A Guide to Washington Truck Accidents & Claims

Find out what to do (and what NOT to do) after a truck crash in the Evergreen State

If you've been injured in a Washington truck accident, you may have the right to recover damages. Here's what you need to know about Washington truck accident claims, including how to prove fault and when you need to file a lawsuit.

When commercial trucks crash, the results are often catastrophic.

If you've been injured in a truck accident in Washington, you might be facing mounting medical bills and uncertainty when it comes to returning to work. Here at Enjuris, we want to provide you with the legal information you need to start your physical, emotional, and financial road to recovery.

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What is a truck accident?

The term "truck accident" is typically used to refer to an accident involving a truck that is used primarily for the transportation of goods. This includes:

  • Delivery trucks
  • 18-wheelers
  • Oil and gas trucks
  • Semi-trucks
  • Big rigs
  • Tractor-trailers
  • Box trucks
  • Dump trucks
  • Tow trucks
  • Refrigerated trucks

In some cases, the specific characteristics of a truck (such as the weight of the vehicle or the items being transported) may determine whether a particular law applies.

Washington truck accident statistics

Large trucks are incredibly active on the nation's roads.

According to the American Trucking Association (ATA), roughly 12 billion tons of freight are transported by trucks every year, representing about 70% of the total domestic tonnage shipped.

In Washington, more than 246,000 trucks are registered to carry freight for commercial purposes.

What are the busiest roads for truck traffic in Washington?

The highest truck volumes on Washington roads, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation, are in the South Puget Sound area, particularly on I-5 near Tacoma and I-90 in North Bend. Most trucks entering from Canada do so at Blaine and Sumas.

Unfortunately, lots of trucks on the roads means lots of opportunities for accidents.

In Washington, there were 4,904 total crashes involving commercial trucks in 2020.

Common causes of truck accidents

Truck accidents can occur for all of the same reasons that car accidents happen. With that being said, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) investigated the actions that specifically lead to truck accidents and found that they could generally be broken down into 6 categories:

Category Percentage Definition
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, 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, were responsible for the crash.
Performance 9% The driver panicked, overcompensated, or exercised poor directional control.
Environment 3% Fog, heavy rain, bad weather, or roadway problems caused the crash.

Source: FMCSA large truck causation study

The Washington State Department of Transportation looked at all 138 fatal and serious injury crashes involving large trucks in 2020 and found that:

  • Speed was a factor in 31 accidents
  • Distraction was a factor in 18 accidents
  • Alcohol was a factor in 10 accidents
  • Drugs were a factor in 10 accidents
  • Sleep deprivation was a factor in 6 accidents

Laws governing truck accidents

Federal laws govern the commercial trucking industry throughout the United States. These laws establish certain standards that trucking companies and drivers must meet. The vast majority of federal regulations can be found in Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations and cover things like:

  • Maximum vehicle weight
  • Transportation of hazardous materials
  • Drug and alcohol testing
  • Licensing requirements
  • Inspections
  • Emergency signal equipment
  • Use of hand-held devices (they're strictly prohibited)

According to an FMCSA study, 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 the vehicle operates every day) or maximum 70 hours on-duty in any period of 8 consecutive days (if the vehicle doesn't operate every day) Maximum 60 hours on-duty in any period of 7 consecutive days (if the vehicle operates every day) or maximum 70 hours on-duty in any period of 8 consecutive days (if the vehicle doesn't operate every day)

In addition, Washington has its own laws that address everything from speed limits to route curfew hours. The vast majority of these laws can be found in Title 46 of the Revised Code of Washington and Title 468 of the Washington Administrative Code.

Enjuris tip: Under the Supremacy Clause, found in Article VI, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, federal law prevails when it conflicts with state law.

Establishing fault in a Washington truck accident case

To establish fault in a truck accident case, you need to prove that someone else was at fault for the accident.

In most truck accident cases, establishing fault means proving that the defendant was negligent — in other words, the defendant failed to exercise reasonable care, and this failure caused the accident.

Parties that may be negligent in a truck accident include:

  • The truck driver
  • The owner of the truck
  • The company that leased the truck from the owner
  • The manufacturer of the truck or truck components
  • The person who loaded the ship's cargo
Enjuris tip: In Washington, the legal theories of respondeat superior and negligent hiring can be used to hold a truck company responsible for an accident caused by its employee.

Washington's shared liability laws

In some cases, the plaintiff and the defendant are partially responsible for a truck accident.

Washington is a pure comparative fault state. This means that the plaintiff's damages are reduced by their percentage of fault.

Let's look at a hypothetical example:

Paul is driving an 18-wheeler in the right lane on Route 395 in Spokane, Washington.

John, who is riding his motorcycle behind Paul, decides to pass Paul on the right by driving in the breakdown lane.

Paul, who is texting on his phone, starts to drift into the breakdown lane and hits John.

John is killed in the accident. His family files a wrongful death lawsuit against Paul for $10 million.

The jury finds that Paul is 80% at fault for the accident (for texting while driving) and Paul is 20% at fault (for illegally passing on the right). Under Washington's pure comparative fault rule, John's family can only recover $8 million (i.e., 80% of the verdict).

Statute of limitations for Washington truck crashes

Washington limits the amount of time truck accident victims have to file a lawsuit (this time limit is called the statute of limitations).

In most truck accident cases, victims have 3 years from the date of the accident to file a lawsuit. If victims fail to file their lawsuit within this time period, their case will be forever barred (with a few narrow exceptions).

5 common mistakes people make after a truck accident in Washington

The hours, days, and weeks after a truck accident are understandably chaotic. At Enjuris, we want to help you avoid some common pitfalls so you can recover the damages you deserve.

Here are 5 mistakes people often make after a truck accident:

  1. Not calling the police. Even if the accident is minor, it's a mistake to resolve it without the police. Parties who try to resolve accidents without involving the police are often given false information by truck drivers who are desperate to keep their driving records clean.
  2. Admitting fault. "Fault" is a legal term that is often misunderstood by laypersons. Just because you think you're at fault for an accident, doesn't mean you're legally at fault. Avoid apologizing or telling the other driver, the police, or the insurance companies that you were at fault for the accident. Instead, simply recite the facts and fight the urge to provide extra information.
  3. Failing to see a doctor. Your health should be your top priority. Even if you don't think you've been injured, it's a good idea to see a doctor immediately after an accident. The symptoms of some injuries don't appear for hours or even days after an accident. What's more, going to the hospital undermines the potential argument that you weren't really injured.
  4. Posting on social media. Social media posts, more often than not, will hurt your personal injury case.
  5. Waiting too long to consult an attorney. Witnesses move away and evidence has a way of disappearing. It's important to meet with an attorney as soon as possible so that they can preserve your rights and begin building your case.

Ready to talk to a Washington truck accident attorney about your case? Use our free online directory to reach out to one today.

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