Articles Posted in 18 wheeler accidents

Accidents can happen anytime, anywhere.  Studies have shown that as many as 3 in 10 accidents happen within one mile of a person’s home.  There are certain areas, however, that have unfortunately developed a reputation for being dangerous roadways where not only do accidents occur with higher frequency, but they often involve significant injuries or fatalities.

One area in Alabama that has developed such a reputation for dangerous accidents is Interstate 85 in Macon County near Shorter and Tuskegee.  A google search for I-85 accidents in Alabama will lead to several news articles about fatal or serious accidents in this area. These accidents often involve multiple cars and/or 18 wheelers or large trucks.  These accidents can involve 18 wheelers overturning, cars crossing into the oncoming lane of traffic, and an accident ahead leading to accidents further back down the interstate.  I-85 is a major thoroughfare for commercial traffic, taking goods on large trucks from Atlanta and the East Coast down to other parts of the South and back.  Once outside of Atlanta, traffic flows pretty steadily until about Opelika, and then more residential traffic joins the flow all the way to Montgomery.  While this happens on interstates all over America, it seems that serious car accidents tend to occur on this stretch right near Shorter with more frequency and with more loss of life.

There are things we can do to help keep ourselves and our loved ones safe.  First, keep up to date on local news.  Fatal accidents can happen anywhere, but when you hear of one, inform your family to pay extra attention while driving in these areas.  Human error is usually to blame, but there are areas where human error tends to crop up with more  frequency.  Second, stay alert to the road in front of you.  We all have a tendency to set our cruise control and go with the flow of traffic, but the flow of traffic can change in an instant, and other drivers on the road are getting more and more distracted.  When 18 wheelers, large trucks, and other cars are travelling at a high rate of speed, a small change in traffic patterns or a small distraction can quickly turn into a deadly situation.  Take breaks if you need to to stay alert when driving in a dangerous area.  Finally, take action.  If you see dangerous behavior on the road, call the highway patrol.  There are too many good people trying to peacefully follow the law and safely get to where they are going for a few dangerous drivers to ruin it.  If a heavy truck or 18 wheeler is driving aggressively, report it for the benefit of all of us.  If a driver is riding down the road typing on their cell phone, report it.  The less dangerous drivers riding through dangerous areas, the better for all of us.

When a loved one is in an automobile accident that results in a serious injury or even death, it is not uncommon for a family to hire a law firm to represent their interests.  Medical bills, lost wages, the inability to pay for basic things in life because of a loss of income, pain, rehabilitation, loss of life or loss of the enjoyment of life – these are all things that no one is truly able to understand until they have to go through it.  If a serious injury or death is caused by the bad driving or bad decisions of another driver, that person needs to be held accountable for the harm they caused.

Unfortunately, most people driving the roads are not adequately insured to cover a serious injury or death claim.  In Alabama, the minimum insurance limits that are required by law for a driver is $25,000.  If a person with minimum limits seriously injures or kills your loved one, $25,000 is all that is available from the opposing driver’s insurance, which is a drop in the bucket for a serious injury or loss of a loved one.  Many people carry their own underinsured motorist coverage that can also pay, but it is extremely rare for these policies to provide adequate coverage for a serious injury or loss of life.

While most people assume the insurance of the opposing driver and your own insurance is the only possible source of recovery, there are always others avenues that need to be explored by a lawyer in a serious injury or fatal car accident.  One of the main areas our firm researches when helping a family with a serious injury or loss of life is defects in the vehicles themselves.  An issue with steering or a defective tire that blew out may have cause the other car to lose control.  There may have been a defective part on one of the cars that could have prevented the accident from happening in the first place.

When they collide with a smaller passenger car, trucks often have devastating consequences. The injuries may be catastrophic, particularly if they involve the brain or spine. In many cases, an 18-wheeler accident results in the deaths of the occupants of a passenger car. Accordingly, there are detailed, complex federal regulations that govern interstate trucking companies and their drivers.

Because of the likelihood and severity of catastrophic injuries in connection with commercial vehicles, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has regulations that cover hours of service, maintenance of commercial motor vehicles, cargo restrictions, inspections, logbooks, and record keeping. In addition, trucking companies are required to conduct background checks of applicants for commercial driver positions.

Most 18-wheeler accident cases require a plaintiff to prove an 18-wheeler driver’s negligence. The elements of negligence are duty, breach of duty, causation, and damages. When a truck driver has violated an FMSCA regulation or other safety law, the doctrine of negligence per se (negligence as a matter of law) may apply. For example, if a driver is driving on a suspended commercial driver’s license, this is likely to be evidence of negligence as a matter of law.

