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What to do, who's liable, and how to seek compensation for truck accident injuries
If you've driven a car on a highway, you've probably experienced that moment when a huge truck is bearing down from the rear and your heartbeat starts to race, just a little. Or perhaps you have to make a sudden slowdown or maneuver and you glance in the rearview mirror and wonder if the truck behind you can slow itself in time.
The sheer size and weight of a truck can mean that an accident results in more serious injuries than accidents between passenger cars.
Think of it this way:
If you're bowling, do you think you can knock down more pins with a bowling ball or a tennis ball? Aside from the fact that there's more power and weight to a bowling ball, it's also likely to take down several pins when a tennis ball on the same trajectory might only take down 1 or 2.
Let's take a look at fatalities from Massachusetts truck accidents:
Types of truck accidents
Statistics matter because they give you a complete picture of how serious a problem can be or the likelihood that it will affect you or someone you care about. But in reality, most people probably don't think too much about a truck accident unless it happens to them.
Below, we'll take a look at the most common types of truck accidents. Understanding how they happen can help you to avoid being in an accident yourself, and also help to determine liability if one happens.
There's no finite number of ways an accident can happen, but these are the most common:
Jackknife truck accidents
When the cab and trailer portions of a big rig fold at their joints, it causes the truck to swing into a "jackknife" formation. If the back of the trailer moves faster than the cab, it creates a sharp angle that causes the truck to face 2 directions and the driver loses control of the truck. A nearby car could collide with the swinging trailer or wedge underneath the rear of the truck.
Tire blowout accidents
Both cars and trucks can have tire blowouts. When that happens, it can cause the vehicle to swerve into another lane, rollover, or (in the case of semi-trucks) jackknife. A tire blowout is usually caused by wear and tear, defective manufacturing, or lack of routine maintenance. If a truck tire blows out, the debris from the broken tire could hit other cars, or the truck could collide with other cars if it swerves out of its lane.
Unsecured load accidents
Federal regulations are strict so that a haul is immobile and secure. The truck's restraint system must be strong enough to keep cargo from sliding or shifting.
There are 2 ways an unsecured load accident could happen:
- If the truck is involved in an accident and the load isn't secured properly, it can create an additional hazard because the impact could cause the cargo to slide into oncoming traffic, or onto the road.
- The instability of the load can cause a rollover if the truck's center of gravity is thrown off or the movement causes the truck to move unpredictably.
Underride truck accidents
A passenger car can slide underneath a truck, either from the rear or the side. The height difference in the vehicles could mean that the top or front of the car could be crushed and its occupants seriously injured. This is an especially deadly type of truck accident.
Hazmat truck accidents
"Hazmat" stands for hazardous materials. This classification could include anything from gasoline, to pesticides, to lithium batteries, to dry ice. Cargo is hazardous if it's either highly flammable or could become harmful to breathe if it becomes airborne.
A hazmat accident can affect not just the drivers on the road, but also anyone in surrounding areas. If a toxic substance is released into the air or certain bodies of water, it can affect people in nearby communities.
Massachusetts truck accident liability laws
Massachusetts is a no-fault insurance state. If you're in an accident, you make a claim on your own insurance policy. But your insurance might not cover the entire amount of your costs…
What do you do then?
There are certain conditions under which you may file a personal injury lawsuit for a truck accident (or any accident) when you've exhausted your own insurance policy.
You may file a personal injury lawsuit for a Massachusetts car accident only if:
- The injuries cost you more than $2,000 in reasonable medical expenses, or
- The injuries are permanent and severe in a way that will affect your quality of life. This could include broken bones, disfigurement, lost hearing or vision, partial or complete loss of a body part, or death of a family member.
In order to file a lawsuit, you have to name the correct defendants — in other words, you need to know who was at fault for the accident.
In a car accident between 2 (or more) vehicles, the person who's at fault (liable) for the accident is usually one of the drivers.
But a truck accident could have many more possibilities. Potential defendants could include:
- Truck driver. While this might seem most obvious, even if the driver made an error, it's not always the driver's fault. If the driver was breaking rules or choosing to speed or otherwise drive unsafely, they might be the party at fault — but not always.
- Trucking company. There are several ways the company could be liable for an accident. The contracts between the trucking company and the shipper or manufacturer, and between the trucking company and the driver (many drivers are independent contractors or subcontractors), can determine who's liable for an accident. The company could also be liable if the accident was caused by a truck that wasn't properly inspected or loaded.Sometimes the trucking company (employer) bears the liability for the actions of its employees. The accident could be the result of inadequate training or a company that cuts corners by requiring a driver to work a longer shift with fewer hours of sleep than is permitted by federal or state regulations.
- Parts manufacturer. Your car was probably manufactured in a plant that's owned and operated by a specific manufacturer. A truck, on the other hand, might be made from parts made by a number of different manufacturers. If the accident was caused by a faulty bearing, a defective cargo restraint, defective brake system, or any other way that's related to defective parts, it could be the manufacturer that's ultimately at fault.
