There are more than 3.1 million people living in Orange County, California according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Providing for so many people requires a lot of raw materials and a large distribution network. The trucking industry, in particular, plays an integral role in moving products into and out of this popular tourist destination. An unfortunate consequence of this is that as the population of Orange County continues to increase, so too does the number of trucking accidents that occur here.
If you have recently been involved in a truck accident, you may be entitled to compensation. Contact an Orange County truck accident lawyer at the Crockett Law Group to learn about how we can help you maximize your settlement. Call (800) 900-9393 for a free consultation with a personal injury attorney in Orange County.
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What Is a Semi-Trailer Truck?
A semi-trailer truck refers to a combination of (1) a truck that contains the engine, and (2) its trailer. This combination of truck and trailer is also commonly known as an “18 wheeler,” “big rig,” or “tractor-trailer.” They all mean the same thing.
Most people in Orange County, California, actually refer to it as a “semi-truck”. Technically, though, a “semi-truck” or “tractor truck” only refers to the actual truck itself without its trailer.
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What Causes Most Truck Accidents?
Driver error is easily the most common cause of trucking accidents, whether that be the truck driver’s error or some other driver’s error. With that being said, these are some of the most common causes of truck accidents we see here in Orange County:
Alcohol and Drug Use
Truck drivers have stressful jobs, no doubt. Unfortunately, some truck drivers turn to alcohol or drugs to help get them through a shift. According to a study reported by Reuters, 12.5 percent of U.S. truck drivers test positive for alcohol use. Almost 20 percent of truck drivers self-report having used marijuana while driving and another 3 percent admit to using cocaine. Both alcohol and marijuana increase sleepiness whereas cocaine increases agitation; either way, both symptoms contribute to causing truck accidents.
Truck drivers who accept longer trips have a better chance of getting bored on the road, and this boredom can quickly turn into distracted driving. Distracted driving involves any activity that diverts your attention away from actually driving, like texting or going on social media. It’s no secret that distracted driving is dangerous in general. But the danger becomes so much greater when the distracted driver is behind the wheel of a 35,000 lb weapon.
Truck drivers are required to deliver goods at a destination by a certain date and time. This pressure to meet their deadline leads to a lot of truck drivers to take fewer breaks than they’re legally supposed to. These overworked truck drivers have less concentration and coordination. Sometimes, they even fall asleep at the wheel. This systemic problem makes truck driver fatigue responsible for 13 percent of all big rig accidents according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
Inadequate Training and Experience
You have to earn your Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) in order to be a truck driver in California. In order to do this, you’ll have to pass a knowledge and skills test. Before taking these tests, you’ll first have to enroll in, and complete, a CDL training program. Most CDL programs only provide 160 hours of training. When you think about it, that’s not a lot. Once you finally obtain your CDL, you’re expected to follow extensive safety rules promulgated by the U.S. Department of Transportation for interstate truck drivers. But this takes time and experience.
According to the FMCSA, 6.5 percent of truck accidents involve a driver unfamiliar with their truck, and 21.6 percent involve a driver unfamiliar with the roadway. The number of trucking accidents in Orange County could be drastically reduced if only we required more training and experience than we do currently.
Eighteen wheelers are not supposed to haul loads that exceed a certain amount of weight. Doing so can lead to brake failures and increase stopping distances. Similarly, packing cargo too high increases the chance that the truck tips over on its side. Loads that aren’t properly balanced or secured can also affect safe turning. Any of these weight, size, or handling missteps can cause a catastrophic accident.
A speeding semi-truck trying to overtake you can be scary and cause you to lose control of your vehicle. But overtaking a semi-truck can cause you to lose control, too, due to the extra speed required to overtake it. Overtaking a semi-truck is especially dangerous if you fail to accelerate enough on a hill or if visibility is reduced due to a curve in the road.
Poor Truck Maintenance
Sometimes trucking companies try to cut corners by foregoing regular truck inspections, maintenance, and repairs. They can save both time and money by doing this. This neglect by trucking companies makes poor truck maintenance a leading cause of trucking accidents, particularly poorly maintained brakes. In fact, brake problems account for 29 percent of all semi truck accidents according to the FMCSA.
Sometimes truck drivers speed in order to meet strict deadlines or else they risk losing their job. This makes speeding a leading cause of big rig accidents. Truck drivers traveling too fast for road conditions account for as much as 23 percent of all large truck crashes in the U.S. according to the FMCSA. California Vehicle Code Section 22406 imposes a 55 mph speed limit for truck drivers on a California freeway. The reason for this is because tractor-trailers require more time to stop than passenger vehicles due to their weight. So, a speeding semi-truck might not be able to stop in time in case of an emergency.
