The landscape and weather in Montana make it a particularly dangerous place for drivers of large commercial trucks. One report found that 29% of Montana’s major roads were in poor condition and 37% were in mediocre or fair condition.
What’s more, Montana winters bring lots of snow and ice, elements that cause problems for large trucks that can’t stop or turn as easily as other vehicles.
If you’re involved in a large-truck accident in Montana, you’ll face questions that you might not face after a car accident. For example, is the truck driver liable for the accident or is the truck driver’s employer liable? Were there specific laws the truck driver should have been following?
This article is intended to answer these questions and more.
In Montana, a “truck” is defined as any motor vehicle used or maintained primarily for the transportation of property.
In some cases, the specific characteristics of the truck (such as the weight of the cargo or the items being transported) determine whether a particular law applies. But, generally speaking, when people refer to a “truck accident,” they’re referring to a crash involving a large commercial vehicle. This includes the following:
According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), the number of people killed in crashes involving large trucks (defined as trucks with a gross vehicle weight rating greater than 10,000 pounds) increased from 4,369 in 2016 to 4,761 in 2017.
Of the fatalities in 2017:
In Montana, 20 people were killed in crashes involving large-truck in 2017. Of the 20 fatalities:
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) investigated the actions that lead to large-truck accidents across the country and found that they could generally be broken down as follows (in order of most to least common):
Trucks can legally weigh up to 80,000 pounds (40 tons). This is roughly 7 times heavier than a tyrannosaurus rex!
Due to the massive size of commercial trucks, injuries are often very serious. Common large-truck accident injuries include:
Montana awards both economic damages and non-economic damages in truck accident cases. Economic damages refer to monetary losses resulting from an accident (such as medical expenses and lost wages). Non-economic damages refer to losses that don’t have a clear dollar value (such as pain and suffering).
In addition, Montana awards punitive damages in cases where the defendant acted with actual malice. For example, punitive damages may be awarded if the truck driver who caused the accident was driving while intoxicated.
However, under Montana law, public entities and employees are immune from punitive damages. Moreover, public entities and public employees can’t be held liable for any amount greater than $750,000 for each claim and $1.5 million for each occurrence.
So if, for instance, you’re rear-ended by a dump truck that is owned and operated by the Missoula Public Works Department, punitive damages wouldn’t be available. Economic and non-economic damages would still be available, but would be capped.
When it comes to truck accidents, both federal and state laws play a role.
Federal laws govern the trucking industry and establish certain standards that trucking companies and drivers must meet. These regulations can be found in Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations. The regulations are extensive, but here’s a sampling:
|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)|
In addition to the federal laws that must be followed, Montana has its own laws governing the trucking industry. These laws can be found in Title 61 of the Montana Code Annotated and Chapter 18.8 of the Administrative Rules of Montana.
Here’s a sampling of some of the Montana laws:
|Montana Truck Speed Limits|
|Vehicle Type and Condition||Day||Night|
|Truck or truck tractor with a manufacturer’s rated capacity of 1 ton||On federal-aid interstate highways||65 MPH||65 MPH|
|On other public highways||60 MPH||55 MPH|
After an accident, the insurance companies and personal injury lawyers will attempt to determine who’s at fault for the accident.
In truck accident cases, determining who’s at fault usually means determining who was negligent. Often this is the truck driver, but not always. Others that could be at fault for a truck accident include:
It’s possible that the trucking company will be held liable for the negligence of the truck driver under the theory of respondeat superior. "Respondeat superior" is a legal theory that holds a company responsible for a traffic accident caused by a truck-driver so long as the truck driver is an employee and was acting within the scope of their employment.
In the past, trucking companies often escaped liability by contracting employees (in other words, using “independent contractors” rather than “employees”). Federal regulations have cracked down on these practices however, and now independent contractors are considered “employees” for the purposes of the commercial trucking industry.
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?
Montana is a modified comparative fault state. This means that the amount of damages a plaintiff can recover will be reduced by the percentage that reflects the plaintiff’s degree of fault so long as the plaintiff’s percentage of fault is less than 51%.
If the plaintiffs percentage of fault is 51% or more, the plaintiff is completely barred from recovering any damages from the defendant.
In lieu of filing a personal injury lawsuit, truck drivers who are injured in an accident during the course of their employment have the option of filing a workers’ compensation claim.
Workers’ compensation is a form of insurance that pays medical expenses and lost wages to employees who are injured while doing their job.
In Montana, workers’ compensation is a “no-fault” insurance system. This means that valid claims are paid regardless of who’s to blame for the accident. Montana workers’ compensation pays medical expenses, wage loss benefits, and death benefits for certain dependents.
Use our free online attorney directory to locate a personal injury or workers’ compensation attorney in Montana who has experience in truck-accident litigation.