Truck Accident Attorneys in Columbia, SC
Someone is either seriously injured or killed every 16 minutes in a trucking accident in the United States. Because of the significant damage and injury that can ensue from a trucking accident, lawmakers have created separate rules and regulations that apply to this industry.
The legal issues involving truck crashes can be vastly different than those for a car accident, and this is why it is important to work with an experienced South Carolina truck accident attorney if you’ve been injured or suffered a loss from one of these tragic events.
At Peake & Fowler, our personal injury attorneys understand the intricate nature of these cases. We have extensive experience successfully representing clients who have been injured in truck accidents in South Carolina, and we work closely with our clients to provide the strong personalized representation they need and deserve. You and your loved ones can rely on the personal service and aggressive representation of our attorneys to fight for full and fair compensation from the accident.
How Common are Truck Accidents?
There is a serious truck accident in South Carolina roughly every three to four days. Close to 10% of all accident-related fatalities involve large trucks, but just 4% of all vehicles are registered as trucks. When trucks are involved in crashes, most of the time it is a multi-vehicle accident.
Because trucks are so large, it is often the other vehicles and their occupants who sustain the most damage. In fact, of those who are killed in trucking accidents, approximately 67% are occupants of cars and other passenger vehicles, while 16% are occupants of large commercial trucks. Another 15% are motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians.
Trucks are classified by the NHTSA as being vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 10,000 pounds or more. A majority (86%) of truck accidents involve trucks that weigh more than 26,000 pounds, and many 18-wheelers can weigh upwards of 80,000 pounds or more when they are fully loaded and they are involved in a collision.
Possible Causes of Truck Accidents
The vast majority of truck accidents are completely preventable. When a truck driver or their employer doesn’t live up to their obligations, serious injury and damages can occur. Some of the top causes of these severe crashes include:
- Distracted Driving. Not paying attention to the road, or driving while distracted, is one of the leading causes of vehicle crashes nationwide. In the age of smartphones, distracted driving is an even greater hazard as these phones often occupy a driver’s full attention, taking it off of the road where it belongs. This type of behavior is particularly dangerous and deadly when it involves large truck drivers.
- Fatigued Driving. Even though time behind the wheel is federally regulated, truck drivers are under tremendous pressure to meet delivery deadlines and often drive when they aren’t supposed to be on the road. Fatigued driver accidents are especially dangerous, because drivers can cross the center line and cause a head-on collision. Falling asleep at the wheel is obviously the most hazardous result of drowsy or fatigued driving, and many drivers do not know when they cross the point of going from extremely tired, to asleep.
- Speeding: When attempting to meet tight deadlines, trucks are more likely to speed or drive too fast for conditions. The FMCSA reports that speed is a leading driver-related factor in truck crashes, and of course, collisions at high speeds result in some of the most serious and catastrophic injuries.
- DUI. Even though it is unlawful, substance abuse ranks high among driver-caused truck accidents. In order to relieve their stress, truckers sometimes turn to alcohol, prescription, or illegal drugs to help take the edge off. It is well-known that chemical impairment results in poor driving behaviors and vastly increases the chances of an accident.
- Unbalanced Loads. Trucking and shipping industry personnel understand that loads must be appropriately dispersed, or they can create a hazard. If a load is excessive for the vehicle or isn’t properly balanced, a truck might have difficulty maneuvering and stopping.
- Mechanical Failure. Trucks spend so much time on the road that they may not receive adequate maintenance and inspections. A faulty part is also more likely to fail with heavy use. Either situation can lead to a catastrophic accident.
- Poor Driver Training. This nation currently has a massive truck driver shortage. If trucking companies put inexperienced or poorly trained drivers on the road, it could lead to severe accidents.
- Jackknife Accidents. Trucks need more distance to stop than passenger vehicles. If a truck must slam on its brakes, possibly due to following too closely or speeding, it could cause the trailer to swing at an angle, creating a jackknife accident.
- Under-ride and Over-ride Accidents. Under-ride accidents occur when a passenger car rides “under” a large truck. Over-ride accidents occur when a large truck climbs over a car. Either can occur from following too closely, speeding, mechanical failure, and other careless operation.
Drowsy Driving is a Big Concern
Lack of sleep among truck drivers is a common cause of truck accidents both nationwide and in South Carolina. It’s widely known that truckers work long hours, often driving through the night and struggling to beat a tight schedule. Unfortunately, this also creates a hazard on the road that affects other drivers.
In South Carolina alone, 6.5% of all fatal traffic accidents involve trucks. In one recent year, these truck accidents claimed the lives of 65 people in this state. These are just the traffic crashes that led to fatalities. There are hundreds more each year that result in serious injury and property damage on South Carolina roads. Truckers are in control of vehicles that are often 16 times larger than a standard passenger vehicle, so losing control for even a few seconds can lead to tragedy.
How the Rules Differ for Truck Drivers
Truck drivers have a rigorous job, requiring long hours and staring at monotonous roads mile after mile. Because profits depend on meeting deadlines and putting more miles on the road in a shorter period of time, the U.S. government has stepped in to try to prevent truck drivers and their companies from pushing the limits of both equipment and human ability.
