It's one thing to be rear-ended by a 2,000 pound Mazda Miata, but it's another thing altogether to be rear-ended by an 80,000-pound semi-truck.
Truck accidents are more likely than car accidents to result in serious or fatal injuries. A recent study published by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that trucks account for 4% of the country's highway traffic, but are involved in 10% of fatal road crashes.
In Pennsylvania, truck crashes raise several questions that don't generally apply to car accidents. For example:
In this article, we'll take a look at these questions and more.
The Pennsylvania Vehicle Code defines "truck" as "a motor vehicle designed primarily for the transportation of property."
In some cases, the specific characteristics of a truck (such as the gross vehicle weight) determine whether a law applies to that truck. But, generally speaking, when people refer to a "truck accident," they're referring to a crash involving any of the following large commercial vehicles:
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the number of people injured (not including fatalities) in truck crashes every year across the nation has nearly doubled since 2009, from 74,000 people to 145,000 people.
The number of people killed in truck accidents has risen since 2009 as well, from 3,380 people in 2009 to 4,657 people in 2017 (the last year for which data is available).
PennDOT kept track of Pennsylvania truck crashes involving vehicle failures in 2018 and found the following:
|Pennsylvania heavy truck crashes involving vehicle failures (2018)|
|Defect||Number of crashes|
|Tire or wheel||114|
|Unsecure or overloaded trailer||36|
|Total steering system failure||12|
|Trailer hitch or improper towing||6|
|Vehicle lighting issue||1|
Despite the prevalence of vehicle failures, driver error is a contributing factor in most fatal crashes involving large trucks. Common driver errors include:
Driver fatigue is a particularly serious problem in the trucking industry. Studies show that fatigue can cause shortfalls in performance, including slower response times, attention failures, and poor decision making.
Because of the risks presented by "driving while drowsy," federal laws governing the trucking industry establish certain hours-of-service limitations.
|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 Pennsylvania. Most of these laws are found in Title 75 of the Pennsylvania Vehicle Code and cover things like:
In truck accident cases, determining who's at fault usually means determining who was negligent (i.e., failed to exercise reasonable care). Often, this is the truck driver, but not always. Others could be at fault for a truck accident, including:
In Pennsylvania, 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:
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?
For example, let's say Dan is driving an 18-wheeler across the Roberto Clemente Bridge. He's following the car in front of him too closely. The car is driven by Ben. Ben is texting and drops his phone. When he reaches to pick it up, he accidentally slams on his brakes. Dan rear-ends Ben's car, resulting in Ben being paralyzed. Ben decides to sue Dan. The court determines that Dan was 60% at fault for the accident, while Ben was 40% at fault.
In this scenario, Ben would only be able to recover 60% of his damages due to Pennsylvania's modified comparative fault laws.
Pennsylvania is different from most states with respect to how accident victims handle the claims-filing process.
In most states, insurance is either no-fault or fault-based:
In Pennsylvania, it's up to each driver to decide whether to purchase no-fault insurance (sometimes called "limited tort" insurance coverage) or fault-based insurance (sometimes called "full tort" insurance coverage).
If you have no-fault insurance and you're injured in a truck accident, you'll file an insurance claim with your own insurance provider. You won't have to determine who's at fault or prove negligence in order to obtain immediate financial recovery. On the downside, you won't (except in rare circumstances) be able to recover damages for emotional distress or pain and suffering.
With fault-based insurance, your rights are unrestricted. In other words, you'll be able to attempt to recover all of your damages from the at-fault driver. On the downside, fault-based insurance policies are generally more expensive than no-fault insurance policies and you may need to wait longer to receive compensation.
In most cases, 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 Pennsylvania, workers' compensation is "no-fault" insurance. As a result, claims are paid regardless of who's to blame for the accident. Pennsylvania workers' compensation pays medical expenses, wage loss benefits, and death benefits for certain family members.
Trucks can weigh up to 80,000 pounds. What's more, they sit higher than most cars, which means that cars can actually get crushed underneath trucks. As a result, trucks are dangerous and can cause extensive damages and even death.
Common examples of truck accident injuries include:
Pennsylvania awards both economic damages and non-economic damages in truck accident cases. Economic damages refer to those damages that you can easily 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.).
If you're involved in a truck accident in Pennsylvania, there are 5 critical steps to take:
Following an accident, Pennsylvania drivers are required by law to:
Once you're safe, it's important to start gathering evidence. Here are some things to gather after an accident:
Even if you don't think you're seriously hurt, it's important to visit your doctor after a truck accident. Some injuries, including serious internal injuries, don't show symptoms until hours or even days after an accident. Regardless, going to the hospital after a crash starts a paper trail that can be used to support the legitimacy of your claim down the road.
In Pennsylvania, you're required to file a report within 5 days of the accident if:
To file a report, you'll need to complete the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Driver's Accident Report form and mail it to the address listed on the form.
More often than not, truck accidents involve serious injuries or death. The severity of damage, in addition to the complexity of determining who is at fault, means that it's typically in the best interest of truck accident victims to talk to a knowledgeable personal injury lawyer.
Many people don't realize that most truck accident attorneys offer free initial consultations. Even if you believe you weren't seriously injured and you didn't suffer significant financial losses after a wreck, we recommend consulting an attorney to make sure you're not missing anything or falling into any common traps.
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