- Shipper/distributor. Some shippers use their own trucks to transport goods. Others contract with a trucking company, but the shipper would still load cargo before the trip. Some truck accidents are caused because cargo is loaded improperly, there's too much weight, or for other cargo-related reasons.
In order to successfully receive an award in a personal injury lawsuit, you (the plaintiff) have to prove that someone was negligent.
Negligence means someone caused your injury by acting in a way that would be reasonably foreseeable to cause harm. There might be some instances in a truck accident situation when there's no one at fault — in other words, it's a true "accident."
But liability matters a lot, especially if it's your own. You might not have caused the accident, but if the court finds that you contributed to the accident, it will affect how much you can recover in compensation.
Massachusetts modified comparative negligence law
Massachusetts follows a modified comparative negligence standard of law. If you have to file a lawsuit for any personal injury in Massachusetts, you can recover for your injuries only if you're less than 51% at fault. If your allocation of fault is 51% or higher, then you can't recover any damages.
That's why it's important to know that many truck accidents are caused by driver error — the truck driver's OR your own.
Common causes of truck accidents
Here are 5 ways driver error could result in a truck accident:
- Distracted driving. Distracted driving isn't just an issue for truck drivers. It's a huge problem for everyone — including teens and adult drivers. And it's not just about texting and driving. Distraction can be anything from eating, to flipping radio channels, to simply getting lost in your thoughts and losing concentration on a long and boring strip of highway. Taking your eyes, hands, or mind off the task of driving, even for a split second, can result in disaster.
- Alcohol and drug use. Nearly a third of truck drivers admitted to using amphetamines on the job, according to a Reuters Health study. Another 20% admitted to using marijuana, and 3% used cocaine. Often, it's appealing for truck drivers to use amphetamines or cocaine in order to stimulate themselves to stay awake while driving. The hazard is that these drugs also compel drivers to take unnecessary risks (like speeding). Also, the drugs' effects wear off quickly, which makes it more likely for a driver to fall asleep at the wheel.
- Speeding. Truck drivers are under constant pressure to make tight deadlines. A driver might be at risk of losing their job if they can't deliver a load on time, and that might mean they're willing to speed to get there. For an 18-wheeler traveling 55 miles per hour on dry pavement, it can take 390 feet (or 4 seconds) to come to a stop. That might not sound like much, but if you're in a small car in front of a big truck and you need to come to a sudden stop, then you could be at risk if the driver can't stop the truck fast enough.
- Driver fatigue. There are laws and regulations about how many hours a truck driver is allowed behind the wheel per shift, and how many hours of sleep are required in between shifts. Unfortunately, many trucking companies don't follow the rules. Sometimes, the drivers want to make better time, so they choose to cut corners on the amount of sleep they get. This results in drivers who fall asleep at the wheel, or who lose concentration or coordination and are slow to react to a traffic situation.
- Failure to leave enough space between vehicles. The most effective form of prevention is to leave plenty of room to make sudden stops or other maneuvers, and to avoid traveling alongside a truck or in the driver's blind spot. The general rule of thumb is if you can't see their mirrors, they can't see you. Certainly, you need to pass a truck from time to time. But try to wait until you're sure there's enough room to pass quickly without having to linger in the lane directly adjacent to the truck.
While this list doesn't cover every potential driver error, it does provide an opportunity to make sure that you're following general safe practices when you're behind the wheel. It goes without saying that driving while intoxicated or driving while distracted (texting or any distraction) are unsafe behaviors, but you also should be cautious about speeding, leaving space between your vehicle and others, and making sure you're never driving if you feel drowsy.
Damages for a Massachusetts truck accident
There are specific costs you can recover from a truck accident lawsuit. The purpose of a personal injury lawsuit is to recover the money you spent as a result of the accident — in other words, to leave you in the same financial position you'd be in if the accident hadn't happened.
Damages after a truck accident include:
- Pain and suffering, for PTSD and other emotional distress caused by the crash
- Medical expenses, including doctor and hospital visits, surgeries, outpatient procedures, prescription medications, etc.
- Costs for adaptive devices
- Ongoing treatment like physical or occupational therapy
- Lost wages (past and future)
- Costs for property damage (like repair or replacement of your vehicle)
- Compensation for assistance with daily activities (like child care, personal aide, etc.)
- Funeral and burial expenses, if the crash resulted in the death of your loved one
In Massachusetts, punitive damages are only available in a wrongful death lawsuit.
If you're suing a trucking company, manufacturer, or shipper, you're likely going up against a huge company with a team of lawyers who just want your case to go away. They might make you an offer that sounds like a lot of money to try to get you to settle early. But if you have serious injuries, will be unable to work temporarily or permanently, or will have future expenses to cover, you need an attorney who can be sure that you're receiving the correct amount. Never accept a settlement without consulting a lawyer first.
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