Commercial trucks require more room to make turns because of their length. But having to make wide turns can lead to truck accidents. For one thing, inexperienced truck drivers might try to make a tighter turn than they’re actually capable of making and thus cause an accident that way.
More commonly though, a wide turn truck accident will occur when a truck driver first swings wide to the left before maneuvering the truck to the right. If the truck driver forgot to check their blind spot first, they can accidentally hit a car on the road. Similarly, another driver on the road might not expect the truck to turn right after seeing it maneuver to the left and a crash can occur that way.
How Many Deaths Are Caused by Semi Trucks?
Semi-truck accidents are responsible for some of the most severe injuries we see, including death. In fact, semi-truck accidents account for 11 percent of all motor vehicle crash deaths according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. However, semi-truck accidents aren’t nearly as deadly for truck drivers as they are for the occupants of the other vehicle involved. This is due to the sheer size and weight of semi-trucks.
California law permits semi-trucks to have a “gross total weight” as high as 80,000 pounds. But the average weight of a car is only 3,482 pounds, and the average weight of a standard pick-up truck isn’t much higher at only 4,779 pounds according to the U.S. Department of Energy. There is a clear weight discrepancy between semi-trucks and passenger vehicles that leaves the people traveling in the smaller passenger vehicle extremely vulnerable to injury.
To illustrate my point that weight discrepancy matters in trucking accidents, consider the fact that 74 percent of fatal large truck crashes involve a tractor-trailer as opposed to just the tractor (i.e., the truck) by itself. It seems pretty clear that the greater the weight discrepancy in an accident, the greater the likelihood of death. This also explains why 96 percent of the time that someone dies in a semi-truck versus passenger vehicle collision, it’s an occupant of the passenger vehicle and not the semi-truck.
How Semi-Truck Accidents Occur
If you’re an occupant of a passenger vehicle, these are the three deadliest types of accidents that can occur with a semi-truck:
- Head-on collisions: 31% of fatal truck accidents involve a semi-truck and passenger vehicle colliding head-on with each other.
- T-bone accidents: 24% of fatal truck accidents involve a semi-truck T-boning the side of a passenger vehicle.
- Rear-end accidents: 23% of fatal truck accidents involve a passenger vehicle rear-ending the semi-truck.
When Fatal Semi-Truck Accidents Occur
A majority of fatal semi-truck accidents occur during usual working hours on workdays. In other words, your chances of being killed in an accident with a semi-truck increase between the hours of 6 am and 6 pm from Monday through Friday.
Where Fatal Semi-Truck Accidents Occur
A majority of fatal semi-truck accidents actually occur on major roads, not freeways like many of us would believe.
- 52% of fatal truck accidents occur on major roads other than freeways and interstates.
- 33% of fatal truck accidents occur on freeways and interstates. An example of a freeway would be the SR-1 , also known as Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). An example of an interstate would be the I-405 interstate highway.
- 14% of fatal truck accidents occur on minor roads.
What Should You Do After Being Hit by a Truck?
None of us want to imagine being involved in an accident with a semi-truck. But, we share the roads with these massive vehicles every day and they make up a disproportionate share of deadly accidents. So, it’s important to know what to do just in case you ever find yourself in this situation.
These are 6 steps you should take after you hit a semi-truck in Orange County:
Call the Police
Depending on where an accident occurs, sometimes police won’t come out to the scene of the accident unless someone is injured. However, if you let the police know that a semi-truck was involved, then they’ll probably come. This is true because police know the probability for injury is greater in a trucking accident. But this is also true because even if no one is injured, trucks pose a hazard when they’re left sitting in the middle of the road so police need to facilitate the safe movement of traffic driving by.
This includes taking photos of the scene of the accident, the roadway, and all of the vehicles involved. Taking photos of the scene of the accident is important because the placement of the vehicles might help tell us how the accident happened. Taking photos of the roadway is important because maybe a hill or a curve in the roadway somehow came into play in causing the accident. Obviously take photos of the damage to your car, but also take photos of the semi-truck. A lot of people fail to take photos of the semi-truck because they usually sustain little to no damage in the accident, but it still helps give us a picture of how the accident might have happened.
You’ll want to be sure to get the truck driver’s information, including their name and contact information, driver’s license number, the insurance company, and policy number, license plate number, and the name and contact information for their employer or trucking company.
Look Around for Witnesses
A lot of truck drivers dispute the facts of the accident, even when they’re to blame. Therefore, it’s going to be crucial to have a witness on your side. Oftentimes there are witnesses, we just forget in the heat of the moment to make contact with them. If you’re able to locate someone who saw or heard the accident happen, ask them for their contact information so you can keep in touch.
