According to the National Transportation Safety Board, the majority of truck-related accidents occur on straight, level, dry, paved roadways during typical workweeks. The majority of these accidents do not involve drugs or alcohol. How then do these tragic and life changing accidents occur on such a frequent basis? In many instances, they occur because truck drivers are pushed to drive when they are tired or distracted, they drive too fast, drive aggressively, or become desensitized to the grave perils they create for the average automobile occupants with whom they share the roadway.
Truck Accident Tips
Be sure you know which police department investigates the collision (i.e. City Police, County Sheriff or State Police) so you know from whom to request the police report. If the tractor or truck is not drivable from the scene of the crash, find out where it was taken since almost all of the “newer” semi-tractors have “Black Box” recording devices that will show what the unit was doing (speed and braking) just before the crash. This will help you and your attorney with crucial information needed for an easier claims process.
Dealing with Trucking Companies & Insurance Carriers After a Truck Accident
Many commercial carriers will send highly-trained investigators who are on staff with the trucking companies, or insurance investigators, to the truck accident scene within hours of the crash. Their only job is to reduce or lessen the trucking company’s “exposure” or legal responsibility for the crash. Remember you are NOT negotiating on level ground when dealing with a trucking company after a wreck. Accident claims resulting from truck accidents are a normal daily operation. These adjusters represent the truck company, not you. Obtain the individual’s name and the company he/she works for or represents. If you are able, take a picture of the person. Further, while the family of the accident victim is tending to medical and hospital care and/or funeral arraignments, the trucking company is investigating the accident and setting up their defense. Do not give them any statements or sign any releases for medical records or employment records. Often the medical release allows the adjuster to talk to the doctors without you or anyone else being present.
What to do After a Truck Accident
In addition, the trucking company may attempt to steer you away from legal counsel, because trucking companies know that if you have an experienced attorney, you are more likely to receive fair compensation. Do not discuss your accident with anyone unless you have attorney representation, as anything you say may be used against you later. DO NOT agree to an interview or sign anything until you have spoken to or retained your own attorney.
Benefits and Claims for Truck Accidents in Michigan
If you or a loved one has been involved in a serious trucking accident, one of the most important things you can do right now is to protect yourself and your family from any further damage. This is going to involve lawyers and insurance companies. It may sound overwhelming, but a good lawyer can guide you through the legal process and make sure you get the money you need for medical bills, lost work time, and other damages.
What You Need to Know After a Truck Accident
Here is what you need to know after a semi-truck accident. Trucking accidents are different from other vehicle accidents because of the federal laws that govern the trucking industry. Federal regulations require that certain evidence must be maintained, but only for a limited amount of time. For example, the truck driver’s log may be destroyed after six months if an attorney does not obtain a court order or take other immediate action.
Over the Road Truck Accidents
Over the road trucks must also carry various levels of insurance coverage, depending on the nature of the materials in the truck. This can create a situation where the hauling and leasing companies may spend months or years arguing about which insurance company is responsible for compensating the victim in a truck liability case. You will need someone to represent you in this potentially long, drawn out process, as you deal with other issues in your life.
Truck Accidents and the Michigan No-Fault Statute
You should also know that in Michigan, payment for medical bills, lost wages, and other damages caused by an accident involving a semi-truck, are controlled by the Michigan no-fault statute. This means that payment for your medical bills and the first three years of wage loss are the responsibility of your own no-fault insurance carrier. These are referred to as First Party no-fault benefits. Payment for the property damage to your vehicle is your responsibility (subject to the $500.00 mini-tort). If you have “full coverage” for property damage to your vehicle through your insurance company, then your insurance company pays for the repairs, subject to any deductible. You must notify your own no-fault insurance carrier of the crash and your injuries immediately after the crash.