The U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) have rules that apply to truck drivers that are intended to make the roads safer. In particular, the FMCSA has an hours of service rule for all drivers of a commercial motor vehicle (CMV). Specifically, these rules state that:
- A driver can drive up to 11 hours straight but is limited to 14 hours on duty total.
- Drivers must take a 30-minute break within 8 hours of coming on duty.
- A driver can only work as many as 60 hours in 7 consecutive days.
- Each day on duty (or driving) can only begin after taking at least 10 hours off-duty.
- A driver can only re-start their 7-day work period after they have taken at least 34 consecutive hours off work.
There are some exceptions to these rules for drivers that only work one-day schedules or if that driver meets with adverse weather or driving conditions on their route. The penalties for violating these rules may include fines, a reduction in safety ratings, as well as possible criminal penalties for willful violations.
The Problem of Drowsy Driving on Our Nation’s Roads
Some truck drivers will continue to push the limits with their hours of service to increase profits, and others just simply aren’t able to sustain the long hours of alert driving that the position requires. Drowsy driving is a serious matter, and some experts have compared it to driving while intoxicated. A person who drives a motor vehicle while being awake for more than 17 hours could display the same impairment as someone with a blood alcohol content of 0.5. Drivers who are sleepy behind the wheel will have a slower reaction time, less coordination, and lack the judgment of someone who is more alert.
In some cases, truckers will attempt to beat the odds by using chemicals to keep them more alert for hours if not days on end. Some drivers will use stimulants such as amphetamines and cocaine to stay awake long-term. However, once those stimulants begin to wear off, the driver becomes increasingly drowsy behind the wheel.
Several new studies have also uncovered the problem of sleep apnea among commercial truck drivers. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, as many as 28% of all truck drivers suffer from sleep apnea. This is an obstructive medical condition that interferes with normal sleep and causes fatigue during the day. Because of the dangers of the condition, drivers with this diagnosis are now being disqualified from commercial driving. The remaining issue is that there are many commercial drivers who are unaware that they suffer from sleep apnea who may be creating a danger on our nation’s roads.
Responsibility for a South Carolina Truck Accident
Even though truck crashes usually have an element of fault involved, it can be difficult to investigate and prove your case without assistance. If a truck driver or their employer has acted negligently, they should be held accountable. Unfortunately, they could deny wrongdoing or take quick steps to get rid of valuable evidence.
Trucking companies and their insurance carriers will often begin their own crash investigations within hours of an incident. These are companies with deep pockets who are willing to spend some cash to protect their short and long-term financial interests, and because truck accidents often involve more severe injuries than standard auto accidents, there is likely to be more money at stake and companies will be willing to expend more resources in order to mitigate their losses.
Trucking accident claims are made more complicated because of the multiple factors that can contribute to the accident. This means that several other parties could share responsibility (for the accident) in addition to the truck driver and the company that employs the driver. Parties that may be held liable for a truck accident include:
- The owner or lessor of the truck (if this is not the driver or trucking company);
- The cargo or shipping company that was responsible for loading the truck;
- The party that is responsible for maintaining the truck;
- The party that is responsible for maintaining the roadways;
- The manufacturer, supplier, or distributor of a faulty vehicle or vehicle part.
You may certainly have a personal injury case against a negligent truck driver, trucking company, or another party, but you can level the playing field by working with a qualified truck accident attorney who understands how to protect your rights. Pursuing a claim like this on your own is wrought with potential pitfalls; and doing so can seriously jeopardize your ability to recover maximum compensation.
Pursuing a Truck Accident Injury Claim in South Carolina
The size and sheer force of large trucks are catalysts for severe and costly damages. Some of the most common injuries that result from a commercial trucking accident may include:
- Cuts and lacerations;
- Head and brain injuries;
- Back and neck injuries;
- Rib and torso injuries;
- Internal injuries;
- Spinal cord injuries and paralysis;
- Severe burn injuries;
- Fractures/broken bones;
- Amputations/loss of limbs;
- Wrongful death.
Determining how much compensation you deserve for a truck accident can be a complex matter.
You will likely have a series of economic damages. These will include the physical damage to your vehicle, which could end up being totaled after such a crash. You may also have to rent a car and will have a loss in value of your vehicle due to damages.
Some of the biggest economic damages result from physical injuries. You should not have to pay for your current and future medical care related to an injury that wasn’t your fault. Neither should you be responsible for lost wages or your lost future earning capacity.
If you have a personal injury case, you can also claim non-economic damages. These are intangible losses that are suffered as a result of your physical injuries. Examples of noneconomic damages include:
- Physical pain-and-suffering;
- Emotional/psychological distress;
- Diminished quality of life;
- Permanent injury;
- Loss of consortium;
- Loss of comfort, support, guidance, and care.
In some more limited cases in which the actions of the party (or parties) responsible for the truck accident were willful, malicious, or grossly negligent, punitive damages may be awarded over and above compensatory damages. Also known as “exemplary damages”, punitive damages are not meant to compensate the victim, but rather to punish the wrongdoer and help deter them (and others) from engaging in similarly egregious behaviors in the future.