Seek Medical Attention
Better safe than sorry, right? Even if you think you’re okay, you might not be. You’ll probably have a lot of adrenaline running through your body after being hit by a large truck, and the adrenaline can mask your pain. Get checked out by medical personnel at the scene and don’t refuse an ambulance ride to the hospital. If you end up requiring medical care later on down the line, it might be harder to demonstrate that it was related to the truck accident.
Contact an Attorney
Trucking accidents tend to be more complicated than other types of auto accidents. There are usually more severe injuries, and thus more is at stake. Trucking companies have large insurance policies that afford them the ability to take a hard stance against you. Liability for the accident is oftentimes disputed. In addition to the usual rules of the road, federal regulations for truck drivers also apply. There may be a lot of parties at play, from the truck driver to their employer or trucking company to the shipper or manufacturer. Orange County car accident lawyers who have handled truck accidents know how to navigate all these extra considerations that apply.
Who Is Responsible for Damages in a Truck Accident?
You might be wondering who you’re supposed to hold responsible for your damages—Is the truck driver responsible? Or can you sue the trucking company?
The answer will largely depend on whether the truck driver was an independent contractor or employee, and whether the truck driver was within the scope of his employment when the accident occurred.
The truck driver is responsible for damages when:
The truck driver is an independent contractor
Under the doctrine of respondeat superior, an employer in California is liable for its employee’s negligence. So, a California trucking company is responsible for a truck driver’s negligence if the truck driver is classified as an “employee” and not as an “independent contractor.” California Labor Code Section 3353 defines an independent contractor as someone who controls the means by which his work is accomplished. There are many different factors to look at when making this determination. But for a truck driver, an independent contractor typically means they own their truck and chooses which assignments to accept.
The truck driver was not within the course and scope of his employment when the accident occurred
“Course and scope of employment” is a complicated concept that requires its own discussion; I actually wrote an article for Advocate Magazine dedicated to this subject alone. But the idea or concept itself is simple. If the truck driver wasn’t working at the time the accident occurred, then the truck driver is responsible for your damages and his personal auto insurance will apply. For example, if a truck driver gets into an accident while on his way to Massage Envy to relax after a long shift, the truck driver is directly responsible for your damages.
Keep in mind that in many cases a manufacturer can also be held responsible for a commercial truck accident. The most common situation is where the manufacturer installed faulty brakes that prevented the truck driver from stopping in time.
How Much Is an 18 Wheeler Accident Worth?
Personal injury claims caused by 18-wheeler accidents tend to be worth more than most other accident types on average. But that isn’t to say that just because you were involved in an 18 wheeler accident, your claim is automatically worth more. 18 wheeler accidents tend to be worth more because they usually involve more severe injuries.
Determining how much your 18 wheeler accident is worth will depend on the value of your damages and your percentage of fault for the accident.
“Damages” refer to the money you’re entitled to as compensation for your injuries. That amount is calculated by adding up your (1) objective economic losses, and (2) your subjective non-economic losses. Your economic losses are calculated by adding up the real cost of your medical treatment, lost earnings, and out-of-pocket expenses.
Your non-economic losses are calculated by attaching a value to the pain and suffering you’ve experienced as a result of your injuries. Generally speaking, the more severe your injuries are, the more your non-economic damages claim is worth. Altogether, your economic and non-economic damages make up your overall claim for “damages.”
Once you’ve calculated your damages, you might have to reduce that amount because you were partially at fault for the accident. Under California Civil Jury Instruction No. 405, your damages are reduced by your percentage of responsibility for the accident. In other words, the worth of your claim will go down as your percentage of fault for the accident goes up, and vice versa. This is known as “comparative fault,” and it will affect how much your case ultimately settles for.
Do Semi-Truck Accidents Go To Trial?
Semi-truck accidents, like most other accidents, usually don’t go to trial. Most semi-truck accident cases settle out of court in Orange County. Filing a suit can be expensive, exhausting, and risky.
Attorney fees are usually higher when the case has to be litigated, and the longer the case drags on, the more court costs go up. Litigation can also be draining on many of our clients, so they see value in bypassing the court system. There is also always a risk that you’ll lose your case altogether and be awarded nothing by a jury, or be awarded an amount that is less than what the other side was offering.
Although most semi-truck accident cases don’t go to trial, many have to be litigated. This is because commercial truck companies have larger limits of insurance to pursue and their insurer will fight hard to protect those limits.
Contact an Orange County Truck Accident Lawyer at Crockett Law Group
As truck accident injury lawyers, we regularly represent the interests of victims who have been treated unfairly by an insurance company. The Crockett Law Group is committed to handling your injury claim from start to finish and will fight to make sure that you receive the money you deserve. If you’ve been injured as a result of a truck accident, contact our personal injury law firm in Orange County at (800) 900-9393 for a free case evaluation.