil or hazardous waste. That amount increases to at least $5 million if they transport Class A or Class B explosives, pressurized liquids or gasses, poisonous gasses, portable tanks with a capacity over 3,500 gallons, or any amount of radioactive materials.

When a trucker’s insurance company agrees to pay their total coverage limits, the analysis and case are not over.  Trucking companies often carry “excess” liability coverage to protect the company in the case of a catastrophic accident.  These policies usually start at $1,000,000 and can be much higher.  These policies are not triggered and do not come into play unless AND until the primary liability policy tenders all available coverage.  

Large trucking companies always carry excess coverage.  However, in catastrophic injury cases, all available liability insurance may not provide enough money to pay the full value of all victims’ claims.  In these cases, we target the real estate, trucks, and all other assets and holdings of the trucking company to fund our client’s claims.  While these cases are rare, it is vital that you leave no stone unturned as you seek to collect the full and fair value of your truck accident injury case.

When Should I Find an Attorney for My Truck Accident Case?

Our founding attorney, Carl Nagle, is a former insurance claims adjuster for a large, national insurance company.  During his time working as an adjuster, he did on-call claims for the commercial lines division handling truck accident claims.  After law school, he worked as an insurance defense lawyer, defending at-fault drivers in court in Atlanta, Georgia.  We can assure you that insurance adjusters begin working immediately seeking evidence to support a denial of the victim’s legal claims, or reasons to minimize their financial liability.  

Our firm has handled many large-loss claims against truck drivers, trucking companies, and their insurance carriers.  Please understand that the truck driver is required to report an accident first to the trucking company and their insurance carrier.  In almost every truck accident case involving significant injury, the insurance company immediately retains an attorney who will visit the crash scene and begin preparing to defend the truck driver in court.  The truck driver’s insurance adjusters and attorneys will begin work immediately to minimize the value of the claim and reduce the amount owed for your injury claim.

You need an experienced truck accident attorney to begin gathering as much evidence as possible to support your injury claim as soon as it happens. Your attorney can begin seeking security footage from nearby businesses, dash cam recordings from other drivers, photos from the scene, and witness testimony and contact information.  We can mandate the trucking company to make the truck and trailer available for inspection, and secure a black box download of all data in the truck’s Electronic Data Recorder.  We mandate the preservation of driver trip logs, perform criminal records checks on the driver, secure past safety violation records for the driver and trucking company, and take full control over your case.  This commands respect from the truck driver’s insurer and their lawyers and increases the ultimate settlement value of your case.  

Be sure your lawyer has extensive medical experience.  Our firm only handles serious injury claims arising from roadway collisions.  The key to securing the highest-and-best settlement in every case is building and presenting your medical evidence.  We have worked with the best doctors, surgeons, and forensic medical experts in North Carolina, and we also have a highly experienced medical team standing ready to make sure the other side understands the true nature and extent of all injuries, and the full impact that your injuries have had on your health, physical ability, earning capacity and overall quality-of-life.

Contact a North Carolina Truck Accident Attorney

Truck drivers and trucking companies have more to answer if they were liable for an accident. Trust an experienced attorney with our firm at Nagle & Associates, PA for a truck accident case in North Carolina. Call us at (866) 631-2228 now for a free consultation by telephone or reach out to us online to schedule a free consultation.