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Truck Accident Attorney in San Francisco Serving Throughout California

Accidents involving large trucks and commercial vehicles are among the most serious and deadly in the United States. With big rigs and 18-wheelers weighing in at up to 80,000 pounds (as opposed to the 5,000 pounds most passenger vehicles weigh), it is a matter of simple physics; a larger vehicle impacting a smaller vehicle is likely to result in catastrophic damages. The risk of being in an accident involving a large truck or big rig is particularly acute here in California; we have the highest volume of truck traffic of any state in the United States. In 2004, there were 415 fatalities within the State of California in accidents involving large trucks.

It is a common misconception that accidents involving large trucks are simply personal injury cases involving a larger vehicle; there are specific laws and regulations governing the safety of commercial motor vehicles and issues which are unique to cases involving commercial vehicles. These cases require a thorough understanding of commercial vehicle regulations on both the federal and state level.

Federal Law

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (Title 49, Parts 350-399) govern all vehicles engaged in interstate traffic. To view the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, click here.

Federal law requires drivers and their employers to keep logbooks, fuel receipts and other trip documentation for six months and vehicle maintenance records for a year. When an accident occurs, they are required to preserve all relevant documents. There have been many documented cases where unscrupulous trucking companies have altered or forged records following an accident, especially with respect to the number of hours driven.

Interstate truckers are required to record, either in a written or digital “logbook,” the amount of time spent resting or driving. An interstate trucker is limited to 11 hours of driving over a 14-hour period and is required to rest for 10 straight hours before returning to the road. The foregoing driving limitation is subject to a number of different factors and exceptions, including adverse driving conditions, time spent in a sleeper berth, and type of cargo the truck is carrying. To view the Federal Regulations governing the hours of service of truck drivers, click here.

Federal law requires that an employer verify a driver’s previous three years of experience. With an estimated 40,000 trucking companies going out of business each year, many trucking companies say it is difficult for them to verify a driver’s previous experience if a prior employer is no longer in business. Many trucking companies admit that they have placed drivers on the road without receiving a response from a prior employer.

When a large commercial truck is involved in an accident, the damages can be catastrophic. When a tanker truck carrying 8,600 gallons of explosive gasoline crashed and set fire to the East Bay’s MacArthur Maze in April, 2007, it melted the overpass and resulted in the closure of a key part of the Bay Area’s traffic infrastructure. Following the accident it was discovered that the driver had a troubled safety record, having been cited 27 times in 2-1/2 years for safety violations, and had prior felony convictions, including a conviction for possession of heroin. Many questioned how someone with the driver’s past could be allowed to legally drive a tanker truck loaded with flammable gasoline.

Common Factors Contributing to Accidents

The following factors are frequently cited as factors contributing to accidents involving large trucks.

  • Driver Fatigue
  • Improperly Trained or Inexperienced Driver
  • Driver Under the Influence of Drugs or Alcohol
  • Aggressive Driving
  • Driver with a history of dangerous or reckless driving
  • Speeding or driving too fast for road conditions
  • Oversized or overloaded vehicle
  • Unsafe reflectors, lights or other safety equipment on vehicle
  • Poorly maintained brakes
  • E-mailing while driving. There are actually large trucks which are equipped with a Qualcomm e-mail system mounted on the steering wheel, which allows the driver to send and receive e-mails. According to Qualcomm, these systems are in use in over 2,000 trucking fleets nationwide. Although the system is equipped with a safety device that can prevent the system from being used while the truck is in motion, many truck companies have failed to install this safety feature. E-mailing while driving has been cited as a cause of fatal crashes.

Statistics

According to a new study released by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) in March of 2006 (the Large Truck Crash Causation Study detailed below), drivers of large trucks and other vehicles involved in truck crashes are ten times more likely to be the cause of the crash than other factors, such as weather, road conditions, and vehicle performance. Action or inaction by the driver of either the truck or other vehicle was cited as the critical reason for 88 percent of the crashes. To view a Press Release from the FMCSA about the study, click here.

The Large Truck Crash Causation Study (LTCCS) is based on a three-year data collection project conducted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) of the United States Department of Transportation (DOT). LTCCS is the first-ever national study to attempt to determine the critical events and associated factors that contribute to serious large truck crashes so agencies within DOT and others can implement effective countermeasures to reduce the occurrence and severity of these crashes. The results of the study were released in March of 2006.

For the purposes of the LTCCS, a “truck” is defined as “a vehicle designed, used, or maintained primarily for carrying property, with a gross vehicle weight rating or gross combination weight rating of more than 10,000 lbs.” During the three-year study period of the project, FMCSA estimated that there were approximately 141,000 large trucks involved in fatal, incapacitating, and non-incapacitating injury crashes.
This table from the LTCCS shows the estimated number of trucks involved in crashes nation-wide by specific factors associated with the particular crash in which that truck was involved.

