A guide to commercial truck accidents and how they differ from car accidents
Picture this: You're driving your 2,000-pound vehicle on Interstate 80 in Illinois. It's raining heavily and an 80,000-pound 18-wheeler in the lane next to you loses control. The truck driver oversteers and swerves into your lane. As a result, the truck crashes into the side of your car and part of your vehicles goes underneath the trailer.
This hypothetical is both terrifying and sadly all too common. In the United States, roughly 4,500 people die in crashes involving large trucks every year. It's estimated that roughly half of these crashes involve "underriding."
In Illinois, commercial trucking is an integral part of the economy. Unfortunately, this means truck accidents are frequent and the results are often tragic.
In this article, we'll take a look at truck accidents and lawsuits in Illinois, including the state and federal laws that might impact your ability to recover damages after a truck accident.
Truck accident statistics
According to the Federal Highway Administration, 4,136 people died in large truck crashes in 2018. The number of people who died in large truck crashes was 31% higher in 2018 than in 2009.
In Illinois, there were 13,071 crashes involving tractor-trailers in 2018. Remarkably, almost 10% of those crashes resulted in fatalities (122). What's more, 2,235 people were injured.
Here are some other alarming facts about tractor-trailer crashes in 2018, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation:
- Crashes involving tractor-trailers accounted for 3.8% of overall crashes, 11.1% of fatal crashes, and 3.1% of injury crashes
- More fatalities and injuries occurred on rural roads than urban roads
- Only 19 tractor-trailer occupants were killed (86 other vehicle occupants, 14 pedestrians, and 2 pedalcyclists were killed)
- The number of fatal crashes increased by 10.4% from 2017 to 2018
Common causes of truck accidents
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) investigated the actions that lead to truck accidents and found that they could generally be broken down into 6 categories:
- Decision (38%): The driver was driving too fast for conditions, misjudged the speed of other vehicles, or followed other vehicles too closely.
- Recognition (28%): The driver was inattentive, was distracted by something inside or outside the vehicle, or failed to observe the situation adequately for some other reason.
- Non-performance (12%): The driver fell asleep, was disabled by a heart attack or seizure, or was physically impaired for another reason.
- Vehicle (10%): Vehicle failures, such as brake problems.
- Performance (9%): The driver panicked, overcompensated, or exercised poor directional control.
- Environment (3%): Fog, heavy rain, bad weather or roadway problems.
Driver fatigue is a particularly serious problem in the trucking industry. Fatigue can impact a driver's response times, ability to maintain focus, and ability to make good decisions.
According to a large truck study by FMCSA, roughly 13% of commercial vehicle drivers who crash are fatigued. Because of these risks, federal laws governing the trucking industry establish certain hours-of-service limitations that truck drivers must follow.
|Hours-of-service limitations for commercial motor vehicle drivers|
|Work||Property-carrying vehicles||Passenger-carrying vehicles|
|On-duty||Maximum 14 consecutive hours on-duty following 10 consecutive hours off-duty||Maximum 15 hours on-duty following 8 consecutive hours off-duty|
|Driving time||Maximum 11 hours of driving during the 14-hour on-duty period||Maximum 10 hours of driving following 8 consecutive hours off-duty|
|Weekly||Maximum 60 hours on-duty in any period of 7 consecutive days (if vehicle operates every day) or maximum 70 hours on-duty in any period of 8 consecutive days (if vehicle doesn't operate every day)||Maximum 60 hours on-duty in any period of 7 consecutive days (if vehicle operates every day) or maximum 70 hours on-duty in any period of 8 consecutive days (if vehicle doesn't operate every day)|
There are also a number of state laws intended to reduce the number of truck crashes in Illinois. These laws can be found in the Illinois Vehicle Code and address things like:
- Registration requirements
- Maximum truck sizes and loads
- Legal wheel, axle, and gross vehicle weights
- Special hauling permits
- Crash reporting
Who's at fault in a truck accident?
In order to recover damages in an Illinois truck accident, you generally have to show that some other party was responsible for causing the accident in which you were injured (i.e, that some other party was negligent).
Sometimes, proving who's at fault for an accident is fairly straightforward. Here are some situations where liability is generally easy to show:
- A vehicle rear-ended you (the rear vehicle in a rear-end collision is almost always at fault)
- A vehicle violated some rule of the road (such as driving while under the influence or failing to stop at a stop sign) and received a citation
Other times, liability isn't so clear. Your attorney (or your insurance company) will have to investigate the accident and build a case that someone else was at fault. To do this, your attorney will often:
- Depose the other driver
- Identify and depose witnesses
- Retrieve security footage
- Hire an independent investigator to conduct a crash investigation
- Review police reports
Your attorney will investigate all the possible at-fault parties, too. Some parties that might be at-fault for a truck accident, in addition to the driver, include:
- The trucking company. The trucking company may be found at fault (or partially at fault) if they violated one of the federal or state laws (such as requiring the truck driver to drive more hours than permitted by the law).