If you did not own a vehicle with no-fault insurance coverage, then you obtain your first party no-fault benefits (payment for medical bills and the first three years of lost wages) from the no-fault insurance carrier of a resident relative who owns an insured motor vehicle. If there is no insured motor vehicle in your household, then your first party benefits would be paid by the insurance carrier of the vehicle “you occupied” at the time of the crash. If there is no policy of no-fault insurance covering the vehicle you were in at the time of the crash (or the owner of that vehicle), it is only then that the insurance carrier of the semi-truck involved in the crash will pay your first party no-fault benefits. See the “What if I am in a Crash” section of this web site for a more detailed explanation of your rights under the Michigan no-fault statute. (Please Note: If you were the owner and driver of an uninsured motor vehicle involved in a crash with a semi-truck in Michigan, you will not be entitled to Michigan no-fault benefits.)
Who is Responsible after a Semi-Truck Accident?
How are the semi-truck driver and commercial carrier held responsible for the semi-truck collision? Well, because of the Michigan no-fault statute, and the way the Michigan Supreme Court has interpreted it, there are limitations on when you may hold the semi-truck driver and commercial carrier responsible for their carelessness.
The semi-truck driver must be more than fifty percent (50%) at fault for the crash. If this is the case, you may hold the semi-truck driver and commercial carrier responsible only if you or a loved one has been injured and that injury results in lost wages for a period greater than three years, or there is a death, or the injury has resulted in an “objectively manifested serious impairment of an important body function that affects the person’s ability to lead a normal life.” The extent of the physical limitations caused by your injury and the duration you will suffer with these limitations are important factors in deciding if your injury qualifies as a “serious impairment of a body function” under the no-fault statute. This is a complex determination that looks at how an injured person’s life has changed as result of the injuries from a crash.
The extent to which the physical limitations have affected your life should be documented by your health care providers through written medical restrictions. The law in this area is constantly changing.
Unfortunately, death or serious injury of the occupants in a car is the most likely result of a crash involving a car and a semi-truck. Because proving fault is an important part of holding the semi-driver or commercial carrier responsible in Michigan, it is necessary for anyone charged with protecting your interests in the matter to begin collecting information about the crash and the driver of the semi-truck as soon as possible after the crash. You need to hire an experienced Michigan attorney (specifically an experienced personal injury attorney specializing in no-fault claims cases) to protect the rights of you and your family as soon a possible.
Personal Injury Attorney Richard J. Stolcenberg has represented many seriously injured individuals and their families for over thirty years. Many of these involved semi-truck crashes. He is compassionate and understands the fear and uncertainty a crash like this creates. Let him help you and your family.
Semi-Truck Crash Statistics
Accidents involving commercial semi-trucks, tractor-trailers, eighteen-wheelers, and other large vehicles are among the most serious and deadly. They result in the most catastrophic of injuries. A typical fully-loaded large commercial truck can weigh 80,000 pounds or more, while an average passenger automobile weighs approximately 3,000 pounds. Because of this size difference, and due to the basic laws of physics, any collision between a commercial truck and another vehicle is likely to result in serious, even fatal, injuries. In 2013, an estimated 1,027,000 people were involved in approximately 420,000 large truck related crashes. Of those, 4,186 people were killed and 130,000 people injured with one-third suffering severe brain damage or loss of a limb. This equals more than fourteen truck-related injuries an hour, and more than eleven truck-related deaths a day. In 2014, the incidence of fatal crashes involving trucks and other large vehicles declined but large truck crashes still accounted for 3,078 fatalities and 124,000 injuries.
While the statistics show that thankfully there has been a decrease in commercial vehicle crashes, the danger of becoming involved in a crash with one of these giants is still a big risk each of us (and our children) face every day. More times than not, the results are tragic for the people in the car.
