Articles Posted in Truck Accidents

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When you are near a semitruck on the highway in New York, it may cross your mind to hope that the driver is not distracted or fatigued. You probably did not wonder whether there is even a person in the driver’s seat, though. We at DeFrancisco & Falgiatano Personal Injury Lawyers understand that new technology could change the role of truck drivers, and in the future, it may reduce the number of commercial vehicle crashes.

While self-driving trucks are not on the road yet, CNBC reports that technology for tractor-trailers has taken a step in that direction. Your car’s aerodynamic shape gives you some relief from high fuel prices by increasing your miles per gallon. Large trucks take much more fuel, but by driving closer together, they reduce the wind resistance on each and improve their efficiency. Rather than traveling an average following distance of 200 feet, which is a two- to three-second space, platooning trucks would be a mere 50 to 80 feet apart.

To make it possible for them to follow each other without compromising safety, new technology links the trucks through a computer so that the first driver controls the convoy’s brakes and steering. While truck platooning is in the early stages of development in the U.S., you will not see more than two trucks connected at a time.

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If you’ve been following this blog, you’re probably aware of the ongoing case of the truck driver whose drowsiness caused him to collide with comedian Tracy Morgan’s limo back in 2014. The accident took the life of Morgan’s dear friend James “Jimmy Mack” McNair and left Morgan in critical condition with a traumatic brain injury and several broken bones.

The driver admitted that he hadn’t slept in over 28 hours when the accident happened. After pleading not guilty for a period of time, in late November the driver finally pleaded guilty to four counts of aggravated assault and one count of vehicular homicide in order to avoid going to prison. As a part of the deal, he will have to serve 300 hours of community service.

Here’s where it’s important to remember that, from a legal standpoint, criminal cases are separate from civil cases. Whether a defendant in a truck accident criminal case is found guilty or not guilty, the victims can still file a lawsuit seeking compensation for injuries. In this case, Tracy Morgan agreed to an undisclosed settlement with Wal-Mart, the company the driver worked for, and McNair’s family settled for $10 million.

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Truck accidents can occur for all manner of reasons, including fatigued driving, misjudging other driver’s movements, speeding or violating other traffic rules, talking on a cell phone and engaging in other activities which distract attention from driving. Another common cause of truck accidents is tire flats and blowouts.

Earlier this week, a truck accident occurred in Bolton when a front tire on the vehicle blew out, causing the driver to veer off the road and roll down an embankment. Fortunately, the driver suffered survived with no life threatening injuries. Reports say that no tickets have been issued over the incident, and it seems that nobody else was injured. Sources provided no indication of why the tire blowout occurred. In some cases of tire blowouts or flats, determining what exactly caused the failure isn’t an easy matter. 

According to a 2003 report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, tire blowouts or flat tires caused over 400 fatalities that year, as well as over 10,000 injuries and over 78,000 crashes. Those numbers were taken before tire pressure monitor systems were required for commercial motor vehicles, though, so hopefully things have improved. That same report found, though, that certain factors can increase the likelihood of tire problems occurring, such as inadequate tire depth, under-inflation and poor weather conditions.

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Last time, we began looking at the topic of commercial vehicle maintenance, pointing out some of the general requirements for vehicle maintenance at both the state and federal level. As we left of saying, the requirements from the state of New York are essentially the same as the federal requirements.

When inspectors check out a vehicle for purposes of compliance, there are a lot of areas they inspect to ensure a vehicle is in safe operate condition. This includes checking on matters related to the transportation of hazardous materials, checking a vehicle’s fuel and braking systems, lighting, steering, coupling devices, suspension, tires and wheels, windshield wipers, mirrors, horns, exhaust, emergency equipment, and other areas. 

Laxity in complying with safety rules, of course, is not a good idea for commercial vehicle operators. Doing so is not only bad for business, but can also lead to civil penalties and tort liability. An accident victim, or his or her survivors, may use failure to comply with vehicle safety regulations to establish liability at trial. Liability, as we’ve mentioned before, can be based on any failure to carry out some legal duty, including vehicle maintenance rules, traffic rules, or the general duty to exercise reasonable care in operating a motor vehicle.

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Under a bill currently being considered in New York City, private sanitation companies would have the exclusive right to collect trash in established zones. The idea behind the legislation is to make the city’s oversight of sanitation trucks easier. Oversight is a particular problem with respect to sanitation truck maintenance.

Evidence of the problem can be seen in a recent report which found that most of the safety violations involving private sanitation companies in New York amount to maintenance failures. According to the report, almost half of all private sanitation trucks from New York City’s top 20 sanitation companies, had to be put out of service for maintenance problems over a two year period. In one case, a company’s out-of-service rate was 86 percent. 

