Tragic Crash in North Carolina Highlights Dangers of Tractor-Trailer Collision
Sadly, a fiery car crash in North Carolina resulted in two children—as well as their parents and the man driving the other vehicle, a tractor-trailer—dying when their vehicles collided on May 17th. Authorities indicate that the tractor-trailer driver did not slow down as he approached a work zone near the South Carolina state line, and he collided with a pickup truck which led to a pileup with various other vehicles. The tractor trailer collision caused a fire and quite a few injuries, even deaths.
Large trucks were involved in more than 270,000 crashes, 3,300 fatalities, and 60,000 injuries in 2016 alone. This tragic collision highlights the many issues associated with auto accidents involving tractor-trailers. Because of the relative size of tractor-trailers (typically 70,000 to 80,000 pounds, versus a standard vehicle, which is around 5,000 pounds); collisions with tractor-trailers can be especially catastrophic.
In North Carolina, the interstate systems are often filled with these types of large vehicles, and many of them are trying to get to their destination within a certain timeframe which only increases the risk of a collision. When these collisions happen, they often involve more severe injuries and property damage and present different types of legal challenges as well.
The trucking industry is regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (“FMCSA”). Trucking companies must adhere to the FMCSA rules and regulations. If they do not, and a collision occurs, their violations of the FMCSA rules and regulations can be used to build a negligence case against them. Some of the most relevant topics governed by the regulations include:
- Commercial driver’s license standards, requirements, and penalties;
- Special training requirements;
- Controlled substances and alcohol use and testing;
- State compliance with commercial driver’s license programs;
- Minimum levels of financial responsibility for motor carriers;
- Parts and accessories necessary for safe operation;
- Hours of service for drivers;
- Inspection, repair, and maintenance; and
- Transportation of hazardous materials, driving and parking rules; amongst others.
There are also North Carolina state laws applicable to the trucking industry.
Building a Case for aTractor Trailer Collision
Driving a tractor-trailer requires a higher level of knowledge, experience, skills, and physical abilities than that required to drive a standard motor vehicle. In order to drive a tractor-trailer, a driver must obtain a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL). Because of their higher level of knowledge, experience, and skills, CDL holders are held to a higher standard when operating any type of motor vehicle on public roads, and any serious traffic violations committed by CDL holders can jeopardize their ability to maintain their CDL certification.
When a tractor-trailer causes a collision, and you or a loved one is injured as a result, you or your loved one can bring a lawsuit against the truck driver and/or trucking company and allege negligence and if the driver violated a law or statute (the rules of the road), negligence per se. In order to establish negligence, the following must be shown: the truck driver and/or trucking company owed a duty to you to exercise reasonable care; the truck driver and/or trucking company breached that duty; their breach of that duty was a direct and proximate cause of your injuries; and as a result of their breach of that duty, you suffered legally recognized damages (e.g. medical bills, lost wages, permanent impairment, scarring and disfigurement, and pain and suffering). Negligence per se means that the truck driver violated the rules of the road, and therefore, was negligent. When there is negligence per se, the Court will consider the defendant’s actions negligent without asking whether a reasonable person would have done the same thing.
When it comes to truck-related lawsuits, it isn’t just the truck driver who could be at fault; it’s also the trucking company, any potential contractors, and others that may have been linked to that particular trip. For example, if the truck driver’s employer did not administer mandatory alcohol testing and the truck driver was inebriated at the time of the collision, or if the trucking company did not properly maintain the truck and that contributed to the accident, the trucking company is a proper party to the lawsuit and could be held responsible for the harm caused.
It is important to note that at any time before or after a lawsuit is filed, the parties can seek to enter into a settlement outside of the court, through negotiation between the parties or by using alternative dispute resolution such as mediation. While settlement can be enticing because it allows the parties to avoid the costs of litigation, it also typically requires the injured party to relinquish his/her right to pursue any additional legal claims against the trucking company and the truck driver related to the collision. Additionally, in some cases, an injured party receives less by accepting a settlement than he/she could have received in court from the jury, and the injured party loses his/her ability to draw public attention to hold the truck driver and/or trucking company accountable so others are not injured by the same truck driver or trucking company in the future.
Secondary Injuries from Hazardous Material
Truck accidents become even more dangerous to those nearby when trucks are carrying hazardous and/or flammable materials. In some instances, the company shipping the hazardous materials could also be held liable, particularly if they did not provide proper notice concerning how hazardous or dangerous the materials are.
There are some steps you can take to avoid a tractor trailer collision. These steps include:
- Avoiding the truck’s blind spots;
- Keeping a safe distance behind the truck (20-25 car lengths);
- Using your turn signals if you need to pass;
- Giving the truck a wider berth to turn when necessary; and
- Avoiding changing lanes abruptly.
Tractor trailers tend to have a complex computer tracking system built into them—sometimes known as a black box—which tracks what happens in the moments leading up to a crash. When it comes to accidents involving tractor-trailers, it is crucial that your attorney files the appropriate paperwork to ensure evidence relating to potential causes of the crash and evidence about what happened in the moments before and during the crash is not destroyed (such as the truck itself, as well as its maintenance records, any records relating to the driver, and other relevant records).
Working With the Right Attorney
If you or a loved one has been involved in a tractor trailer collision, it is crucial that you speak with an experienced North Carolina tractor trailer collision attorney right away. You may be entitled to recover compensation for your resulting medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other recoverable damages.
At Brown, Moore & Associates, PLLC we can help you establish liability and the value of your damages. Contact our office today to speak with an experienced auto accident lawyer in Charlotte, NC.