Truck Accident Causes
Big trucks equal big business. Some trucking companies offer large incentives for speed rather than safety. Unfortunately, there are also some trucking companies that push their drivers to work while fatigued, falsify their time in service logs, and violate safety policies. Under federal law, there are clearly established standards for safety that tractor trailer truckers and their companies must follow. Semi-truck and eighteen-wheeler accidents present unique issues not necessarily associated with a typical motor vehicle accident. These differences include:
- Greater likelihood of serious injuries or deaths
- Negligent hiring and supervision claims
- Negligent maintenance claims
- Unique insurance coverage issues
- Governmental regulation
In a car/truck accident there may be a multitude of reasons that the truck accident occurred in the first place. Some of the most common causes of trucking accidents include:
- Lack of training on the part of the truck driver
- Overloaded trucks
- Oversized trucks
- Poorly maintained brakes on the trucks
- Driving in conditions of poor visibility due to smoke fog, snow or rain
- Truck driver inexperience
- Fatigued, sleepy or tired driver driving too long and too many hours without rest
- Speeding or driving at speeds or beyond the road and weather conditions
- Running off the road
- Failure to yield the right of way
- Aggressive driving behavior
- Truck drivers under the influence of drugs and alcohol while driving
- Driving the truck in bad weather conditions
- Dangerous or reckless truck driver with a long record of wrecks and accidents
- Unsafe safety systems, reflectors, lights and other warning devices
To determine why a heavy truck accident occurred, it is often necessary to preserve the truck in order to inspect it, along with interviewing witnesses and reviewing police reports. Factors that can contribute to a crash include the truck’s speed and operation, weather and driving conditions, and the truck’s mechanical condition.
In 1986, the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act (CMVSA) was passed by congress. It created laws dealing with the problems caused by irresponsible and unqualified bus and semi-truck drivers. For example, laws were enacted that prohibited truck drivers from having more than one license. In fact, by 1992, truck drivers were required to meet minimum national standards in order to operate a tractor-trailer. Once a driver met these standards, he or she was issued a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL).
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Act (FMCSA), considered the driving force behind the regulation of the trucking industry to reduce truck accidents, covers issues such as driver qualifications, emergency equipment, safe loading, alcohol and drug usage and a number of other factors.
What You Can do After a Truck Accident
Any traffic accident involving a commercial truck is likely to result in serious physical injury and property damage. In the event that you or a loved one are involved in such an accident, you should consult an experienced attorney to ensure that your claim is properly assessed and your case adequately handled. Especially in light of legal deadlines for filing lawsuits, meeting with an attorney as soon as possible is the best way to protect your rights.
If you or a loved one are the victim of a large truck crash in Michigan and wondering what to do, I urge you to not wait another minute to get someone working on your behalf. The trucking company has already been at it for hours, if not days. We are here to help. Contact our office at (616) 532-1666 today.
Online Resources for Semi-Truck Accidents
Here is a list of helpful links related to truck accidents and the resources to research truck accident related data.
- Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) Web-Based Encyclopedia. Comprehensive site offering a wealth of knowledge based on breakdowns of truck related accidents, cause of truck accidents, and injuries/death categorized by state and year. | www-fars.nhtsa.dot.gov
- National Highway Safety Administration provides vehicle safety research. | nhtsa.gov/Research
- Hotline to the National Highway Safety Administration. This is a handy web page to research and file vehicle safety defect report, learn about vehicle safety recalls and search the data base about vehicles and accidents. | www-odi.nhtsa.dot.gov/owners/SearchSafetyIssues
- Child Passenger Safety Tips and ideas from Parent Central at Safercar | safercar.gov/parents/index.htm
- National Center for Statistics and Analysis. A division of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, NCSA provides truck accidents and traffic safety reports, high profile cases, and data sheets. | mcs.nhtsa.gov
- Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Comprehensive site for all things related to transportation in the U.S. | bts.gov
- University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute collects and analyzes data on Heavy Truck and bus crashes. | umtri.umich.edu/our-focus/heavy-truck-crash-data
- Safety and Fitness Electronic Records System (SAFERS). A division of FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) — SAFERS offers truck company safety data and related services to the industry and the public over the Internet. | safersys.org