According to some in the industry, employers in sanitation work are failing to maintain their fleets and are thereby putting their workers and other motorists at risk. When it comes to maintenance, problems can pop up in a number of areas, from balding tires to nonfunctional brakes to broken or missing lights or windshield wipers.  Depending on the traffic and weather conditions, such maintenance errors can create deadly circumstances.

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The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has an incredible amount of data on motor vehicle accidents that involve large trucks and buses. Their database is recent as of the year 2014. According to that year of data, safety has improved, in general, when it comes to large trucks and buses being involved in motor vehicle accidents.

The 2014 data shows that 3,978 large trucks and buses were involved in fatal motor vehicle accidents in the U.S., marking a 5 percent decline in the figure compared to 2013. This is great news and it marks a tremendous stride in truck and bus safety. Of course, more needs to be done, but improving numbers are obviously the goal.

 

However, there are still far too many of these wrecks that leave people with injuries, especially with large trucks. According to the data, roughly 20 percent of the 411,000 police-reported crashes that large trucks were involved in resulted in nonfatal injuries. Trucks are incredibly powerful, and they carry a lot of momentum with them when they travel down a road or a highway. So when they collide with another vehicle, it is likely that the other vehicle will suffer heavy damage and that the people inside could suffer serious injuries.

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Recent posts on this blog have focused on the issue of vicarious liability in personal injury litigation. There are a variety of situations where an employer can become liable for a motor vehicle accident caused by an employee. One common area where this can happen is in truck accident cases.

Trucking is a heavily regulated industry, perhaps not strictly enough according to some, but nevertheless bound by a significant number of rules and regulations. Both drivers and their employers—as well as the independent contractors that work with them—have the responsibility to abide by the various state and federal safety rules governing the industry. These include rules for properly securing cargo, hours of service rules, vehicle maintenance rules, rules for monitoring truckers’ fitness to operate commercial vehicles, and so on. 

Take a common example of a truck safety violation—failure to rest breaks as required under the hours of service rules. While it certainly is the responsibility of each trucker to follow and record compliance with federal rest requirements, it is also the responsibility of the employer to monitor employee compliance with the rules. Trucking companies are expected to properly train and instruct their drivers, and to have processes and systems in place to ensure unsafe driving practices are caught and not allowed to continue.

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Last time, we began discussing the federal hours of service regulations, which are largely intended to address the problem of fatigued driving among commercial vehicle operators. The rules, no doubt, do help to ensure that truck drivers are adequately rested while on the roadway, but there has been a fair amount of wrangling over the rules.

The most recent change with the rules took place in 2014 when Congress passed a bill which suspended enforcement of requirements for the 34-hour restart rule. The previous rule required truckers to take their rest breaks at a certain period of two consecutive nights, but that rule was suspended at the urging of the industry so that its effectiveness could be investigated. It remains to be seen whether it will be reinstated.

The trucking industry has been successful in initiating changes not only in the hours of service rules, but also with size and weight limits and other safety standards. These changes, as has been pointed out, have not been good for the cause of highway safety.

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Truck safety is an important concern when it comes to improving highway safety. Because of their size and the weight they carry, semi-tractor trailers and other commercial vehicles present a serious risk of causing harm or death other motorists when they are involved in accidents.

One particular area where truck needs continual monitoring and improvement is driver fatigue. Long hours on the road and inadequate rest can make truck drivers a roadway accident waiting to happen. Driver fatigue has long been known to be a problem among truck drivers, and federal regulations are in place to help ensure that truckers get enough rest. These federal regulations are known as the hours of service rules. 

The hours of service rules apply to commercial vehicle drivers whose vehicles meet certain requirements. On its website, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration provides a brief summary of these rules. Slightly different rules apply to property-carrying drivers and passenger-carrying drivers. For the former, the rules include the following:

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Figuring out who was at fault in a car accident can sometimes be challenging. Although the cause of an accident may initially seem clear, an investigation into what happened may reveal more facts that are important to the cause of the accident.

This is often the case with big-rig accidents. Although there are plenty of reasons where passenger vehicle drivers may be at fault, the same goes for the drivers of the truck.

If you are in a passenger vehicle, you typically know that it’s important to closely follow safety procedures when navigating your vehicle near an 18-wheeler. Nonetheless, some drivers still end up making mistakes. A driver may make a left turn in front of a large truck after misjudging their speed. They may merge improperly onto the highway which might make the truck driver hit the brakes suddenly. It can also be really dangerous to drive between large trucks or to drive in their “No-Zone.” A No-Zone is an area around the truck that the truck driver either cannot see or has very limited visibility.

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