South Carolina applies a modified comparative negligence standard to personal injury cases. Under this standard, an injured party can still recover damages as long as they are 50% or less at fault for the accident. However, any damage award would be reduced in proportion with the percentage of fault they share. For example, if the total losses you suffered from a truck accident add up to $500,000 and you are found to be 30% at fault, you damage award would be reduced by $150,000 down to a total of $350,000.
As we talked about earlier, trucking companies and their insurers will look for any way they can to mitigate their losses, including finding a way to assign some of the blame for the accident to you. This is another reason it is very important to work with attorneys who have specific experience with these types of cases and the proven ability to recover maximum compensation.
Who Can I Sue after a South Carolina Truck Accident?
Although the actions of a trucking company might have played a role in an accident, proving that they are liable can be a difficult task. These companies are only required to certain maintain records for a limited period of time, after which they are free to dispose of them without being penalized. Even before that time, records that might show a company to be liable have a way of getting lost, disappearing, or being altered.
To prevent this from happening, it is extremely important to get an attorney involved as soon as possible after the accident. With a seasoned attorney working immediately on your behalf, company records and other critical pieces of evidence can be recovered and preserved, putting you in the best possible position to recover maximum compensation.
Who else Can be Held Responsible for a Trucking Accident?
Liability for a truck accident may not end with just the driver and the trucking company. Other parties that could potentially be responsible include:
- The owner or lessor of the truck;
- The owner of the freight or shipping company responsible for loading the truck;
- The party responsible for maintaining the truck;
- The designer, manufacturer, supplier, or distributor of a faulty vehicle or vehicle part;
- A government agency or the party responsible for maintaining the roads.
What Must I Prove to Win my Truck Accident Claim in South Carolina?
A thorough investigation will be required to get to determine the root cause of the accident and which parties were to blame. This investigation should be performed as soon as possible after the accident, because witnesses tend to forget important details over time, and critical evidence has a tendency to disappear as well.
What Evidence is Necessary to Win my Truck Accident Case?
Once you have identified how the accident happened and the parties that were at fault, you need to collect sufficient evidence to prove the essential elements of a personal injury claim. These are:
- The defendant (or defendants) owed you a duty of care;
- The duty of care owed was breached by the negligent actions (or omissions) of the defendant/s;
- The negligence or breach of duty of care (on the part of the defendant/s) was the direct cause of your injuries;
- Your injuries resulted in actual losses (economic or noneconomic losses or both).
5 Things to Do if you are in an Accident with a Commercial Vehicle
Call for Medical Help
The first priority after any type of motor vehicle accident is to make sure everyone who is hurt gets proper medical attention, and this includes yourself. You may not feel hurt while you are at the accident scene, but this could just be because of adrenaline, or the fact that some injury symptoms do not start to show up until later on. Call 911 immediately to bring an ambulance to the scene. Along these same lines, if there are injuries, the police should be called as well. In many cases, the 911 operator will call the police for you. Otherwise, call the police to the scene, so they can assist those involved in the accident, document the incident, and get an official report on file.
Secure the Accident Scene
After you call for help, move your vehicle (if possible) to a safe location that is off to side of the road or otherwise out of the line of traffic. Keep your hazard lights on, and put cones, flares, or flashers around the vehicles involved in the crash so other motorists can avoid them.
Collect Information about the Accident
Exchange information with the truck driver, and obtain their name and contact information, driver’s license number, U.S. DOT serial number (if available), the name and contact information of their employer (if applicable), and their insurance information. You should also document as much as possible for your own records. Take multiple photographs of the accident scene and write down or voice record on your cell phone as much detail as you can about what happened while everything is fresh in your mind. The police will file an official report, but you should have your own report as well, so you can compare it to what the police reported and correct any errors.
Obtain Witness Statements
If there were any individuals nearby who witnessed the event, be sure to obtain statements and contact information from them. Many times, witnesses will allow you to record a video statement from them describing what happened. If you are able to do this, the testimony of these witnesses can be extremely valuable in proving your case if you decide to bring an accident injury claim later on.
Report the Accident to your Insurance Company
Most insurance companies require you to report an accident within 24 to 72 hours after it occurs. Individual policies may vary, so it is best to get in touch with your insurer as soon as possible. Report the accident, but only give them the facts. Do not admit fault or speculate on who was at fault, leave that for the experts to sort out. Also, do not give an insurance company any recorded statements or sign any medical release forms without first speaking to an attorney.
Hurt in a Truck Accident in South Carolina? Speak with Our Seasoned Attorneys Today
If you or a loved one has been hurt in a crash involving a heavyweight vehicle such as a tractor-trailer, semi-trailer, 18-wheeler, dump truck, or construction truck, you need the guidance of an experienced truck accident attorney.
At Peake & Fowler, our qualified personal injury attorneys will investigate your case, explain your best legal options, and assist you in pursuing the compensation you deserve for your harm. We are just a phone call away and are available at your convenience.
Contact our Columbia office now at (800) 946-9461 or reach us online to schedule a free consultation. We look forward to serving you!
We also handle the following cases:
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