Associated Factor Number Percentage
Driver
Prescription Drug Use 37,000 26%
Traveling Too Fast For Conditions 33,000 23%
Unfamiliar with Roadway 31,000 22%
Over-the-Counter Drug Use 25,000 18%
Inadequate Surveillance 20,000 14%
Fatigue 18,000 13%
Illegal Maneuver 13,000 9%
Inattention 12,000 9%
Exterior Distraction 11,000 8%
Inadequate Evasive Action 9,000 7%
Aggressive Driving Behavior 9,000 7%
Unfamiliar with Vehicle 9,000 7%
Following Too Closely 7,000 5%
False Assumption of Others’ Actions 7,000 5%
Under Pressure to Accept Additional Loads 6,000 4%
Conversation 5,000 4%
Under Pressure to Operate Even If Fatigued 4,000 3%
Misjudgment of Gap Distance 4,000 3%
In a Hurry Prior to Crash 4,000 3%
Illness 4,000 3%
Interior Distraction 3,000 2%
Illegal Drug Use 3,000 2%
Uncomfortable with Some Aspect of Vehicle or Load 4,000 3%
Self Induced Legal Work Pressure 3,000 2%
Required to Accept Short Notice Trips 3,000 2%
Work Schedule Pressure 3,000 2%
Upset Prior to Crash 3,000 2%
Alcohol Use 1,000 1%
Other Decision Factors − includes proceeding with obstructed view, stopping when not required to, and failing to yield, as well as others 13,000 9%
Other Physical Factors − includes hearing problems, prosthesis, paraplegia, strenuous activities, sleep apnea, as well as others 11,000 8%
Other Motor Carrier Work Pressure 9,000 6%
Other Recognition Factors − includes impending problem masked by traffic flow pattern, driver focused on extraneous vehicle, and other recognition error 4,000 3%
Other Emotional Factors − includes clinical depression 1,000 1%
Vehicle
Brake Deficiency 37,000 26%
Tire Deficiency 7,000 5%
Jackknife Event 7,000 5%
Overweight 7,000 5%
Cargo Shift 6,000 4%
Light Failure 5,000 3%
Brake Failure 5,000 3%
Cargo Securement 4,000 3%
Vehicle View Obstruction − includes obstruction related to load, vehicle design, or other factor 2,000 1%
Engine, Fuel System, or Exhaust Deficiency 2,000 1%
Transmission Failure 1,000 1%
Tire Failure 1,000 1%
Reflective Tape Missing/Obscured 1,000 1%
All Other Defects − includes suspension frame deficiency, and towing unit problem 5,000 4%
Environment
Traffic Flow Interruption − includes work zones, roadway immersion, prior crash, and traffic congestion 40,000 28%
Roadway Related Factors 29,000 20%
Stop Required Prior to Crash − includes stop required for traffic control device, and yield right of way requirement 28,000 20%
Weather Related Factors 20,000 14%
Sight Obstructed by Road/Other Vehicle 6,000 4%
Other Traffic/Vehicle Factors − includes any factors not listed causing the driver to feel uncomfortable with surrounding traffic or the vehicle 7,000 5%
Other Vehicle Obscured (by Glare/Headlights, etc) 2,000 2%
Other Environmental Factors 1,000 0%

Advice for Truck Accident Victims

If you or a loved one have been involved in an accident involving a large truck:

  • Obtain medical treatment from a qualified physician or go to an emergency room as soon as possible.
  • Keep all medical appointments unless you have a documented reason for failing to keep the appointment. Insurance companies will sometimes attempt to use missed medical appointments as evidence of “failure to mitigate damages”, and will seek to reduce any compensation or settlement accordingly.
  • Keep accurate, detailed records of any time lost from work as a result of the accident, including the date and amount of time lost.
  • Keep records of any additional expenses you have incurred as a result of the accident, including receipts and proof of payment. You may wish to pay by check or credit card in order to have proof of payment.
  • Obtain photographs of the damage to your vehicle. It is important to obtain these photographs prior to sending the vehicle for repairs, to the insurance company for inspection, or to a salvage yard if the vehicle is a total loss.
  • Obtain photographs of the accident scene, capturing any skid marks, debris, traffic signs or signals, and the condition of the road.
  • Seek legal counsel immediately to preserve your legal rights. Legal representation is important to ensure that key evidence is properly obtained. It is not uncommon for trucking companies to withhold key evidence, including driver’s logs and maintenance records. It is important to obtain this evidence as soon as possible to prevent it from being lost or destroyed.

Resources

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is focused on reducing the number of crashes, fatalities and injuries involving large trucks and buses http://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/

The Bureau of Transportation Studies Web site contains data and statistics on various modes of transportation, including an on-line National Transportation Library http://ntl.bts.gov/

The National Highway Traffic Safety Commission provides information on traffic safety, vehicles and equipment, including consumer alerts on product recalls, laws and regulations http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/

The U.S. Department of Transportation provides information on the latest regulations, including the hours-of-service regulations which went into effect on October 1, 2005 http://www.dot.gov/

The Safety and Fitness Electronic Records System (SAFER) Web site provides information on company safety data on companies registered with the Department of Transportation over the internet http://www.safersys.org/

National Technical Information Service is the largest central resource for government-funded scientific, technical, engineering, and business related information. The NTIS investigates and reports on issues related to major trucking accidents. Reports from 1970-present are available online at http://www.ntis.gov/

Federal and State crash statistics provided by the Analysis Division of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration http://ai.volpe.dot.gov/CrashProfile/CrashProfileMainNew.asp

Accidents Involving Large Trucks Require Qualified Legal Representation
Accidents involving tractor-trailers, 18-wheelers, or other large trucks require specialized knowledge of the issues unique to such cases. The success of your case depends not only on the merits of the case but on your attorney’s understanding of both federal and California law applicable to trucking accidents. You need an attorney who understands the complexities and nuances of the law and has experience in dealing with these types of cases.

It is important to act promptly to preserve evidence, investigate the cause of the accident, and to file a lawsuit prior to the deadline imposed by the statute of limitations. If you or a loved one have been involved in an accident with a large truck or commercial vehicle contact truck accident attorney William E. Weiss at (888) 622-7274 for a no cost, no obligation consultation.

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