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Look at this picture.  It’s called a stereogram, also known as a 3D image within an image.  They were popular in the 90s and have been around ever since.  Within the beautifully colored image is hidden the words “Happy New Year.”  It takes practice and a lot of time to be able to see the image, but it’s there.  You may have to cross your eyes and uncross them, or get real close to the screen and slowly back away, but eventually you can see the hidden image.

Being a trial lawyer can be a lot like looking at a stereogram.  Some of the greatest results we’ve ever had for clients came from cases that, on the surface, may not have looked like much of a case.  People have a natural tendency to see what is on the surface and not look much further.  They also have a natural tendency to not want to keep looking to see if the situation really is as it initially appears.  But any good trial lawyer will tell you that you’ve got to keep staring at the picture, and if you stare long enough, if you dig into the facts deep enough, you can often find another picture hidden in plain sight.*  Here are a few examples:

A car gets blindsided by a big truck, killing the occupants of the car.  The driver of the 18 wheeler says the car pulled right out in front of him, and he never had a chance to stop or put on the breaks.  The officer then writes the accident up as the car pulled out in front of the big truck.  Many families, struck with grief over the situation, will accept what the officer reports and move on.  Some, however, will hire a lawyer to look into it.  We have seen this scenario many times.  When this case comes to us, we hire a professional engineer to do an accident reconstruction to tell us exactly where the vehicles were, how fast they were going, where the impact took place on the road and on the vehicles, and what happened in the accident.  We hire a trucking expert to look at the records of the trucking company and driver to see if they have any major safety violations.  In short, we do a very thorough job of investigating the case.  And what we’ve found out many times is at odds with what was reported – the 18 wheeler was exceeding the speed limit; the driver was over his time driving and was rigging his log books so he could drive more; the big truck veered into the other lane and hit the car instead of staying in his lane and missing it; the 18 wheeler driver, had he been paying attention, had 5 or 6 seconds to see the car and avoid the collision; the truck driver was distracted and on his cell phone.  What was reported as an accident that was our client’s fault turns out to be a really good case against the trucking company.

It happens much more often than most people think.  According to recent census data, every year 9.5 million vehicles are involved in automobile accidents injuring 2.2 million people and claiming the lives of over 33,000 people.  Over 800 people die every year from car wrecks in Alabama alone.  Car wrecks can range from the minor inconvenience of a banged up car to complete devastation for a family who lost a loved one.

The most important advice about accidents involves avoiding them and protecting yourself and your family.  Drive defensively, always looking out for other drivers not paying attention or acting recklessly, and buckle up (and make sure everyone in the car is buckled up before starting).

If tragedy does strike and a loved one is involved in an accident, here are a couple of reminders to protect their rights and make sure they or their family are compensated for their injuries.

Can you think of anything more dangerous than the driver of an 80 thousand pound tractor trailer rig falling asleep at the wheel? Since the 1930s federal regulations have restricted the hours that a commercial truck driver can work without rest or sleep. Today, these regulations are contained in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s “hours of service” rules. (HOS rules)

The purpose of the HOS rules is to prevent deadly accidents. It is common sense that a drowsy or sleepy driver constitutes a danger to everybody else on the road. Commercial truck drivers are prohibited from driving more than 11 hours or driving after having been on duty for 14 hours. There is also a weekly rule that prohibits commercial truckers from driving over 70 hours during one work week. This is an oversimplification of the HOS rules, but you get the idea.

Unfortunately, most truck drivers are paid by the mile and not by the hour, therefore, there is a natural temptation for truck drivers to ignore these rules. In fact, the trucking industry has long resisted any regulation that restricts the time that a driver can spend behind the wheel. That is understandable, since these restrictions can cost truck drivers money.

Everyone dreads the first few mornings after the spring time change because of the loss of an hour of sleep. We all know sleep is important to our overall health. Data from a recent study on daylight savings time shows that even a little change in sleep can have deadly consequences for drivers.

A paper presented at the American Economic Association tracked fatal car crashes from 2002 to 2011 and found vehicle fatalies increased 6 percent over the 6 days following the “spring forward” time change. The data did not show a significant change in crashes after the “fall back” time change.

This and other evidence led researchers to conclude that it was the loss of one hour of sleep and the disurption to sleep patterns caused by losing an hour of sleep that led to the increase in fatal crashes. This added up to more than 300 additional traffic deaths over the ten year period studied.

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