- The cargo company. One common cause of truck accidents is overloaded or improperly loaded cargo. In these situations, the cargo company may be at fault.
- The manufacturer. Truck accidents may be caused by a defective vehicle (such as an improperly designed trailer hitch that causes the trailer to come loose). In these situations, the manufacturer of the defective part might be at fault.
In Illinois, the legal theory of "respondeat superior" can be used to hold a company responsible for a truck accident caused by its truck driver employee. Under this theory, the employer is liable for the actions of its employee so long as the acts were:
- Unintentional; and
- Committed within the scope of the employee's employment and in furtherance of the employer's business.
Sometimes, both the truck driver (or other party associated with the truck) and the motorist involved in the collision are at fault.
So what happens then?
Illinois follows the modified comparative fault theory. Under this theory, the amount of damages a plaintiff can recover is reduced by a percentage that reflects the plaintiff's degree of fault. If, however, the plaintiff's degree of fault is more than 50%, the plaintiff is prohibited from recovering any damages.
Let's say Harrison is driving an 18-wheeler down Lake Shore Drive. He's following the car in front of him too closely. The car is driven by Marcy. Marcy is eating a sandwich and distracted by the beautiful view of Lake Michigan. She drops some mayonnaise on her lap and when she looks down she slams into the car in front of her. Harrison then rear-ends Marcy's car. Marcy decides to sue Harrison and the court determines that both Marcy and Harrison were 50% at fault.
In this scenario, Marcy would only be able to recover 50% of her damages due to the modified comparative fault laws. If, however, the court had determined that Marcy was 51% at fault, she wouldn't be able to recover any damages.
What if you're injured as a truck driver?
In most cases, injured truck drivers can file workers' compensation claims. Workers' compensation is a form of insurance that pays medical expenses and lost wages to employees who are injured while doing their job.
In Illinois, workers' compensation is "no-fault" insurance. This means that claims are paid regardless of who's to blame for the accident. Workers' compensation pays medical expenses, wage loss benefits, and death benefits for certain family members.
A common defense to workers' compensation claims involving truck drivers is that the truck driver wasn't engaged in a work-related task when they were injured. For example, perhaps the truck driver crashed while taking a detour (to get lunch or find a place to rest) from their scheduled route.
Truck accident damages
Trucks, which can legally weigh up to 80,000 pounds, can cause serious injuries. Common truck injuries include:
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Back and neck injuries
- Broken bones
- Internal injuries
Illinois awards both economic damages and non-economic damages in truck accident cases. Economic damages refer to those damages that you can put a price tag on (medical expenses, lost wages, etc.).
Non-economic damages refer to those damages that are harder to quantify (pain and suffering, emotional distress, etc.).
In addition to proving that the other party was liable, recovering the damages you deserve requires that you provide evidence to support the amount of damages you're claiming. The easiest way for you to do this is to keep track of the expenses related to your injury, as well as the ways in which your injury impacts your day-to-day life.
Damages worksheet to track expenses for your injury claim (medical treatment, property damage, lost wages, prescriptions)
Download in PDF format
Post-Accident Journal Form
Sample accident journal/diary to help you document the effect on your daily life
Download in PDF format
What to do after a truck accident in Illinois
If you're involved in a truck accident in Illinois, there are 4 critical steps to take:
1. Stop and provide assistance
Following an accident, Illinois drivers are required by law to:
- Stop their vehicle at the scene or as close to the scene as possible,
- Provide their name, address, registration number, and driver's license to others involved in the accident, and
- Assist any injured persons.
2. Seek medical attention
If you're hurt, you should call an ambulance (or have someone call one for you). However, even if you're not obviously injured, you should be evaluated by a doctor. Some injuries don't show symptoms for days.
What's more, seeing the doctor after a crash will help make any damage claim you make later appear more legitimate.
3. Gather information
If you're able to do so, the best time to gather evidence is immediately after the accident. Here are some things you should attempt to obtain:
- Photographs of the crash scene and any damages
- Contact information for witnesses
- Contact information for drivers or passengers involved in the crash
4. Contact an attorney
A lot of people don't realize that most attorneys offer free initial consultations. It doesn't hurt (and can only help) your case to meet with an attorney soon after your accident. Even if you think your injuries are minor and your best course of action is to simply file an insurance claim yourself, an attorney can help make sure you're not missing anything or falling into any common traps.
Did you know that truck accident law varies by state?
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What does an injury lawyer do?
A personal injury lawyer helps individuals who have sustained injuries in accidents to recover financial compensation. These funds are often needed to pay for medical treatment, make up for lost wages and provide compensation for injuries suffered. Sometimes a case that seems simple at first may become more complicated. In these cases, consider hiring an experienced personal injury lawyer. Read more